Monthly Archives: July 2008

Day 21: The Opposite of Green is Red

Yesterday I partook in a blatantly un-green activity. I took Grant’s sister-in-law and niece out for their birthdays for that most feminine of pampering rituals, and I participated.

I had a pedicure.

(and yes, those are my toes, and no, I don’t only have 8 of them – the little ones just didn’t make the photo.)

Never having had a pedicure before, I didn’t realize a) how lovely they can make your toes look and b) how much waste is associated with them.

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Day 18: Quest for cheese

The only reason I was hesitant to commit to cutting out soft plastics was cheese. I love cheese: the two of us buy extra large, family size packages of aged white cheddar. Often when we think “there’s no food on the house”, it turns out the only thing we’re missing is cheese. Unfortunately, this culinary wonder (am I going too far?) invariably comes wrapped in cling film of plastic of some sort. And so, this week we underwent (cue deep, reverberating voice) “the quest for cheese”.

Actually, it wasn’t so bad. I was pretty sure we could get someone to put a block straight into my container at a small deli, but we were aiming for the major grocery stores since that’s where the majority of Canadians shop.

The first attempt garnered us blank stares and head shakes, but at the second store, after a bit of haggling and convincing (“I’ll take whatever kind of cheese you have. Yes, whatever you’ll give me. Yes, in this container. No, all by itself.”), we managed to purchase one of the most expensive blocks of cheddar cheese I have ever had. Contrary to the experience of Mrs. Green from My Zero Waste, our block of cheese cost twice as much as we would usually pay for it! Nevertheless, it was lovely cheese, and it’s good to know that even a major chain grocery store is willing to forgo packaging if you just ask.

It’s funny how, before we started this project, I wouldn’t have given a second thought to the plastic wrapping around my fromage. It seemed like an intrinsic part of the product. I had never considered that is was an option to just ask for it without the packaging.

And then there are advocates of an alternative approach. Some people suggest that if the item you want comes in a package, simply leave the packaging at the checkout of the store. The theory here is that if enough people force retailers to be responsible for their waste, they will pressure the manufacturers to use less packaging. In some places, like Britain, governments are stepping in and actual have laws against excessive packaging.

A local example of this is London Drugs (large Canadian drug store chain) who has managed to reduce it’s waste by 40% and recently announced it will take back “all packaging associated with goods sold at and transported to stores” for recycling.

Can you believe I just used the word package/packaging 6 times in 8 sentences?

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Day 15: DIY Recycling

We are super lucky in Vancouver because we have great curbside pickup (paper, aluminum, and 4 kinds of plastic), and I definitely know from traveling around that curbside recycling is poor to non-existent in some parts of North America. However, I read an interesting comment the other day (I apologize to the author because I can’t remember where I saw it). Basically said:

It’s strange that we are willing to go to the grocery store to pick up our own food, but not to go to the recycling depot to drop off our own waste.

They’re both essential daily tasks that have to do with the garbage we accumulate -stuff in, stuff out- but we have totally different mindsets about the roles we should play in them.

In that train of thought, I saw an amazing video posted on The Rubbish Diet of a town in Japan that recycles and composts everything and makes the citizens responsible for their own waste. They don’t have garbage pick up at all! It actually looks like a fair bit of work since they have 34 containers to sort things into, but everyone participates and they seem to have zero waste going to the landfill. Check it out here.

They’re doing a whole lot better than the recycling rate here in Canada which is at 26.8% according to Statistics Canada. That means that 73.2% of the waste we generate never makes it to a recycling facility!

I could say something cynical here about it being human nature to just do what we feel is convenient, but I think I’ll just stick with how I’m inspired by that entire community of Japanese recyclers and thank goodness I only have to separate my recycling into 5 bins!

On the inspiration side, I happily discovered that we have unwittingly fulfilled the past two months of challenges from My Zero Waste by sourcing recycling facilities in our area and setting up a convenient (there’s that word again) recycling system at home. If you want to join in, I challenge you to go to their website and take part. If you’re already making some changes or leading a less-waste or consumer-free lifestyle, we’d love to hear about it.

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Day 14: Falling Off the Wagon and Discussions of Soft Plastics

We had a near miss here in week two of the Clean Bin Project. Rhyannon “accidentally” bought a pair of panniers for her bicycle under the thinly-veiled excuse that it was a “transportation related” purchase (paying for transportation is ok under our rules). She did add that she felt a bit guilty about her purchase, and, being the protective roommates that we are, we berated her incessantly until she returned them. Luckily, I have far too much sporting equipment, and she is able to use one of my bike bags for the year. So she’s officially back on the wagon.

On the weekend we visited Happy Stan’s Recycling and were pleased to find that they pretty much take all types of paper, metal, electronics, and plastics (except Styrofoam) for recycling. They even take bottle caps and un-numbered plastics like the dental floss container I thought had to go in my garbage bin.

In the two months before the project officially started, we had been saving all our soft plastic wrappers just to see how much we had, and it turned out that we had accumulated two generously stuffed, pillow-sized bags of it! We’re happy that we can recycle it instead of tossing it in our bins, but we were awestruck by the actual volume of plastic and the thought that all of that had been going into the garbage for the past however many years.

The final consensus was that, although we can technically recycle soft plastics, the facility is quite far from our house and we think we can do better than producing one huge bag every month. So for now we’re going to try to reduce our soft plastics, and track how we’re doing a month at a time. Hopefully we can phase soft plastics out altogether. One thing I’m definitely not going to miss is washing out those bulk bags and cheese wrappers and trying to prop them open to properly dry.

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Filed under recycling, slip ups, soft plastics

Day 10 (post 1): Three Clean Bins

We started off by just wanting to buy “less stuff”, but this has really turned into an experiment in garbage obsession. Grant, Rhyannon, and I are into day 10 of our consumer free/garbage free year aka The Clean Bin Project. It has been pretty easy to stay away from material goods; it’s the food choices that are the challenge. Every decision we make hinges on what that food comes packaged in. We rejoice when we find a deli that will put cheese in our tupperware container or a market that sells five kinds of bulk cereal. Our hearts sink when the deli sandwich we successfully bought with no wrapping comes with a plastic toothpick holding it together.

Besides reducing waste, I’ve been madly researching recycling so we know what goes where. In addition to our three separate garbage bins (one each so we can track how we’re doing), we have ones for paper (high and low grade), soft plastics, hard plastics, milk containers, and bottles and cans, as well as compost. We’re lucky in Vancouver because the curbside pickup is so good, and it’s actually illegal to put recyclables in the trash (although I wonder how they monitor that). Yes, it’s a little crazy, but for now, we’re separating everything we can in hopes that we can find a taker for it. Does anyone out there know what to do with bottle caps?

My favorite thing so far is the looks people give you when you try to get something to go in your own container. They usually either stare at you incredulously like you just asked them to spit on your burger or try to convince you that after they package it and hand it over, you can put it in your container yourself – then you have to hold up the line explaining why you don’t want the wrapping that you’re going to throw out in about 5 seconds. (Thanks to the girl at A & W who did neither of these and filled our tupperwares with burgers without question)

After a week and a bit, all I have in my bin is a plastic dental floss package with no recycling number on it (wouldn’t you know I ran out on day 1 of the project). Other than that, it’s not a bad start.

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