Today we talk about going Zero Waste, the Montreal plastic bag “ban” and various CSAs in the region with our guest Paige McNeely.
Lufa Farms – Ahuntsic Montreal, Open House 2018
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.
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:
- 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.
I’d like to bring a really important citizen science project to your attention today. As you may know, I am very passionate about plastics in the ocean and it is often a huge source of emotional stress when I begin to think about it.
That being said, I often feel like I should be doing more than I am doing to help save the planet because we are running out of time. Being in school and sitting at my desk in my small office everyday, I find it hard to take the strong activist position that I would like to. So when I came across The Plastic Tide’s project, I got very excited because I finally feel like I am making a tiny impact and helping in some small way, which is extremely important.
The Plastic Tide has created an algorithm that works to identify plastics on coastlines with the goal of determining exactly how much plastics and other man-made debris are actually there. They are seeking people who will examine high-resolution photos of beaches and flag the plastic debris that appears in the photos. This will thus, teach the algorithm how to identify plastic debris, so that it can be used at a more broad scale. It is purely a citizen science effort, which is even more special, as it gives so many people, like me, the opportunity to participate in something they care deeply about, even if it is in just some small way.
Of course, it is not a project that works to solve systemic issues with the creation of plastic debris, however, the quantification aspect is something very important because I believe there is a lot of strength that can come from numbers.
I believe that projects like these are very important in raising awareness and encouraging participation of the people. If people can understand it, they can care about it and fight for the change that the world needs because ultimately, politicians do not enact the needed change, passionate people do.
If you wish to participate in the project, you can do so through their website (link above) or through Zooniverse (as I did). Zooniverse is a platform for all kinds of citizen science projects, so you can explore it and find other projects that mean something to you.
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.
Eliminating 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.
*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.
One 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!
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
The Incredible Sustainable Planet has recently reached its 2nd birthday, and already, I can see a huge evolution in not only my writing style, but also in the topics that I chose to publish articles about. My blog has matured from something I would do for fun on Sunday nights in the library, to something more serious, professional and relevant. There are some true gems on this blog that I want to resurface and will highlight them in this post. There are also some very strange posts that I just want to bury and hope will never be read again.
First on the list is Zero Waste Week at McGill. This was the first time I was exposed to the zero waste movement and I was so excited to take part in all the social events, but with my crazy busy schedule, I wasn’t able to. I still tried to do the challenge on my own, but failed miserably, because I just wasn’t prepared or thinking enough about it. Luckily, I’m taking a second go at it with this year’s New year’s resolution in my own way which will most likely be more successful. Following the zero waste theme, I wrote about Revolutionizing Disposable Utensils which was a project on Kickstarter about disposable utensils that you can eat once you’re done using them. This was such a great idea, as it could drastically reduce the number of plastic utensils that get used once and then are thrown away.
Next up, is Trading Convenience for Sustainability which is the article I wrote when I had two hydrologists as professors. They both introduced me to the immense impact of human water use on the planet and also led me to write Some Interesting Perspectives on Water Usage, which also talks about the hidden water use that comes in products that you wouldn’t normally think about as a heavy water user.
Bringing Back the Woolly Mammoth sounds a bit silly, but actually features some very important information about the human domination of the planet and about recent advancements in genetic cloning that can actually make de-extinction possible.
Did you ever wonder if store-bought eggs could hatch? Well I can answer that! Yes, it is possible for store bought eggs to hatch, was surprisingly, this blog’s 3rd most popular article!
Finally, the most popular article from the past two years has been The underlying truth to why Montreal’s plastic bag ban doesn’t actually ban plastic bags by a landslide. This article talks about how the by-law implemented to eliminate the distribution of plastic bags in retail stores in Montreal could potentially be the source of more plastic waste.
The past two years have been absolutely life-changing for me, completing my undergraduate degree at McGill and then moving hundreds of kilometers away to start my Master’s degree. Since then, I’ve met so many new inspirational people, traveled far and wide, learned so much, and had so many incredible experiences. During all of this, my blog has matured so much, it got a new name, its own domain, new members, new segments, and has really been able to portray my own personal journey and evolution. I hope to always continue writing and bringing important issues to the attention of my followers.
And of course, remember that we always love to get feedback from our readers, whether it is comments, questions, suggestions or contributions of any kind. Hope you enjoyed reminiscing the past years as much as I did.
For those of you that may not know, my new year’s resolution for 2018 is to transition to zero waste, the details of which can be found in my previous post. This post will be an update about how the first month of this transition went.
January, as I decided, was the month where I eliminated all waste associated with disposable coffee cups/drink cups, takeout containers and related waste. This is probably one of the easiest months of the year for me, considering that I am already very conscious of this type of waste in my life and produced very little of it to begin with. Despite this, I did make some mistakes.
The month started out strong. I brought my climate change mug that I got at the Cambridge University bookshop to my office and used it everyday to get coffee. Then, I came up with a unique little system that saves money and ensures that I have hot coffee at all hours of the day. It might make some of you jealous with its ingenuity, or it might make you cringe with its stupidity. Every morning I prepare my coffee in my french press and bring it to school in my very handy S’well travel mug that keeps it hot, literally all day (even when exposed to the subzero temperatures at the arena for hours on end). Then I pour a cup at a time into my mug, allowing it to cool off so I can drink it, and then the cycle repeats until I have no coffee left. Speaking of incredible lengths people go through to have the best and most efficient coffee experience, this month I some amazing coffee talks with some great people who told me all about their past and present coffee routines which are just hilarious yet so relatable!
The coffee shop near my office is conveniently very conducive to eliminating waste from disposable coffee cups, simply because it doesn’t supply any. You either have to rent one of their mugs with your student ID or you bring your own. Very simple, and coffee is only a dollar, which makes me love it even more.
If you haven’t noticed by now, coffee is very important to me. Being a very busy grad student and figure skater, means I have to be awake and focused from very early in the morning until absurd hours of the night (or even the whole night). That’s why eliminating my waste from coffee was an important first step to my zero waste journey.
I went to Toronto at the end of the month for a skating competition and this is where I was slightly unprepared for the waste challenges that it faced me with. I brought my coffee mug as usual, so this was not the issue. The hotel’s complimentary breakfast did not supply and reusable utensils or dishes, which is where I should have known better and should have brought my own. I used two paper bowls and two plastic spoons for my oatmeal and wasn’t able to compost my apple core or banana peel anywhere. Some good can come from this experience, because now I know better than to trust cheap hotels to have reusable dishes, and next time, I will be sure to bring my own, as well as something to transport my organic waste to a compost bin.
As for other disposable drink cups, I rarely use any, especially in the winter, so it was simple for me to avoid this type of waste, especially from disposable water bottles. I have an extreme hatred for disposable water bottles that you may or may not know about. I’ve blogged incessantly about it here and here. On that note, this month I was faced with many unfriendly reminders about the extent of human impact on the Earth. Many videos about the plastic in the ocean crossed my Facebook news feed and they nearly always brought me to tears and made me feel completely useless because I wasn’t not right there cleaning it up. I always want to do more for the planet which was the main inspiration for my zero waste journey, which is basically just turning into my own personal war-on-plastic.
Some uplifting news in the global war-on-plastic this past month, is that the UK banned microplastics, which are tiny plastic particles used in many products including cosmetics, face scrub and toothpastes. This ban is extremely important because microplastics in the ocean are even more difficult to remove than larger pieces of plastic. It is estimated that there are currently 5 trillion pieces of plastic in ocean and that 8 million tons of plastic waste are added each year to the ocean. At this rate, it is predicted that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in oceans which is absolutely absurd to me. In other news, in January, Montreal, my hometown, became the first major Canadian city to ban traditional plastic bags in retail stores, however, it has now surfaced that this ban isn’t exactly what everyone originally thought it was (read more here).
I seem to have gone a bit off topic, here but I allowed myself to in hopes that maybe reading all of this will inspire you to start your own war-on-plastic as I have. The most important thing that I value during my zero waste transition is not just reducing waste, but also taking the time to learn from my mistakes and becoming more and more mindful of possible sources of waste during my everyday life and inspiring others to do the same.
To summarize the month, I only had a few slip-ups, but I can happily announce that I used zero disposable coffee cups or any type of disposable cup this month and hope to continue this trend and be more prepared next time I go on any excursion.
Reporting to you live from Montreal, the first major Canadian city to ban traditional plastic bags, or so we thought….
Alright I’m not in Montreal, but I wish I was, however, I’m still going to share with you the inside scoop on what exactly is going on with Montreal’s plastic bag ban that went into effect exactly one month ago. The rings are coming off, the coffee is going in, I’m channeling my inner Rory Gilmore to type up this storm that will deliver some very important information to you about why you can really never put too much faith in governments to do anything of value for the environment without having some kind of hidden agenda… or really ever.
At the beginning of this absurdly long month, also known as January, I came across the most embarrassing piece of journalism I’ve ever seen, and from it, I was actually able to obtain one useful fact which was that Montreal officially put into place a by-law prohibiting the distribution of traditional plastic bags in retail stores. This was not the first I had heard of it, but I was definitely happy that it had finally happened for real. I looked into more reputable, mainstream media sources to see exactly what the ban entailed and from what I could gather, it seemed that all traditional, biodegradable, oxo-degradable, disposable plastic bags were included in the ban.
Finally, what seemed like 74 days later (it was only 3 weeks), I spoke to my cousin on the phone to ask her how the ban was affecting her and she had some very surprising news for me. She noted to me that while traditional plastic bags have definitely decreased in availability, the ones offered, are actually thicker. Unfortunately I couldn’t offer her a clear reason for why this could be off the top of my head, but after doing some quick digging, I discovered the formally written by-law that states: “It is prohibited to offer clients in retail stores, against payment or free of charge, traditional plastic shopping bags less than 50 microns thick, as well as oxo-degradable, oxo-fragmentable or biodegradable plastic bags, regardless of their thickness.” The document also provides useful definitions for all those types of plastic bags so as to be as clear as possible of what it entails. From this, I seem to have found the answer to the alleged increase in plastic bag thickness that my cousin discussed.
From what I understand from that statement, and from reading the rest of the information in the document, as long as traditional plastic bags are made thicker than 50 microns, they are allowed to be distributed. Therefore, businesses can decide among paper, reusable and extra-thick plastic bags, which is the most economical type to offer to their customers, and if it so happens to be extra thick plastic bags, then that is what will be offered. It now seems as though, a by-law that was put in place to reduce the amount of plastic going into landfills isn’t all it was made out to be and might actually lead to an increase in plastic going into landfills (and into the ocean might I add).
Since it is only the first month of the ban, there is still a lot that can happen, so I will aim to follow up on this story if anything new information comes my way.
Feel free to leave us any comments, questions or concerns about this issue, we really want to hear what you have to share!
This week I decided to change it up. Here is a time-lapse of a melting plastic snowman. Oh the irony!