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.

a poem

sweet child, as yours and the life of the world unfold
take great care for the world is much darker than you were told

not all fairytales rainbows and happy ever afters
or unicorns and books that give you all the answers

there are people in this world much unlike you and me
who move for power, breathe for greed unlike anything you can believe to see

but that is them and you are you
no one can take from your heart what is true

your voice will be much bigger, bigger than you can believe
and your voice and her voice and his voice and their voice
will make the difference in what you can achieve

sweet child, you have a choice what path you want to lead
you need not be consumed by the hopelessness they feed

gasp at the rainbow
stare at the raven
watch the pearl drops on the leaves glow

gaze at the mountains
follow the river
draw out the range like you are surrounded

listen for the birds
smile at the wind
smell the Ponderosa
taste the spring

and when the first snow glides early in the morning of your 30th year
stop and smile and remember you are here

For my Birthday

For my birthday I rarely have wishes
I rarely want presents
I rarely need a thing

But this year is different
For I want so many things
That it nearly feels selfish

What I want is something very valuable
Something incredibly vital
Yet inexcusably simple

I want you to care
I want you to change
I want you to accept

Care about your daily impact
Change one small thing
Accept responsibility

I want you to learn
I want you to unite
I want you to be

Learn about alternatives
Unite for the sake of our future
Be part of the solution

I’m only one
But you are too

Passion Project: environmental responsibility

Hi.  I am a teacher.  And to remain balanced in who I am, and also model for my students what balance is in their lives, I have to teach with passion.  To be passionate about something means you care deeply and wholeheartedly about something.  I suppose to be passionate will look different for every person.  One of my greatest passions, if you haven’t already figured it out, is the environment.  Oh, it’s yours too?!  GREAT!

One thing that bugs me about humanity is that too many of us are just living for today.  We get that message a lot; live in the now, be present now, be here now.  But what about tomorrow?  What about next year?  And what about when your kids turn 50?  And what about when your grandkids turn 50?  What kind of a mess are you okay leaving for them?  And are you doing your part to lessen the mess?  I ask myself this constantly.  What am I doing to lessen the mess?

My job is pretty cool because I get to weave my own passions into my teaching, and get the kids excited about the same things.  I get to model my own environmental responsibility, and show them not only how to better care for the environment, but make them think about why this is important; how does it affect me?

I remember a few years ago I was presenting compost education to a group of Grade 4s.  We had spoken about landfills and how to lessen our food waste and greenhouse gas production by composting, and this kid after a whole lot of information puts up his hand and asks, “But… what about when our landfill is full?”  I respond, “We will have to find and clear more land to build another one.”  He says, “But… that one will fill up too.”  I respond, “Yes, it will.”  I could see him SEE IT.  It was awesome.

Last year with my Grade 7s I did a Waste Reduction project.  #waytooproud.

This year I am teaching Grade 2s and we just had another Waste Reduction Week.  I knew I wanted to focus on one thing that irks me so much: plastic waste.  Our school is already nailing the composting and recycling, but I see so much plastic waste coming in via students’ lunches, so I thought that would be a good focus.

Task 1: ask custodial staff to not empty our garbage.  We gathered our week’s worth of garbage, and emptied it onto a tarp to view and sort it.  I picked up a handful of straws and said, “These straws will be on our planet forever.”  They got really upset!  But, like, angry upset that such a thing is even possible!  Ignite the passion!

Task 2: sort our garbage by type, then focus on the biggest amount.  We were able to sort out some food waste for the compost and some recyclables, but our non-recyclables left us with 7 straws, 2 plastic forks, 8 yogurt cups, 10 Styrofoam cups, 29 Ziploc bags, and 35 candy and granola bar wrappers, which we recorded by practicing our tally marks.  We then graphed our findings on the Smartboard to find our biggest culprits.

Task 3: small group discussion for reusable options to replace plastic waste item.  We shared our ideas as a class.  Some students mentioned they already had certain containers that helped them avoid Ziploc bags.  We viewed these as a class.  I also sent home a letter asking for help thinking of more options, and to tell families what our goals were.

Task 4: this week, each student receives a paper “garbage” bag.  Our garbage cans are out of order.  What cannot be composted or recycled, must be put into their own garbage bag.  We will review our findings on Friday.

My next steps are to discuss the whys.  I have already introduced the students to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and luckily a few weeks ago we had a Creek Science workshop and in that the kids learned about where our streams end up; namely, the Pacific Ocean.

More updates to come!  Since our conversations have started, students have been happily showing me their reusables, and double checking their items before throwing them in the garbage.  They are making conscious efforts to sort it out into our bins.  This alone can be a tough thing to learn!  But we are making it awesome.

Successful Saturday Kitchen Extravaganzas

Zero waste, DIY, minimalism, and all that crap pretty much go hand in hand.  If you want to reduce your household waste, you are going to have to start making some things yourself.  Packaging can be a nightmare, and not everything is recyclable; side note: recycling is not our best option.  Avoid packaging and garbage – make it yourself from bulk/unpackaged items.  If you want to reduce your household waste, you are gradually going to gel more with simplicity and minimalism because you are bringing less stuff into your home and making conscious decisions when purchasing items.

Generally, I frown upon all things plastic.  You can only recycle plastic once or twice before it becomes such frail quality that it will be discarded in the trash regardless.  And there it will remain until the end of time, seeping into our groundwater and ecosystems, left to pollute every corner of the earth forever; ahem, also likely to be re-ingested by us at some point.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I would really rather like to avoid such a man-made catastrophe.  So I do my part.  Every day.  Because it is my environmental responsibility.  And it is yours too.  Help a girl out, won’t you?  What was my point?  Ah yes, refusing packaging!

I just spent three weeks visiting with my Oma who, in the summer, decided to renew her passport and travel to Canada once more; she has not been here for fourteen years, so it was a big deal!  Now that I am teaching a full-time class, my time was divvied between school and Oma.  There was not a lot of time left over for my DIY extravaganzas.  But then Oma left this week *sad face* and I used part of my weekend to DIY the shit out of everything.  Perhaps to cope with my sadness of her departure!

We do not waste food in our house.  We do everything we can to avoid food waste: not buying more than we need at the store, not purchasing something just because it is on sale, making large batches of food, freezing, drying, baking, cooking, you name it.  It is quite the guilt-fest if we ever find a hidden something in the fridge that has spoiled.  It does not happen often.  But to avoid food waste requires our effort.

This weekend I made refried beans, whole wheat bread, chocolate syrup, apple bread, honey garlic sauce, chili, and I had a spare ten minutes and made ketchup.  Go ME!

The most satisfying thing about this creating extravaganza: no waste produced.  The second most satisfying thing about this creating extravaganza: using up food that was on the verge of spoiling.  The third most satisfying thing about this creating extravaganza: just to prove to myself I can.  Oh, and a many bonus: it was friggin’ delicious.

Take the time.  Make conscious decisions.  Take responsibility.

What are your favourite go-to recipes in your ZW lifestyle?  What have you not been able to find package-free?