Earth Week in the classroom

Happy Earth Day 2017, everyone!  What a lovely day dedicated to the Earth and a time in which we can reflect on our current habits and try to change one thing to become more sustainable or at least less damaging.  Cloth shopping bags?  Travel mugs?  Reusable water bottles?  Composting?  Rain harvesting barrel?  Garden?  There are endless things you can do that go beyond plain recycling.  I think no change is too small.  If you care just a little more this year, it could make all the difference.

It is too fun including students in the Earth Month/Week/Day, whatever you want to call it, process.  They have so many ideas at any age about what is not sustainable (even if they don’t know yet what that word means), and how we can better our practices.  A great place to practice these changes is at school.  That way they can practice almost every day and take their new ideas home.

We decided to have more of an Earth Month, and I suppose we even started on World Water Day when we began talking about water conservation back in March.  We could go back even further to October when we participated in Waste Reduction Week and found ways to reduce our daily garbage.  Since then our school has implemented Wasteless Wednesdays because our intermediate students strongly believed we shouldn’t just have one day for waste reduction – we should practice this all year long.  Students began replacing plastic baggies with reusable containers, using reusable water bottles, etc.

In October we also spent some time sorting through our garbage and tallying up what we produce most of (the biggest culprit was Ziploc bags).  We also went more in depth into composting, and what is recyclable.

But back to Earth Week now!  The students came up with many ideas of how to help the Earth.  Surprisingly, many of them said, “Hug a tree!”, which I have mentioned several times throughout my blog!  We decided we should pay tribute to these wonderful beings, and dedicated several painting lessons to just our evergreen trees.  In the fall we purchased three saplings locally that we will soon plant on school grounds.

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Our classroom is in a really nice, bright spot too, so most of the time when the sun is shining we open the door, blinds, and turn the lights off.  Unless students are reading or writing, there are usually few lights on because we do not need them.  I find this helps their focus too, and the natural light creates a better sense of calm.  It’s awesome!

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Many of the students maintain a garden at home (so awesome!), so I thought we had to plant something edible.  Tomatoes it is!  Many of them have sprouted, some have not, but we will keep waiting.  We do not have a garden at our school, but these will become gifts the students will take home instead.

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I saw a great idea on Pinterest to make a flower pot out of twigs.  We spent a sunny morning collecting similar sized twigs in the forest nearby and are now tying these together slowly to create our pots.

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Luckily, Take me Outside Day – spring edition – happened during Earth Week, which is more than fitting!  The outdoors can be used for much more than just exercise, and play, so we decided to take Math outside and create a money coin system using nature items like pinecones, rocks, sticks, etc.

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At the beginning of Earth Week, we were finding lots of garbage scattered on our school grounds, so my class decided to do something that would help both our school and the environment.  We took one big reusable bag and spent a sunny morning walking through the school grounds picking up any pieces of garbage we could find.  The students were not only surprised that older students were littering, but they were concerned that birds and other animals might think these items were food.  They totally get it.  It’s amazing.  We picked up a whole lot of garbage and sorted it after into compostables, reyclables, and trash.  Unfortunately, most of it was trash.

On Friday we did an entire school clean up of not only our school grounds, but also a park and forest nearby.  What we found most of were snack wrappers, like granola bar wrappers, and chip bags, that are of course not recyclable.

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What a fun week!  What did you get up to during Earth Month/Week/Day?

refuse, reduce, and save

Once I read somewhere that zero waste is expensive and only achievable by folks with dollars to spend on shiny stainless steel containers, bamboo furniture, top end reusable bottles, and other fancy non-plastic gadgets.  Now, I suppose it depends just what you are trying to achieve.  Trend?  Doing right by the world?  Or are there obstacles?

The thing is, it does not have to be expensive.  For me, it has been a way to reflect on what I have and to make what I have last longer, and to consistently be looking for alternatives.  There is always more than one way of doing things.  Simplifying and getting creative can save you money in the long run.  Here is an example of Kathryn at Going Zero Waste keeping track of her savings while cutting down and cutting out.

There are a lot of things I don’t feel the need to buy anymore.  I have not counted up the savings or done a compare-to, but here are some things I’ve been able to cut out or reduce and replaced with reusable options:

aluminum foil, plastic wrap, plastic baggies, and other food wrapping materials:  To me, these are a waste of money and not a necessity, and also super wasteful, as most people just toss out the plastic sandwich baggies, and just keep spending to throw them away; it makes no sense!  I have replaced most food storage containers with glass, and some reusable plastic containers.  There are also many different ways of storing vegetables without having to use plastic – just ask the Zero Waste Chef.  As far as price is concerned, I either found my glass jars in thrift stores, or reused ones that store-bought food came in, like pickle or salsa jars.

paper towels, napkins, and tissues:  Not only are they expensive and wasteful, but a huge amount of resources go into making these paper products.  A lot of fresh water is used and wasted in production, including using it to rinse out excess bleach.  Great use of our drinking source?  I think not.  I have replaced these with rags, cloth napkins, and handkerchiefs when I need them; none of these items I spent money on, as rags are easy to come by, the cloth napkins were a second-hand gift from my sister, and the handkerchiefs were my Opa’s ❤

deodorant, lotion, and lip balm:  Ingredients of my former deodorant: cyclomethicone, aluminum chlorohydrate, stearyl alcohol, PPG-14 butyl ether, talc, hydrogenated castor oil, chamomilla recutita flower extract, bisabolol, persea gratissima oil, octyldodecanol, glycine soybean oil, glyceryl stearate SE, BHT.  Umm… what?!  Okay, so aside from these random thingamajigs in the product, it still left me with stinky pits at the end of the day, so there had to be a better alternative.  I make my own now and I have never smelled more neutral.  Woo!

Ingredients of my former lotion: glycerin, distearyldimonium chloride, petrolatum, isopropyl palmitate, cetyl alcohol, dimethicone, colloidal oatmeal, benzyl alcohol, sodium chloride.  Lots of strange ingredients, but mostly I just found it ran out too quickly.  So I made my own, as well as my own lip balm.  Lasts way longer (over a year now and haven’t had to make a new batch), costs less, and no tubes or bottles to toss out.  See my ZW Bathroom Alternatives for recipes.

cleaning products:  These are so expensive, they smell weird, and there seems to be one product for pretty well every separate piece of furniture in your home.  I have scrapped them all and have not bought any in years.  What I use to clean various surfaces are vinegar, borax, baking soda, and lemon juice.  Way cheaper, more natural, and gets the job done.

dryer sheets:  Expensive, smell weird, and are pretty toxic to the environment.  To cut out, I line-dry mainly, or if I ever use the dryer, I use wool dryer balls that can be used for countless cycles and can be composted once used up.  You can also make your own.

cosmetics:  I do not use that much anyway.  I still have ancient containers of eye shadow that go unused unless it’s Halloween or something.  I have stopped purchasing blush and just use tiny amounts of cocoa powder.  Next on my list is to make my own mascara.  I have never tried this, so wish me luck.  That will help me cut out yet another item.

processed food:  Food and I have changed our relationship drastically in the last years.  In order for me to cut down on excess packaging, I had to shop smarter and get creative.  I don’t need to buy chocolate syrup, I can make my own.  I don’t need to buy sour cream, I can make my own.  I don’t need to buy granola bars, I can make my own.  Etc, etc.  I’m not saying I buy nothing processed or packaged, but I have significantly reduced those items, which has saved me lots of money in making it myself, and of course has helped me avoid excess packaging (because bananas already HAVE a protective peel!).

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tampons and pads:  There are even alternatives in this category.  Super wasteful, full of plastics, bleach, etc, and not exactly a cheap necessity.  Menstrual cups and cloth pads is all I have to say about that.

water bottles:  Do we need to go there again?  If you have ever read any of my water posts, then you will know how I feel about plastic water bottles!  I bought a reusable water bottle years ago, and though it has been dented and has a hard time standing up straight, it is still serving me well as I fill it up in my home and take it wherever I go.  No water bottle purchases necessary.

My point is… there are alternatives.  Cut down and cut out where you can, and that will make all the difference.

Another thoughtful perspective on this topic by Paris To Go.

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clever marketing and we’re buying it

There is a jumbled mess of thoughts running through my head right now because I cannot narrow down my one main idea for this post.  There are several things tying together, such as our consumerism society, bombarding marketing schemes, and back to the topic of the fast fashion industry and how we support it.

Thought #1:  Recently I posted about fast fashion after having watched True Cost, a documentary about the behind the scenes of this industry and how it affects the garment workers and the environment.  It is not news that H&M has often been called out on their standard-less factories and how they undervalue the very people that make their clothes and help them make billions of dollars each year.  Well, recently I came upon a great post by Global Hobo which made me aware of an ad that H&M had run for an autumn collection.  This post also made me aware of clever, clever marketing.

Apparently this ad was welcomed by individuals, some calling it a “masterpiece” and how wonderful H&M spoke up for women of all shapes, colours, and sizes.  I watched the ad and thought it was a bunch of crap.  Though I liked the spotlight on women being women and loving themselves, which is an important message, I hated it all at the same time because I knew the bottom line: H&M wants you to buy their clothes.  It’s not about empowering women, it’s about making money and they cleverly thought of a plan with a team of smarties to sell more clothes.

Also, let’s realize here why the ad is such huge crap.  Most garment workers are women.  They are not fairly paid.  They are forced to work in horrendous conditions.  They have to work long hours but do not get any extra compensation.  There is no maternity leave.  Often women get fired when they become pregnant.  There are no unions.  There are no standards.  There are no laws in place to uphold standards.  So.  Sure.  Empower women.  But only if they have the money to move in this materialistic economy?

Thought #2:  Our economy runs on materialism and we support it by buying into it.  Clever marketing is everywhere all the time: billboards, newspapers, TV, magazines, when you log out of your e-mail account, Facebook, any other social media, blog sites, websites, radio… it is literally everywhere all the time.

Another ad that made me react was highlighted on the True Cost documentary.  Picture this:  a black and white picture features a blonde, frizzy haired, upset woman in the center of the screen.  She looks unhappy; she frowns, her eyebrows are pulled in, she blows her hair up from her face in a look of exasperation.  The woman is alone.

In comes a bright green bottle of Garnier Fructis shampoo to the middle of the screen.  The screen splits itself; one half is the black and white image, and the other is a brightly coloured, sunlit backyard.  The woman appears to jump through the shampoo bottle to the other side.  Her hair turns a silky golden colour, bouncing on her shoulders as she begins to laugh and smile.  She is surrounded by friends, and a man lovingly approaches her.  Everyone is happy on the green grass under the bright sun, having a backyard party with lots of good feels.  Because of shampoo.

The message?  You will be unhappy and alone if you do not have nice hair?  If you buy our shampoo you will have lots of friends and you will be beautiful?  Our shampoo will make you feel happy and worthy?  What do you think?

It’s just all so twisted.  We are evaluated by the stuff we have and how much of it we have.  It always has to be more.  It always has to be bigger, and better, and more.  Why does stuff define who we are?  Why are we letting it?  Why is that the thing that we are raised with?  Gifts and stuff.  I am not saying I do not have stuff.  Sure, I have lots of stuff.  But in the last two years I have really revamped my thoughts on stuff and what it really means to me.  And what it means for the world.  Are we really as rich as corporations make us think we are?

Richness is not found in the things we own.  Richness is family, love, nature, and friendship.  Richness is happiness in the form of positive connections and relationships.  Isn’t it?  Or shouldn’t it be?

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fast fashion

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“Cute top, where’d you get it?”

Chances are, you have no idea where that cute top came from.  You have no idea who made it, where they made it, under what conditions they made it, and what sacrifices they had to make on a daily basis to have made it.  You have no idea what dyes went into that cute top, or how the fibers of that top were grown and what environmental impacts that has had on the region in which they were grown.  All you know is that it’s cute.  And probably $4.95 from a top brand store.  Bargain.

It is easy for us to be sucked into the fast fashion world.  We are considered “consumers” after all.  We consume things, and our economy functions on the basis of us consuming things.  If we didn’t consume material things, well, our system wouldn’t really work anymore now would it?  We are blasted constantly on various platforms with images and advertisements of clothing, shoes, fragrances, jewelry, vehicles, etc., marketed in such a way that leads us to believe that we will feel happy when we buy these things.  We will feel beautiful.  We will feel loved.  And we will stand out.  We will be important.  This is the message and we are eating it up.

When do we ever give what we buy a second thought?  Now I am not talking in the sense of, second thought because of price.  What I mean is second thought about the questions about the cute top.  Do we do research?  Do we care about fair trade?  Really, truly?  Do we care about “ethical”?  And are there standards in place to support a company’s claim to being “ethical”?  Ethical to what extent and whose regulations?

Finally I made time to watch “The True Cost”, a documentary about the behind the scenes of the fast fashion world.  What do we find when we really look into fast fashion?  Underpaid, overworked labourers, working in horrendously unsafe conditions, not only in the sense of the factory’s structure, but also the toxic materials they are exposed to not only during the dyeing and sewing of garments, but the abundance of pesticides and other chemicals applied to GMO cotton fields to make the garments.  We see illnesses and disorders from overexposure to these chemicals and conditions.

We see mostly women working long hours in hot and unsafe conditions.  No parental leave, no benefits, no unions.  We see a mother having to leave her young daughter with her parents because there is no one to take care of her, and taking her to the factory with her is not a safe environment for a child.  We see this mother without options because she does not want her daughter to have to be a garment worker.  We see this mother wanting to make a change, even having started her own union in her factory; when she and other workers united and made demands for better working conditions, they were locked in the factory and beaten by their superiors to silence them.

We see appalling environmental impacts, like waster water being poured into fresh water rivers, leaving residents without access to clean drinking water; foam, discolouration, and oil and other residues sit idly in embankments, or float aimlessly down the river.  We see a haze of pesticides floating over the cotton fields, and workers spraying without masks or other safety gear.  Not only do we see waste in areas of production, but also waste in areas of consumption.  We produce over 14 million tons of textile waste each year on this side of the pond.  Are you okay with that?

Of course, there is another side to this.  Unfortunately, the workers in these countries need the jobs.  So just because a T-Shirt reads “Made in Bangladesh”, does not mean you should just toss it back on the table.  However, you as the “consumer” (I am really beginning to dislike that word), need to do some research.  I can only speak for me, but I am not okay with purchasing something from a company that has no standards for the ethical treatment of their workers.  If it’s offered cheap, it’s made cheap, and somewhere cuts were made.

So just because it’s cheap, or on sale, or super cute, or it “spoke to you from the rack”, does not mean you have to buy it.  You have a lot of power as a customer, and you have a choice to make when you shop.  You can choose to support companies that have zero standards, or you can make conscious shopping choices.  Look into fair trade, look into steps smaller companies are taking, and ask important questions.  Fast Fashion is not sustainable.  And though you may feel amazing coming home with giant bags filled with clothes, what does that really mean to you?  What is it truly giving you?  Just give it a second thought.

Good timing for this post.  Just found this on my FB feed this morning: headline reads “Fast fashion: Rivers turning blue and 500 000 tonnes in landfill.”  Even donating your clothing is not the answer.  How do you fight fast fashion?  How do you shop for clothing?  Have you found ethical or fair trade brands that support good standards?

highlighting green business: Bulk Barn

If you see a store committing wasteful practices and you feel you have a positive alternative to share with them, it is important to share your voice with that company.  Let them know you, the consumer, will no longer purchase X product because of its wasteful properties.  Several bloggers from our network have shared letters or e-mails they wrote to companies about some of their practices, and some even received positive responses in which the company said they would change their ways or at least consider alternatives.  So not only is it important to highlight the wasteful ones, it is just as important to highlight the ones that are doing green business, or taking positive environmental steps.

Bulk shopping has been difficult in my hometown, as most businesses will not let you bring your own containers due to “cross contamination”, and those businesses that do let you bring your own do not have a very large selection of bulk products.  Bulk Barn is our biggest bulk food provider here, but when I asked in-store last year they just shook their head and said “nope”.  I ended up e-mailing the company and asking why this was not an option, and they responded with the issue of “cross contamination”, also adding that they have heard that question a lot.  Hmm…

However, “cross contamination” magically did not become an issue anymore!  Bulk Barn launched a nationwide pilot program to test-run the alternative of their shoppers bringing their own containers.  And guess what?  Consumers responded so positively to this change, and it was a huge success.  Result?  As of February 24, 2017, Bulk Barn changed their policy on containers!  You can now bring in your own clean, non-chipped, closable containers to fill up on their bulk items.  YAY!

So how does it work?  I bring glass jars for things like peanut butter, honey, and coconut oil, and cotton drawstring bags made by my mother (thanks Mutti) for dry products like rice, beans, or loose leaf tea.  When you get to the store, bring your containers/bags to the till and they will weigh them and put a little sticker on (okay, so not completely zero waste due to the sticker, but a better alternative).  This weight will be removed from the price when you’re all done.  Then go fill up on your goods, and go pay.  Easy peasy.

What green-ness or non-green-ness have you witnessed in stores you visit?  How are companies changing to more environmentally positive practices?

Now if only grocery stores would stop putting produce stickers on every single piece of fruit and veg… grrrr!

World Water Day

When was the last time you truly appreciated water?  Do you have a favourite stream, lake, or ocean shore?  Do you remember what it looks, sounds, and feels like as you are standing there watching the water move?  Its shape, power, and persistence.  Its many forms.  Rain, snow, glacial sheets, wetlands, frost, fog, dew.  Do you realize it is the lifeline of our planet?  When was the last time you felt gratitude for water?

If you live in a developed country with water treatment plants, irrigation systems, etc., you may not experience water gratitude every day because we sometimes take for granted what runs so freely from our taps.  Thirsty?  Grab a glass of water and head over to the tap.  Not near a tap?  Go to any store and buy a bottle of water.  Not near a store?  Chances are that fresh water sources are near enough to you.  There is little effort required for us to obtain fresh, clean, drinkable water.  But is that the same if we look at the global scale?  No.  Hard no.  Here is some visual perspective.

Yesterday was World Water Day, did you know?  The future of access to clean water looks quite dire, so I spent some time with my class discussing water conservation, and what obtaining fresh water looks and feels like in countries around the world.  We read a book called “Water Princess“, which tells the true story of a young girl in Africa and her daily task of gathering water from the nearest well; the nearest well being a four or five hour walk away.  We discussed what this would mean for her life, and how this compares to that of my students’ lives.  What time does she leave with her mother to get water?  Early morning.  When does she return?  Evening.  Does she have time to go to school?  Does she have time to be a child?  What do they use the water for?  Is any drop wasted?  How often must they go to get the water?

We do not always realize how water impacts people and animals around the world.  Yes, the Earth is covered in water.  But only a fraction of that water is safe for us to drink.  But what is happening to our fresh water sources?

What I see as the major problems regarding fresh water, and I am in no way an expert, just an observant environmental educator, is pollution, waste, and that water is not treated as a human right, but rather a commodity.

  1. Pollution: oil spills, tailings ponds, microplastics, sewage both from human sources, as well as livestock lots, etc., illegal dumping of many toxic materials, pipelines cutting through fresh water sources, and the list goes on.
  2. Waste: we do not pay for the amount we use.  The waste I see/read of most: watering lawns for hours on end, pressure washing driveways, vehicles, etc., not fixing leaky taps or replacing old, leaky pipes, as well as the use of water in factories (i.e. thousands of gallons of fresh water are used in the production of items such as paper towels and tissues).
  3. Commodity: corporations buy out fresh water springs all over the world, often in poor villages that depend on the water to drink.  They then claim rights to that spring and charge the villagers an impossible rate to buy the water back; since this is not achievable, they must find other sources far away, or drink unsafe water.  When you buy bottled water, you support these companies, and you tell them it is okay to prevent impoverished people from access to clean water.  Think of Nestle, Coca Cola, Veolia, Suez, and other companies that will continue pumping “their” spring no matter what, whether drought or thirst-stricken villages, if there is $ to be made, they will make it.

So what can we do?  First, you can make a choice.  You can choose to look the other way, or you can choose to act.  You may feel one person cannot do much, but your choice will impact those of others.  Be water aware, and remind yourself that not everyone in the world has the same easy water access as you.  Educate yourself on water conservation, and what you can do with your power as a consumer.  Here is a short list of things you can do daily on my post: ZW Water.

And now some pictures of lovely water:

the moments that are

It is easy to get caught up in the grossness of the world, and especially as someone who strives for zero-waste and is conscious of every piece of garbage that lands in the house bin, I can easily get frustrated and angry at the over-consumption and wasteful habits of others.  Some may call this lifestyle extreme, but I simply think I am doing my job to fulfill my environmental responsibility.  The Earth and its elements are the only reason we are alive and we are destroying it piece by piece.

I see it every day.  Headlines of pipelines, people protesting to protect land and water being attacked, oil spills.  I see it in others’ habits, like using disposable cutlery as a daily use item, or those who do not compost or recycle or do anything for the planet that could compromise convenience.  I see it every where I go, including out in the wilderness where a coffee cup was abandoned in a brush or a granola bar wrapper is caught in a stream.  It is easy to become overwhelmed, throw up your hands, and say what is the point.

But yesterday I was walking along, alone, briskly through the snow, the wind lapping at my face, and my brain consumed with thoughts of life; the tasks behind me, the tasks ahead, the items on the checklist, the carelessness of others.  I am going to get real poetic now because it was as if Mother Earth heard me and my brain and wanted to give me a reality check.  I was so caught up in my thoughts I was not even taking in the landscape, so Mother Earth said, “Slow down, child.  And look.

A hole had formed in the grey mass of clouds above me and shone onto the hill I was walking down.  The winter grass glowed golden, the trees were alive and green, and I stopped immediately, nearly tripping over my own feet.  I looked across the valley and saw a frozen blue lake in the distance, snow powdering the tips of the mountain range, crows flying overhead, and a river that has over time carved itself through the land, meandering this way and that.  The Earth is alive.  And I was missing it.  And then I remembered that this is why I do what I do and why every action you take matters.

I love my home.  And I am alive.