food waste

Driving home last night from a meeting, in which we conveniently discussed food waste amongst other things, I was listening to CBC and the topic of food accessibility came up.  The stat is 4 million people in Canada are not getting enough food.  Provinces were graded on their cost of and accessibility of food; Ontario performed the best, and Manitoba the worst.  In a zero-waste journey, one is always thinking of ways to reduce waste in all aspects of life, including food waste.  Food waste is such a huge topic because we are failing in so many aspects of food security.

Food security on a global scale is… well… lacking to put it mildly, and it goes beyond the headlines that are presented to us.  Two examples that stick out in my mind are Venezuela’s food crisis, and the extreme famine in Yemen and surrounding areas that are in a state of emergency due to food shortages.  People are starving.  The reasons differ, from cost to accessibility, from corruption to atrocious agricultural practices, from lack of storage capabilities to war, poverty, etc…

When I hear, see, or read of these awful things, I always come back to food waste in the country I call home, and the big question: how is it that there are so many people without food, yet we throw nearly half of what we produce in the trash?  To be fed to the landfill.  To be unused.  Grown, maintained, and tossed.  For NOTHING.  Here you go, Earth, have some methane gas because although we used copious amounts of resources to grow this food, we just don’t want it anymore for literally no reason.

Apparently this is an over thirty billion dollar problem in Canada and nothing is being done about it.  Globally, over one billion tonnes of food are thrown away each year; can you even comprehend such a number?  And in our day in and day outs we may not even see what businesses throw away each day, but the pictures that are presented once you do some research are astonishing.

Supermarkets filling their dumpsters with items that are one day over expiry, farmers not being able to sell their products because corporations have an expectation of banana curvature and specific roundness, magazines “modeling” food for beautiful pictures just to throw out everything they presented so gorgeously for a glossy centerfold.

It also goes back to independent practices.  As a teacher I see a lot of food waste daily in the classroom.  Sometimes kids decide if they don’t like apples anymore or whatever is in their sandwich that the best place for that food is the garbage.  But what have they been taught at home about food waste and food production?  What have they seen adults modeling in the area of food waste?  Do they know any better?  Are they just copying what they see us doing?  We have spent a lot of time throughout the school year talking about what it takes to grow food, how many resources, and also what we can do instead of throwing out a whole apple or banana.

Composting is not the answer either.  Though I am a compost enthusiast, it is not the answer to food waste.  Just because your green pepper is starting to look a little wrinkly doesn’t mean you should just toss it in the compost bin.  I will say it is a better option than the bin just because it is able to decompose in the compost instead of rotting and producing methane gases in your plastic trash bin.  However, we can do better.

Use what you buy or buy less.

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Get creative with your meals and keep track of the food that is about to spoil.

Don’t get too hung up on recipes; stretch them, add to, or change it up.

Buy local, and ask for culled fruits to make jams or what have you.

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Educate yourself on what is being done about food waste where you live.

Evaluate your own habits and change something.

Buy the lone bananas.

Grow your own food.

There is not one quick solution, but it starts with your own habits.  You may not be able to stop your supermarket tomorrow for wasting food, but you can do your part in your own household, and you can also share your voice.  Ask businesses what they are doing to curb food waste.  You can also refuse to support businesses that are doing nothing.  People everywhere are starving, so how is it acceptable that nearly half of our produced food is thrown away?

Some countries are taking a stand.  In Europe, some countries are at least thinking of ideas, like offering tax breaks to businesses that donate their leftovers, or even making it illegal for supermarkets to waste food.  It is something.  We have to do something.  Our current practices are not sustainable and who are they really benefiting?

A quick tip sheet from the David Suzuki Foundation.

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Food waste infographic via coolharvest.org

the kid at the top of the hill

After April bringing plenty of showers and cool weather, spring decided to show up in full swing this first week of May.  The sun was shining, the air warmed up, and the annual flood of the wetlands began to recede.  Leaving for school one morning, I felt a jolt of energy because the sun had already crested over the mountain, the sky was blue, and the air smelled sweet.  That morning I decided to take a different route.

Turning right, I drove up the hill instead of down the hill.  Kids were making their way to various schools, in cars, or on foot, just like I was.  I reached my turn off and noticed a group of kids biking to school.  I felt happy that kids were still biking and walking to school and making the most of this beautiful day.  One kid was leading the pack, riding in the middle of the empty road.  I was just about to turn off when he or she lifted their arms in the air, as if cheering, while gliding down the hill on the bike.

They may have just been showing off “Look, no hands!” to their friends, but it looked like they were looking at something and raising their arms in a cheer.  While my vehicle was stopped to let them pass, I quickly turned to look down the hill to see what he or she was looking at, and it nearly stopped my breath.

I know we live in a beautiful area, but sometimes you forget just what impact that has on your heart and soul when you really see it.  I saw a valley kissed by golden light, surrounded by mountains on each side.  The tips of the peaks were still frosted with ice and snow, standing strong on either side.  The sky was the perfect blue, and for a moment everything felt still, alive, and magnificent.  I couldn’t help the smile that spread across my face before I turned off on the next road.  That kid made my day.

Naturally, I began thinking of gratitude and appreciating the small things in life.  The small things are really the big things that you didn’t think mattered to you as much as they do.  Often we let the day in and day out take over, we spend more time in our heads than in the physical world, and I think often we skim past the small things that make us feel gratitude.  But these are the things that really count, that make you feel alive, that make you think, damn… this is what it’s all about.  Like,

the sound of the rain at night through an open window

when the first seedling appears in your tray

the smell of the forest

counting how many different bird sounds you hear in the wetlands

when the first geese return to their nesting spots and you hear their honk in the distance

when your cat wakes up and tries to meow but it comes out really hoarse

the sun cresting over the mountain

a buzzing garden full of bees

seeing your first hummingbird attend your flowers

the first cup of coffee

waking up from sunlight instead of an alarm

crunching a leaf under your shoe

when a friend tells you they miss you

the smell of fresh bread

dew on the grass

water vapour rising from a lake on a warm morning

In our society we seem to need more reminders to stop and listen to the Earth.  It talks to us every day!  If you just stop to listen, look, and hear, you too could be the kid at the top of the hill.

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Can you spot the bee?

What makes you feel gratitude?

products to live without

I haven’t written a rant for some time… I was slow to see the hit show Mad Men. I found it difficult to watch a bunch of white, sexist, racist, entitled, whiskey-swilling, chain-smoking, philandering men develop ad campaigns to sell Americans things they didn’t need. But then again, I think that was the point—to shine…

via 21 Consumer Products You Can (Likely) Live Without — The Zero-Waste Chef

I have reblogged a few posts from The Zero Waste Chef.  I love reading her recipes, tips, and rants about all things zero waste, namely zero waste in the kitchen.  A super resourceful place, and frequently when I read her posts I find myself saying “YES!”.  Especially with this one!  Recently I wrote a post about items to do without in the home, and soon after I read this post by the Zero Waste Chef.  Lots of great points here too.  Yes!

What items can YOU do without?

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?