Category Archives: consumerism

Unpackaged at Last

imageI remember back when I heard about the first package-free store. Unpackaged opened in London in 2010 and was a internet sensation the moment it opened (ok maybe only among us zero-wasters). The only downside – it was all the way over in England.

Well since then, lots of things have changed. The bulk departments of our local stores are growing, the Soap Dispensary opened in Vancouver offering bulk cleaners, soaps, and toothpastes, and our farmer’s market began to stay open every week year round. All these things make it much much easier to live zero waste, but I still had my eye on that first zero waste store.

When Grant and I started planning a trip to the UK, I knew Unpackaged had to be on our list of tourist attractions. In perfect serendipity, the store ended up being just a 5 minute walk from the place we were staying.

image_2The most exciting part of Unpackaged is the bulk yogurt, something I have been unable to find in Vancouver. Second most exciting are bulk oils and vinegar which are sometimes available but not easy to come by. And now that we’re here, the achievements of Unpackaged are especially notable because, from what we’ve seen in London supermarkets, it’s pretty darn hard to live zero waste here. I’m talking 2 or 3 choices of package-free fruits and veggies and everything else wrapped in plastic. They do seem to have fantastic recycling with public bins everywhere and food scraps pick up at homes, but the key to reducing waste is catching it at the source, and it’s not easy here.

So kudos to Unpackaged not only for doing what you’re doing, but for doing it in a country where pretty much no one else is!image_3

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Filed under consumerism, food, packaging

A Story of Reuse

photo(22)When my uncle (now in his 50’s) was a teenager, he had a job at a bakery.

I want to imagine a lovely scene of steaming bread being sold from handmade baskets direct to customers, but in reality, I think they were a wholesaler here in Vancouver, so they just put the bread in plastic bags.

The bags had two holes on one end which allowed them to hang from two rods, kind of like how they do it with bags at the grocery store. But one day the bakery got a new bread bag system which meant that their stockpile of two-holed bags was essentially useless.

My Grandpa, ever the ingenious salvager, got wind of this and volunteered to take them home.

And that is why my Grandparents, and my Mom, and her three siblings, and their kids have been using these particular two-holed, multigrain bread bags for the past 30 some years.

They’re surprisingly thick which makes for perfect for freezer bags. When I visit my grandma she’ll inevitably pull a zucchini loaf out of the freezer, wrapped in tin foil and stored in a certain two-holed, multigrain bread bag. Yes, I know it’s plastic, but I also know that it was rescued from a sure fate in the landfill, and to me, that is the spirit of zero waste.

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Filed under consumerism, food, reusable containers

Little Things

Sometimes it’s the little things that make my zero waste day. For example, a little while ago I finally ordered this tape from Life Without Plastic.

I got some paper tape for sealing boxes and re-purposed envelopes and biodegradable, transparent, cellulose tape for gifts and other stuff (yes, I got a couple glass straws in there too). It’s funny that I’d get so excited about something as simple as tape, but it was driving me nuts that every time I had to stick a mailing label on a package or seal an envelope I was using something that was unrecyclable and non-biodegradable.

The arrival of the tape alone was a small thing that made me happy. But even better was the fact that when the package arrived, it looked like this:

How refreshing! Not a piece of bubble wrap or a packing peanut to be found. And I didn’t have to write some long winded letter to ask them not to include those things, they just do it. These little details make a big difference. Why can’t more companies be like this?

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Filed under consumerism, packaging

Awesome Finds

There is a certain element of secondhand shopping that is more thrilling than regular shopping. Let’s call it “the hunt”.

You know, that exhilarating feeling you get when you’ve found a single useful or beautiful or perfectly fitting item in a sea of used crap? I feel like there is some kind of superior skill involved thrift storing that just doesn’t apply to browsing a mall where everything is neatly laid out for you.

There is also a compulsion after purchasing a fabulous secondhand item that makes you not only want to tell people about it, but also, absurdly, how much you paid for it. As if the fewer dollars you gave to the, no doubt non-proft, thrift store staffed by volunteers, the better you are.

I say this tongue in check of course because I myself am a fan of “the hunt”. And although I am no super shopper, I do have a few awesome thrift store finds that I feel compelled to share. True, they are all “things”, and we really are trying to rid our house of having too many “things”, but I’m pretty sure you’ll agree that they are worth keeping:

1. A winter coat. Never mind that it’s now spring; I found this back in November. At long last, my green jacket which makes me look like I borrowed a 14 year old’s wardrobe has been replaced by a proper and mature lady’s coat that amazingly had sleeves that were long enough. ($20 at Value Village)

2. A stick blender. Don’t give me flack because it’s plastic. My mom found this for $4 at the Sally Ann, and I’ve already made 3 different kinds of soup with it as well as made quick work of chopping some nuts, so I think it’s worth it.

3. And finally, whilst looking for a cardigan, I ended up finding this little beauty. I’m pretty sure I was the only one in the store who knew what it was.

It’s a bag dryer! We don’t have too many plastic bags these days, but I do have a few in circulation that I wash a lot, and this lovely dryer which I first read about on My Plastic Free Life is perfect.

Have you found any secondhand gems lately?

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Filed under consumerism, plastic bags

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

Package-Free Shopping

I love finding stores that make it easy to shop zero waste. Stores like Unpackaged (England) or In.gredients (Texas) or La Forêt (Wakefield).

My most recent “find” was this past weekend in Powell River, BC. When we pulled into town, we noticed Ecossentials first thing what with its “get unpackaged” and “refillable cleaners” window signage, but it was Sunday, so we satisfied ourselves with pressing our noses up against the glass.

The next day, we headed there before leaving town. Ecossentials sells bulk food and cleaning supplies as well as food tins, glass straws, ethical toys, lunch kits, and even an electricity-free espresso maker.. . all with nary a plastic bag to be seen. It’s our kind of place.

In the dry goods section, they have neat stacks of cotton bags you can buy if you forget your own. In the back, they have shampoo, liquid soap, and laundry soap on tap. They even do door to door delivery with reused containers.

Even better, Melissa, the owner, had seen our film the night before and offered to sell our movie in her store. How awesome is that!?

I could go on and on, but Grant got a new iphone plugin that he was itching to use, so maybe I’ll just let you see it for yourself:

PS – she mentions Pebble in the Pond in the video – they have great information of plastic reduction here

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Filed under consumerism, packaging, reusable containers

Tracking Trash

Where the heck does our trash go?  I mean, I know my garbage goes to the landfill in Delta or up to the recently expanded Cache Creek, but what about everything else? What about those glass jars and cardboard boxes? What about the occasional plastic container? Is my stuff ending up in the great pacific garbage patch?

Although I have been assured by the guy at the local depot that everything is sold to local buyers, who the heck knows where it goes after that? And with heartbreaking films about garbage pickers and exposés about third world electronics dismantling on the rise, it’s no wonder we are all questioning what’s at the end of the line for the contents of our precious blue boxes.

So the smart folks over at MIT did more than just wonder. They decided to track their recycling. (yes, I’m a couple years behind the 8 ball on this, but it’s still fascinating)

They put tracking sensors on a bunch of waste in Seattle and booted it out the door. The results are pretty interesting.

First off, they generated some super cool tracking maps (that could be classified as art unto themselves). But seriously, I’ve thought a lot about where disposable items come from and the resources used to get them into our hands, but it’s even more crazy to think of how far something as simple as a single coffee cup might travel after its 10 minutes of useful life. And just think of the greater implications of tagging loads of recycling; it would become immediately apparent who is shipping stuff illegally or dumping in the ocean. That’s serious stuff.

I wanted to post some of the maps here, but they have a reproduction clause on their website, so you’ll have to go to http://senseable.mit.edu/trashtrack/ to check it out.

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Filed under consumerism, recycling