babies are not plastic free

If you are an eco-warrior parent and managed to go completely plastic free from birth until whenever, I need to talk to you!  Though I did not implement my best efforts, I still think even if I had committed to plastic free or zero waste, I would not have been successful.  From the hospital stay to time restraints to sleep deprivation, I commend you if you were ZW successful with your newborn… and then tell me what superpower you used to manage!

Of course nowadays there are several options for where and how you want to give birth, and some may be more environmentally friendly than others.  Given this was our first baby, we chose the hospital because we were not confident to do anything else; this choice ended up being quite positive and really reiterated the fact that nurses are freaking superheroes!  However…

Some time ago I had jaw surgery and posted about hospital waste.  I realized then that there was no away around waste in a medical capacity.  The same goes for our hospital stay this time around with baby.  There is so much going on, you really are not focused on telling the nurses to refill your reusable cup instead of bringing you more straws and Styrofoam.  We were far too tired and preoccupied with bringing a new human into the world that we did not refuse the hospital food, which of course was served with plastic cutlery and packaging (kind of like on an airplane).  I did not refuse any medications they gave me post-birth that came in plastic packaging, because damn it, I needed them.  And I also did not allow myself to feel guilty about these wasteful choices.

Then you get home and realize this is going to be one crazy ride.  Filled with waste and plastic rubbish!  The first two weeks with baby at home were challenging to put it mildly.  Sometimes things just do not go the way you planned or hoped, and you need to make adaptations, which in my case, often involved plastic.

Disposable diapers.  Yes, I went there, ZW friends.  As a new parent, I had enough on my plate that I did not need to add extra laundry to it through cloth diapering, so we used disposables.  We must have added over 150 plastic diapers to the landfill.  But I can’t feel bad about that because our mental wellness had to come first, and disposables got us through the first weeks of baby’s life.  Convenient?  Yes.  Sustainable?  Hell no.  Happy to report we have been cloth-ing it for several weeks now that we (kind of) learned the ropes and are able to do the laundry and prep involved.  Horray!

Wet wipes.  Again, we used these for a little while, but not as long as the diapers.  We soon switched to washcloths and a DIY wipe solution.  Win!

Bottles.  Is this even possible plastic-free?  Sure, they make glass bottles for babies, but they often have plastic components as well.  Sure, ideally we just breastfeed and avoid all waste, but that is also not always possible when your body does not play along.  Fortunately, I do not have to use bottles much anymore.

Clothing.  I am not talking about plastic microfibers in our clothing, though that is always worth mentioning (why don’t washers have filters yet?!).  I am talking about packaging and tags… typically always plastic.  Fortunately, we have some extremely generous people in our lives, so a lot of our clothes for the wee one are second hand or were given to us.

Transportation.  Oh my goodness!  The child transportation industry is SUCH a money grab!  And as wasteful as the wedding industry.  All the necessary gadgets to move around with baby = crazy.  Car seats expire, cannot be sold used, and have a limited size and weight limit until you need to replace it; sure, you may give it to someone who needs it, but they only have until the expiry date!  And then?  Laaaandfill.  Baby carriers are largely made of fabrics, but the clips are plastic; a wrap would be the alternative, but I went with one my friend gave me, which has clips.  Fortunately, the carriers do not have an expiry date, but you need to make sure you take good care of them so they last as long as possible (oh, who am I kidding, nobody makes things that last anymore).  Strollers or other pushchairs are also often necessary, depending on your activity.  Sure, you could use the carrier everywhere, but what if you want to do some hiking?  Infant hiking backpack it is.  What if you want to go on a brisk walk, which the carrier may not allow for?  Off-roading chariot it is.  Again, I got these second-hand from friends, except for the backpack, which I can pass on to someone else when I do not need it anymore.

We avoided excessive waste and plastics where we could, but we put our mental wellness first, and if that meant using something convenient made of plastic – we did it.  Of course we were not happy about it, but we made peace with it, because your first child is a crazy new experience and you literally have to learn e v e r y t h i n g in a very short time.  It is demanding, exhausting, limiting, and tests every part of you.  It is also indescribably amazing.  So our baby may not be plastic free, but she sure is a gift!

So, fellow eco-warrior parents, tell me what you did to avoid waste during and after pregnancy.  Was it a challenge?  How much did you prep beforehand?

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diy yogurt

A lovely friend of mine gave me a recipe a long time ago to make my own yogurt.  I put it off and put it off until recently when I was really craving some damn yogurt (possibly pregnancy-related, but whatever)!  Being super plastic conscious, store-bought yogurt is not an option for me.  Firstly because once you remove the lid off the tub there is always a flimsy plastic cover that is not even recyclable.  Secondly because recycling is not the answer to our waste problems; refusing is.

Though I use yogurt tubs for storage (my husband, though very eco-conscious now, does not often like my homemade concoctions of sour cream and yogurt and still wants store-bought – I pick my battles!), these can quickly get out of hand and take over our already limited cupboard space.  So I had this recipe… and recently I just decided to go for it.  I needed that yogurt bad!

However, to make yogurt – you need yogurt!  I bought one tub of the most organic yogurt I could possibly find with the least amount of ingredients; this is important when diy’ing your own yogurt.  I had my glass bottle milk and went to work.

What you need:

  • a clean storage container large enough to fit about 3-4 cups
  • a medium saucepan and stirring device
  • 4 cups of milk
  • 1-2 tablespoons of yogurt
  • tea towels and preferably an oven (fyi: not for baking, just for temp consistency!)
  • some patience as you wait for your milk to boil

How to do it:

  1. Bring 4 cups of milk to a boil in your saucepan; please stir frequently because if you have ever heated cream or milk you’ll know it will burn to the bottom.
  2. Take saucepan off heat and let it cool.  You can use a thermometer for this, but I don’t want to be that precise, so after some time if I can hold my (clean) finger into the milk for about 20 seconds – it’s good to be transferred.
  3. Put your yogurt starter in your container.
  4. Add the lukewarm milk and stir gently.
  5. Wrap up your yogurt container like you’re taking it outside on a cold winter’s day!  I wrap several tea towels around my glass container, then line a loaf pan with another tea towel and place the container gently and upright into it.
  6. Incubate!  Turn on the light in your oven, slide in the loaf pan, and let your yogurt sit.  I usually aim for 10-12 hours to get a nice consistency.
  7. Once it has sat pretty for a long time, remove gently and put in the fridge.
  8. Eat it!

Why I do this:

  • store-bought containers = plastic waste = not cool for the planet
  • recycling = not the best option
  • refusing = better option!
  • know your ingredients
  • just to see if I can

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Have you ever tried to DIY yogurt?  Do you have a tried and true method?  Please share!

PFJ: what worked and what didn’t

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Necessities: reusable straw, travel mug, cloth bag, reusable bottle

Plastic Free July is a wonderful time of year!  I love this awareness campaign and how much momentum it gains every year with more folks joining in the challenge to see how much plastic and other waste they can avoid.  I think I have been joining in the PFJ challenge for three years, and I am trying to improve year after year.  This year, however, was a bit of a challenge, but still not a fail.

There are always two options with Plastic Free July:

  1. Avoid the 4 main culprits: plastic bags, to-go cups, straws, and plastic bottles.
  2. Avoid all sources of plastics.

I have been winning at #1 for a while.  Any shopping trip I always make sure to have my cloth bags on hand, or if I am out with a friend I take a bag for those “just in case” purchases that sometimes arise.  If I am ever at a cafe, typically I am meeting a friend and we have our beverages in the cafe’s mugs or glassware; if I am on the road and think I will need/want a java fix, I always remember my to-go cup.  If I am at a restaurant or other food business, I always ask for, “No straw, please.”  In any beverage.  I have learned you need to assume you will ALWAYS receive a straw unless specified otherwise by you.  Plastic bottles?  Nay!  I always remember my reusable bottle.

This year I really wanted to try my skills at avoiding all plastics.  Overall, if compared to most other “consumers”, I do very well with this.  However, this year I got tripped up by several factors.

What tripped me up this July:

Moving.  We have been living in the same rental place for many years, and this year it was time to make a big adult move and move into our first home.  Unforseeably, my father also managed to sell his home at the same time, so not only were we sorting through, packing up, and moving our own place, but my dad also asked us to come get all of our stuff that he has been housing at his for… thirty years?  That included old toys, books, and crap we accumulated as wasteful teenagers.

I was overwhelmed with the stuff we had to sort through.  Despite donation, giveaway, compost, and recycle piles, the trash pile still continued to grow, including many bits of plastic that were non-recyclable (damn you, non-recyclables!).  I felt defeated!

Gifts.  I recently wrote a post about accepting gifts after ending my teaching year with generous gifts and battling between gratitude and guilt.  Then we had a baby celebration.  It was beautiful because so many of my most cherished women attended and it was just a positive, cheerful environment.  We had agreed that gifts would include everyone’s favourite childhood book, as well as a donation towards a chariot for the baby.  I love my friends.  But they did not follow the rules!  Again, we received many generous gifts, that also came with plastic waste, leading to another battle of gratitude vs. guilt.

A major win was the delicious food everyone brought in mostly reusable packaging.  And the dessert.  My sister made three cakes.  Omg, they were so good.  And the decoration was simply flowers out of my father’s garden:

 

 

What continues to challenge me overall:

There are certain items I have not been able to find in bulk or make myself.  A big one is cheese.  I have read blog posts about ZW cheese, but have not been able to find a solution for myself.  I have not braved making it myself.  There is a cheese shop in the next town over, however, they sell specialty cheese, which are always more expensive; this is a balance I have to find because though my main goal is zero-waste, I also strive for sustainability, and spending $10 on a small piece of cheese does not seem sustainable to my wallet considering how much we love cheese.  So… packaged it is, unfortunately, as there are no cheese delis close by that have accepted my containers *sad face*.

Though I seem to be using less and less, cosmetics still trip me up.  I have been able to make my own blush using tiny amounts of cocoa powder.  I have been able to make my own lip balm, which has lasted me longer than ANY tube of ANYTHING I have ever bought.  I still use mascara though, which comes in non-recyclable packaging, and I have not attempted to make this myself.

Having read many posts about toothpaste, I have been keen to make my own, but have not tried.  Some recipes include special ingredients that I would have to purchase online, which would give me more packaging, as I am unable to find many of these locally.  Toothpaste tubes are annoying.  Here I am brushing my tusks with my bamboo toothbrush and using a plastic toothpaste tube.  Blah.

Let’s face it.  My cat may be cute, but she is not exactly zero-waste.  Her food, though made in Canada, does not come in biodegradable or recyclable packaging, and the only bulk pet food I can find locally are small snacks.  Yes, I could purchase canned food, which is a lot easier to recycle than plastic, however, mentioning sustainability above, the cost does not match what I need.  Also, there’s her own damn waste!  I have been able to find biodegradable litter, but this too is sold in a plastic bag.  Then there is the fact that many cats carry Toxoplasmosis in their waste, which makes me hesitant to bury it outside, which leaves me to toss it in the trash (typically in some kind of plastic bag that my husband has thrown away because daaaaaaaamn, cat waste stinks).

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Damn, she cute.

It wasn’t all challenges though!  Here are some successes:

What I tried new this PFJ to curb my plastic waste:

  • making my own yogurt
  • eating less cheese
  • making my own condiments: ketchup, mayonnaise
  • frequenting the farmers’ market every week and stocking up on local fruit to fill the freezer, veggies sans packaging or twist-ties, and bread in paper bags; the vendors have been wonderful letting me use my own produce bags/containers
  • making dishwasher tabs
  • obtaining our baby items second hand instead of buying new and packaged, such as crib, car seat, etc.

And you?  How did you fare with Plastic Free July this year?  Did you meet your goals?  Try something new?  Keep getting tripped up by something?  Please share!

To top it all off, my friend and fellow blogger, Allie, presented me with this lovely reusable to-go cup to celebrate our PFJ efforts!  Thanks, Allie!

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ZW moving?

A recent house move is really tripping up my Plastic Free July efforts!  We have just moved into our first “home” and with it came not only a heatwave of 36+ degrees, my father selling his home at the same time, and endless stair stepping with an 8 month pregnant belly, but also so much waste.  It was overwhelming to pack up, move out, and unpack, and of course this job is so far from over!

As we were moving I felt there was no way for me to control what I was throwing away or getting rid of.  It just kept reminding me that we never truly know how much useless crap we have until we have to move it all and sort through it.

Now, to be fair to myself here, we were moving things that had been accumulated by two people over a 30+ year life span, and I did not start becoming aware of my wasteful impact on the planet until about four years ago.  You can imagine just how much stuff we had to sift through and get rid of, especially since my dad was moving at the same time!  He still had things from us at his house from our first years of life!  Of course, since we have a wee one on the way I ended up keeping a lot of those things, but there were still large donation, recycle, and trash piles despite my efforts.

It was difficult.  Not just the physical aspect of moving in the heat and with limitations, but just seeing our impact.  Our two person impact forever on the planet.  Though I cannot change what I have previously accumulated, I can change it for the future.  I can change what I bring into our home, what I say yes to, and what I refuse.  I can reevaluate what we need vs. what we want.  I can borrow, mend and make last, or buy second hand.

Have you moved house/city/or even country while involved in this lifestyle?  How did you manage the waste?  Did you take extra steps to combat your impact?

Here are some fellow bloggers discussing this topic:

The WASTED Blog

Tiny Yellow Bungalow

My Zero Waste

dishwasher tabs

Typically I do not like using my dishwasher; some say it saves water compared to washing them by hand, others say the opposite.  Usually I found it more convenient to just wash them by hand, since it generally takes us a few days to make one dishwasher load worthwhile.  However, with this pregnancy, and I reckon once the baby arrives, we have and will use the dishwasher more.

If you are trying to achieve a low or zero waste lifestyle, you definitely cannot depend on store-bought brands to be package-free if you are in search of dishwasher tabs.  The box may be cardboard, but once you open it up you will find that each tab is individually wrapped (if you use tabs) in non-recyclable packaging.  Bah!  Not helpful!

But!  There are lots of recipes out there for you to try to make your own (or liquid version), and most of those recipes use ingredients you already have on hand; i.e. baking soda, vinegar, lemon, etc.  Not one recipe will work for every person, as our water hardness can affect the outcome, etc.

This is the first time I have tried making dishwasher tabs, and I will use them again because they did the job with minimal streaking or residue.  I started with a half recipe to have a tester batch:

1/2 cup of baking soda
1/2 cup of washing soda
1/2 cup of salt
2 tbsp. of citric acid
1/2 cup of water
vinegar for rinse

Mix all of the dry ingredients together.  Add the water and let the bubbles fizzle out a bit before mixing it together (about a minute or so).  Then mix together and scoop about one tablespoon into an ice cube tray; my ice cube tray is quite deep, so next time I will do smaller scoops to fit better into my dishwasher!  Press the stuff down with your finger to fill out the mold.  Leave the tray sitting out to dry overnight before twisting the tabs out.  These are not super solid, so the edges may brittle off, but mine stayed mostly in tact.  Find a container, plunk ’em in gently, and they are ready for use.

This is where I found the original recipe, and next time I will use a little more vinegar for the rinse, as I was unsure how much to use and really was sparing with it.

Pros:

  • cheaper than the store-bought alternative
  • no mysterious ingredients
  • easy and quick to make
  • less packaging = less waste to landfill

Cons:

  • tiny bit of effort required (oh, boohoo!)
  • not completely zero waste for me, as I have not been able to find vinegar or citric acid in bulk form; however, still less packaging than if I went store-bought

Do you have any go-to recipes for dishwasher tabs/liquids, or liquid dish detergent?

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the challenge of accepting gifts

You would think that giving and accepting gifts is just a natural thing and that everyone is happy and grateful when they receive and give gifts.  It has just become such a huge part of our society.  We give gifts on special occasions, like birthdays, or other holidays like Christmas, or made-up holidays like Valentine’s Day.  We give gifts sometimes ‘just because’ to show others we appreciate them.  But does it always have to be stuff?

The act of giving a gift I have nearly perfected (in my eyes).  I shop or create with waste in mind, and try to make or purchase something that the person will use; not something that will stand around unnecessarily collecting dust, and also not something that will create a large amount of garbage.  For holidays or other occasions I have made food gifts, like cookies in a jar, or body care products like homemade lip balm or sugar scrub.

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Mint sugar scrub

I’m a teacher.  For two years I taught at a middle school; at this age, kids do not give gifts to teachers, nor do parents feel obligated to gift something.  I was happy about this because I do not need anything.  Some positive comments or cards from kids made me beyond grateful and happy, and one student gave me a cactus, which I still have today!

This year though I taught in an elementary school and gifts were just a part of the school culture.  This was difficult for me, as I cannot push my zero-waste passions aside just to accept or give a gift.  I had to really think about the kind of gift I would want to receive as a parent, say for mother’s day or Christmas, that are typically made at school.  So for Christmas, the students made salt dough ornaments.  For Mother’s day, since May is a beautiful time to grow things, we grew a class set of tomato seedlings, and created a flower pot out of twigs.  For Father’s day, I bulk shopped various spices, and we mixed together a steak rub at school; the students handmade their own “gift bags” after learning a paper folding method.

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Salt dough ornament

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Tomatoes everywhere!

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Tying twigs together to form a flower pot

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Steak rub ingredients: coriander, mustard seed, rosemary, course salt, pepper, thyme, chili flakes, dehydrated onion, dehydrated garlic

These were gifts the families could use, and hopefully they appreciated that more than a craft that would sit around for a while and later either be put in a box or thrown out.  I am not saying what their kids craft at school is pointless – I just wanted to take a different approach and the students had a lot of fun with it.

Accepting gifts is a-whole-nother story.  I am sure a lot of people both agree and disagree with my perspective on accepting gifts.  Some people may even call me ungrateful, but gratitude is not the problem.  I am very grateful whenever someone thinks of me and shows me in whatever way they want to show me that.  But, like I said, I cannot ignore my environmental brain, and always wish I would receive zero gifts.

It was overwhelming how many gifts I received at the end of the school year this week; beautiful and sweet items, and I loved them all.  But.  Each one in their own individual gift bag with tissue paper.  As I was sorting through these at home I realized just how much garbage I had created; tags and the plastic that holds them to the item, unrecyclable paper and bags, unrecyclable package boxes, plastic gift cards, etc.  Half of me was grateful and beyond appreciative for the gesture from the kids and their families – the other half just thought about the impact to the planet.

It is one thing to notify your friends and family about giving gifts and avoiding packaging; they know you and most of them will accept your lifestyle and wishes and try to abide (with exceptions – I would never expect my 90 year old grandmother to adapt to me, and I’ve tried asking for no gifts, but clearly that’s not going to happen).  From close loved ones you also expect there will be less judgment from your requests; for my bridal shower two years ago, my friends were amazing – the theme was eco-friendly, and many brought homemade food gifts, and one even brought a beautiful basket full of veggies from her garden.

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Food gifts are amazing.

However, in a professional setting, it is beyond difficult to state “No gifts” or “Eco-friendly gifts” with fear of others responding with, “Who the hell does she think she is?”  Sure, I could be like, HUMBUG, who cares – this my style and you better accept!  But that’s not me at all.

So my question to you in my green online community is… HOW do you deal with this?  How do you accept gifts, refuse gifts, give gifts?  How do you do this in a respectful way without being too preachy, etc?

INHABIT: A permaculture perspective

Who doesn’t love a good documentary to get your inspiration and motivation and feel-good juices flowing?  This happened for me Friday night with INHABIT: A permaculture perspective, screened by Wildsight at the lovely Studio & Stage Door theatre.  Now, I am by no means a permaculture expert, but I am someone who cares deeply for the environment, sees the destruction of our current monoculture food systems, and sees the necessity of biodiversity; I mean, really, if you have ever walked in a natural space like a forest or a wetland, you will see hundreds, maybe thousands, of different species of plants and animals living in one space – that’s what nature is and that is how it thrives.

What jumped out to me the most in this documentary was that so many people on Earth think that somehow we are a separate entity from these natural systems; we somehow exist independently and we won’t stop until we “rule them all”, like somehow we are entitled to own and run them as we see fit.  This could not be the further from fact.  We depend on the land, plants, water, animals, and the very soil beneath our feet.  What are we without it?  Every choice we make impacts our home somehow.  Luckily there are many people on Earth that see it as the circle it is; that we are all interconnected with all other living and nonliving things.

The film highlighted various individuals or families, mostly across the United States, taking small spaces, urban spaces, rooftop spaces, and unused spaces, and turning them into a polyculture haven.  Images of barren, abandoned and seemingly unusable spaces, transformed into living gardens that produce food and an ecosystem for all sorts of creatures.  One homeowner had a very small, sad looking lot, which is what many people have, but with determination and heart, his family turned it into a jungle of food producing gold; countless fruits, vegetables, trees, shrubs, plants, now inhabit the place that was once a rectangle of a lacking, lonely lawn.

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INHABIT documentary

Something else that stood out to me was the wastewater in New York City.  When it rains, that rain travels into the same pipes and same destination as their wastewater systems; of course, in NYC, a paved landscape, the water has nowhere to go because very little soil is exposed or left, so off to the drains it goes.  And do you know where this heavy accumulation of rain and waste water end up?  The ocean and other waterways, of course!  Where else would they pump it to?  Not only is this hazardous and detrimental to marine ecosystems, but it is also very unnecessary, as there are alternatives to soak up that beautiful rain water before it just gets pumped away.  Think about it.  What could a city do to use this rainwater instead of waste it?  A city of a million buildings.  Rooftop gardens!

What was most impressive is that these people just started with heart and an idea.  They observed the land and its patterns.  They knew what they wanted to do with it, and all it took was a redesign process to encourage growth, production, and biodiversity, but in a way that was beneficial to the soil and land instead of robbing it of all its nutrients and top soil.  These people changed food production from a destructive to a regenerative design.  From agriculture to permaculture.  And that is a beautiful thing.

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