In the wind
In the wind
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!
Golden Hour in Waterloo Ontario.
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
This week, Charlotte and I discuss the movies “Cowspiracy” and “The Clean Bin Project”, as well as a give you an update on Charlotte’s zero waste journey.
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!