Category Archives: DIY

Buttery Goodness with Zero Waste House Guests

We recently played host to some friends and fellow zero wasters who were visiting from Iqaluit. I have to say, living in the extreme north, they definitely have a harder time of it finding low-packaging food, but, armed with a pantry of bulk food, they’re doing an amazing job!

After enthusiastically taking full advantage of all Vancouver has to offer in terms of restaurants, we got together for a home-cooked meal. It turned into a collaboration in local food; we picked greens from the garden, boiled spot prawns, and, most excitingly, we made butter from scratch.

I’ve made butter a couple times before, but I realized I hadn’t posted on it. It’s dead easy, and definitely worth a try. It’s especially fun in a group or with kids because you can all take turns shaking. All you need is a jar and some whipping cream.

Put the cream in the jar.

Shake shake shake until the cream turns to whipped cream. . .

which in turn becomes a solid lump of butter in a watery liquid (buttermilk).

You can salt it if you wish.

Drain the buttermilk to use for baking or making pancakes the next morning.

That’s it!

Quick note – if you are storing your butter for awhile, you have to wash the remaining buttermilk out of it or it will go rancid.  Ours never stays around long enough, so we skip this stage, but I gather that you either put it in a strainer or just knead the lump of butter in your hands while running it under cold water.

PS – If you’re still wondering how you can live zero waste in the Frozen North, check out  subzerowaste (the name of which cracks me up) .

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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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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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Making A Move – Eco Style

Grant and I have lived in the same awesome 100 year old duplex in Vancouver for 7 years. We’ve been lucky to have  a variety of great roommates at various times as well as a landlord who lets us have free reign in the garden, but at the beginning of the month, we decided to make a move into a place of our own.

Because it was just a couple blocks away and because we seem to talk a lot about living sustainably these days, we figured we’d forgo the traditional moving van and make it a DIY people powered deal.

I borrowed a huge cargo bicycle trailer from the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition (you guys are awesome!), brought out my own little trailer, and invited friends to come over with dollies, wagons, and bicycles.

Moving this way was basically free. I borrowed a bunch of rubbermaid containers from a friend (thanks Becky) and found boxes at the wine store. Grant bought some beer, my Dad made some chili, my sister baked bread, and my mom made muffins to thank the 15 superheros that came out.

I think we all had a pretty good time. Thanks to everyone who helped out!!!

Waste related details to follow. For now, here are some pics.

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Deodorant Evolution

Continuing on the personal hygiene theme. . .I’ve been making my own deodorant for awhile now.  It started off with a powder – equal parts baking soda and cornstarch applied with a powder puff (or old sock in our case).

It worked pretty well, in fact Grant still uses it, but I felt it didn’t last very long.  By the end of the day, I smelled like BO.

So I tried making a solid deodorant with equal parts baking soda and cornstarch mixed in with a bit of coconut oil (it’s solid at room temperature, so you have to melt it to mix) and some essential oil.  The only essential oil I had was peppermint (which I use for the toothpaste), so I ended up with peppermint deodorant. It smells and looks a lot like our toothpaste, so it’s no surprise that the first day it was in the cabinet, Grant accidentally brushed his teeth with it (good thing it’s all edible ingredients).

The solid is much better for me.  It lasts all day – even two days, and there’s no BO.  Sweating, yes, but BO, no. The only problem was that it was a bit awkward to apply.  You have to scoop some out with your fingers and try to smear it on your armpit without it crumbing to bits and getting all over the floor.  So, I decided to reuse an old antiperspirant container for my next batch. I just packed the mix in there while it was still soft and waited for the coconut oil to firm up.

Perfect!  It goes on just like a store bought one.  It’s a little more grainy, but definitely more convenient than the glass jar.  The only thing I’m worried about is whether or not it will melt on hot days and ooze out through the bottom of the container.  I know some people keep theirs in the fridge, but since we’re on the road right now, I’ve been keeping a close eye on it.  So far so good! Anyone else had luck with natural deodorant options?

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Diary of a “No Poo’er”

There are a lot of people out there giving up shampoo.  So many, in fact, that there’s a name for it.  The “no poo” method (I kid you not) is when people skip the shampoo and use something else – namely baking soda and maybe vinegar – to clean their hair.

Yes, I too thought this was crazy when I heard of it.  How can you be clean without the lovely fragrant bubbles? The bottle says you’re supposed to apply it twice for crying out loud.

But I’d been skipping the conditioner for months, so when my mega sized bottle of shampoo finally ran out, I thought I’d give it a try.  The following is my “no poo” diary. Continue reading

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Way Back When Halloween Happened

Whoa, has it really been three weeks since my last post? !  Did I really not post about Halloween, my favorite of all dress up events?!

Humour me while a backtrack a few weeks for an eco-oriented review of our haunting activities.

Rhyannon wore an old costume of Grant’s and went as a Micheal Jackson Cassette Tape, scoring top points for reusing and non-consumerism.  I don’t have a photo, but trust me, it’s awesome.

I dressed as the Sunmaid Raisin Girl (idea, shirt, and bonnet stolen from my sister from last year) with a skirt made of scrap fabric, a sun made from virgin paper board from the dollar store, and a wack of grapes and raisins that came in plastic bags.  I give myself a 5 out of 10 for sustainability, and 10 out of 10 for offering healthy snack options.

Grant went as a keytar (yes, a guitar keyboard, as in. . . super 80’s).  It had functioning sound, but unfortunately relied heavily on duct tape and little foam buttons.  I give him top marks for originality and 2 out of 10 for sustainability (the base was reused cardboard, otherwise it would’ve been worse).

For candy, we gave out some fair trade, organic, paper wrapped chocolate as well as some sugary plastic wrapped standards.  We said no to plastic cups at the party we went to, but ended up with a wack of plastic candy wrappers in my basket (sometimes it’s hard to say no to free chocolate).

All and all, I think we could’ve performed a little better from a zero waste perspective, but for an event dominated by plastic decorations, plastic wrapped treats, and synthetic costumes made overseas, I think we did ok.

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