Category Archives: Around the house

Trucking Air

At one of our zero waste presentations recently, someone brought up the point that many recycling trucks are driving around filled mostly with air: the air that’s trapped in all the tins and plastic bottles.

The image of a truck to driving around with a load of what amounts to mostly empty space is pretty powerful, and that simple comment hit home! I always rinse containers out, and I like to think I’m a superstar recycler, but I’ll admit that I don’t always flatten my cans.

It reminded me of this old Ridge Meadows Recycling campaign where they photographed community members from kids to local firefighters to the Mayor demonstrating how to “do the stomp”.

Ridge Meadows Firefighters Stomp

Photo credit Ridge Meadows Recycling http://rmrecycling.org/

So here’s my new pledge: I’ll be taking an extra 30 seconds wash and squash the stompables in my recycling bin from now on. Hopefully with us all doing it, our recycling trucks will save one or two extra trips.

PS – I love the detailed stomping photos at the bottom of the image

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Filed under Around the house, recycling

It’s About Time

ImageI knew it would happen, but it has been a long time coming! The City of Vancouver finally has real food scraps pick up!

Back in 2010, the City started picking up fruit and veggie trimmings. It was a great step, but something that was a) already easily served by our backyard compost bin and b) not made available to the apartment dwellers who don’t have backyards to compost in in the first place.

So this newly announced expansion means that meat, bones, dairy, cooked food, bread, pizza boxes, and paper napkins are allowed in the yard waste cart headed for composting. And better yet, the City doesn’t allow plastic bags of any kind (even the ones stamped biodegradable). They’re pushing you to line your kitchen bin with newspaper instead.

Of course, if we were all managing our food properly, we wouldn’t have much waste to compost, but it’s great to have an alternative for your fat trimmings and bones and the occasional fuzzy mystery at the back of the fridge. More details are on the City website.

Next up? Weekly compost pick up and biweekly garbage. Could you do it?

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What can I do? I’m only a kid!

Sometimes Grant and I get to speak to school groups. We show our film and tell a few stories and answer questions about living zero waste. And sometimes I’m stuck that we’re talking to youth who maybe don’t have a lot of control over their garbage. I mean, most of our garbage comes from food packaging, and they probably aren’t the ones buying the food in their family. I even had one girl ask me today “but what can I do?”

I’ve been thinking about it. And I think there are lots of things you can do to reduce waste even if you’re under 19. Here are some ideas to get you started. You don’t have to do everything; just start with what works for you!

  1. Carry a stainless steel water bottle and vow never to buy bottled water again.
  2. Bring your reusable container and cutlery everywhere! (start at your cafeteria)
  3. Ask for experiences as gifts (think birthday presents like movie or concert tickets, playland or fun park passes, a massage, a hiking trip, skiing, etc)
  4. Buy clothes that are secondhand or have a clothing swap with your friends. Donate clothes that you’ve outgrown to charity (organizations like Big Brothers will even pick them up from your house)
  5. Look on your municipal website to see what can be easily recycled where you live. Then talk to your family and set up recycling bins in a convenient place in your home.
  6. Focus on one thing. Pick one thing that you can live without (plastic bags, paper napkins, disposable cutlery) and start avoiding it today. Once it becomes easy, then add something else.
  7. If you pack your own lunch, try to make it zero waste by eating whole fruits and packing food in reusable containers. Try making some of your favorite packaged food from scratch (eg. granola bars)
  8. If you’re a female, try reusable feminine hygiene like a menstrual cup or cloth pads.

At School:

1. Start Composting (this is a big one, so do it as a group, and talk to your administration and teachers to get help if you implement).

  • The Students at Windermere Secondary in Vancouver have a large composter and even have a Zero Waste Committee. Check it out here.

2. Make recycling at school easier.

  • The shop students at Charles Tupper Secondary in Vancouver made attractive wooden recycling bins with three compartments to have in school hallways.
  • Homma Elementary in Richmond has great posters reminding people to recycle and compost.

3. Try your own challenge.

  • The students at UBC Commerce Environment Club decided to carry all their garbage with them for a week to draw attention to how much they produced. They said it automatically made them make better packaging choices.

3. Do something at school to draw attention to garbage.

  •  The students at Fraser Heights Secondary School in Surrey made a Christmas Tree out of reused pop cans

4. Start a Campaign or a Petition

  • When she was just 16 Michelle Arsenault of Dryden, Ontario started the website http://www.onelessplasticbag.ca/ to help her community reduce plastic bag use.
  • UBC Students got a waterbottle refill station installed to help people cut down on buying plastic water bottles.

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Filed under Around the house, interactions

Simplicity and Slippers

Somewhere on the road to zero waste, I became a bit of a hoarder. I don’t mean a hoarder of garbage, I just meant that I don’t throw things out if I think they “might” be useful, and I definitely don’t throw them out if they’re in perfectly good condition.

Take, for example, my slippers. I have 5 of them. All in very good condition. All very cozy and comfortable. Some high cut, some low cut, some hand knitted, some store bought, some with padded soles, some not. The thing is that I don’t have a single matching pair.

And I can’t throw them out because they are perfectly good slippers. And I can’t donate them to charity, because who’s going to buy a single slipper at a thrift store? So I’m stuck wearing random pairs of slippers, refusing to get rid of any of the 5 lest its partner show up (it has been known to happen).

It gets worse. This problem extends to socks too. I have a bag of over 50 mismatched socks. Good socks. $15 smart wool socks, and ski socks, and socks that still have lots of life left in them of only they could find a mate.  Before you interrupt, yes, occasionally I wear mismatched socks. In fact, those who knew me when I was a kid know that for about 12 years, I exclusively wore mismatched socks (but that’s another story altogether. And those socks weren’t mismatched, they were the same socks, just in different colours), but at the office, mismatched socks don’t cut it. And, call me a princess, but I just like the feeling of wearing two matching items on my feet.

I don’t have the answer here; I think I’m just realizing that it’s hard to “minimize” and “live simply” when you can’t get rid of something as simple as a slipper. . . . . anyone else have a bag of orphan socks laying around?

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Filed under Around the house, consumerism

Manual Coffee

I’m one of those people who loves the smell of coffee, but hates the taste (I’m more of a tea girl),  so it was no hardship to me when Grant’s coffee grinder broke.

But for those for whom coffee is the essential start to every morning, you’ll understand his panic. You’ll understand that having freshly ground beans is non-negotiable. And you’ll understand why, on the morning that the grinder broke, he opted for the next best option  – a hammer and a paper bag.

Besides creating a racket, a hammer reportedly does a mediocre job of coffee grinding.

The next morning, still intending to buy a new grinder or at least look for a second hand one, he came up with another option: the cast iron mortar and pestle. It’s heavy enough to grind beans and deep enough to stop them from popping out, it uses zero electricity, and it makes much less noise than either the hammer or the electric grinder.

  

Apparently the grind is not fine enough to make a satisfactory espresso, but it works perfectly in the french press which means that our fancy espresso machine is going on craigslist, our broken coffee grinder is going to the e-waste depot, and our household is suddenly lighter by two appliances.

I’m sure glad he didn’t just rush out to get a new grinder.

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Filed under Around the house, DIY, food

To Pee or Not To Pee

I have to give full credit for this post to Tom Watson of King County. It’s a hilarious ad for water conservation from a Brazilian Environmental Organization. Their message is pretty simple: pee in the shower to save water. I’ll let you watch it, and then we’ll discuss:

So here’s the deal. Tom says that this kind of campaign wouldn’t work in North America because North Americans do not pee in the shower.

He thinks that most of us would be super grossed out and that 70 percent of us “would give it a thumbs down”. Sadly, I think he might be right. I mean think of that entire Seinfeld episode where George pees in the public shower? (note that, for the record, I see a pretty big difference between a public shower and the privacy of your own home)

This brings up the whole question of what’s green vs. what’s acceptable. The people who first start doing something (using cloth bags, packing zero waste lunches, making their own yogurt) might be considered a little wacky, but over time, these things become the norm.

I’m thinking that the real issue with peeing in the shower is that you don’t do it in public. There is no one looking over your shoulder affirming that you are doing “the right thing”.  Peer pressure goes a long way. Maybe if we all had water meters, it would be a different matter.

Well, I’m going to come right out and say it: I have peed in the shower. Not specifically to save water nor on a regular basis (maybe that will change now that I’ve seen this video), but I have done it.

So what do you think? Is it scandalous to pee in the shower? Did I just tell you way too much information? Or do you figure all pipes go to the same place, so what the heck?

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Filed under Around the house, video

Making a Move – The Dirty Truth

So we moved. And moving tends, well, to generate garbage.

It’s not just the boxes and packing tape, it’s the years worth of “stuff” you’ve been storing in the basement, thinking you’ll get to later. Stuff that you don’t really want at your shiny new place.  . . . I figured I owed it to myself (and you) to be open about the garbage that came from our move, so here’s the good and the bad on the waste front.

The Bad We had to wade through 7 years of “stuff” in the basement, and came out with: a grocery bag of odds and ends destined for he landfill (scraps of cloth, broken things, dried up paint and epoxy from art projects, 2 broken ski poles -someone help me with these), a few bags of recyclables (paper, soft plastics, scrap metal), and a woven rope rug which looks moderate on top and is disintegrating underneath (I’m considering using it to line a raised garden bed). I also (guiltily) used way too much of a roll of plastic packing tape that we had laying around.

The Good I borrowed a bunch of Rubbermaid containers from a friend which dramatically cut down on the number of cardboard boxes we used (if you don’t have a friend who moves so often that they actually bought a set of containers, try a service like frogbox). The cardboard boxes we did use were salvaged from the local beer store (saving both resources and our pocketbook). I used sheets, towels, and reused cardboard to protect dishes and such, eliminating the need for packing paper or bubble wrap. We also avoided the dreaded transfer station by getting rid of lots of stuff on craigslist and the local thrift stores.

I calculated we saved about 7 pounds of carbon by forgoing a huge moving truck and relying on people power, but we probably more than made up for it running “extra items” to a temporary storage locker.

In the end, our single bag of moving waste contributed to our 2010 garbage total being well above our Clean Bin Project year. I didn’t measure it, but I’m thinking it was at least 4 or 5 grocery bags for the year. Kind of sad, but also much better than we ever were before the project started.

Any green moving thoughts?

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Filed under Around the house, DIY