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


Filed under consumerism, packaging, reusable containers

DIY Baby Shower

You’ve maybe noticed that I haven’t been around this here blog much lately – partly because I’m been busy over at – but that doesn’t been I haven’t been thinking and doing zero waste.

Case in point: one of my very good friend recently had a baby shower. No, I didn’t push my mandate on the hostess . . .she was right on board, and it worked out really well!

Food: The Mom-to-be’s Mom made all the food from scratch, including quiche, salads, cupcakes, and appies – right down to the fig jam! (we offered to help, but she said she was under control). Sure there was some packaging, but nothing like what you’d expect from a standard gathering, and they had bins for compost and recyclables (hurrah!)

Dishes: I have a case of wine glasses  (a souvenir from my cousin’s backyard wedding) that I keep in a kitchen cupboard for events, and her Mom rented real plates for only a few dollars that could be returned dirty to the rental company, making cleanup super easy.

Games: Yes, yes, what is a baby shower without games? One of our friends planned this portion, and she managed to avoid  gimmicky plastic oriented shower games altogether! We had to remember baby animal names (anyone know the technical term for a baby monkey?), guess the circumference of the Mom-to-be’s belly (with compostable cotton string), and guess the number of jelly beans in a baby bottle (which was then given to Mom as a gift). We also had a clothespeg game with wooden clothes pegs which the guest of honor took home for her new clothesline.

Decorations: This was my category, and I manged to do it DIY (and free). Grant had photographed a wedding that week, and the bride had handmade hundreds of pink tissue paper pompoms. I knew the sister of the groom well enough that I could ask about whether the decorations were headed to the landfill.  Turns out that the bride was ecstatic that her creativity would be given a second life at the shower, so I went home with a pack full of pompoms.  To balance the overwhelming pink theme, I also made a couple of fabric banners (way more time consuming than expected) out of scrap yellow, blue, and green fabric I got at the free store with the word “congratulations” in felt letters also made from scrap. The decorations were snapped up after the party for yet another shower.

Wrapping Paper: Ak! There was a lot of it. All I can say is that we salvaged what we could for reuse, and recycled some, and luckily there weren’t too many plastic bows or that sort of thing.

Gifts: My lovely friend is the practical sort, and I have to give her A+ because this was the first baby shower I had ever been to where second hand gifts were given the ‘ok’ right on the invite. She ended up receiving loads of lovely, quality gifts (some new, some preloved) that I think she will really use.

And while we’re talking DIY, one of the gifts I gave her was a pair of baby booties made out of felt I already had at home. I forgot to take a photo, but luckily Kim remembered her camera (thanks Kim).  I got the pattern from Heather Bailey (

So cute, aren’t they? I was so stoked about how my “bee booties” turned out that I promptly made two more pairs (with different designs) for future babies.

So truly, it was a group effort (with double points awarded to the Mom-to-be’s Mom), and we really did produce hardly any landfill garbage.  Whether it’s because of thrift or concern about waste, if you have more ideas on how to do a low impact party, please put them in the comments!


Filed under DIY

Composting in The City of Vancouver

Pretty much everyone I talk to thinks that composting is great. Just the fact that you are reading this blog probably means that you also think composting is great. I mean, at 35% (by weight) of our waste, why the heck wouldn’t you want to compost?

But the truth is that some people need a little extra help. They don’t have the space for a backyard compost,  or they need somewhere to compost meat scraps and cooked food, or maybe they would just rather pay for someone to take it all away instead of dealing with it themselves. That is why I support municipal composting pickup – not just the kind we have right now in Vancouver (fruit and veggie scraps every two weeks), but the kind that is being proposed in Vancouver tomorrow that will take meat and cooked food and dairy and bread, and paper takeout containers, and all that other stuff that might have a hard time in your backyard compost, and they’ll pick it up every single week!

Yup, the City of Vancouver is proposing to start a complete composting pilot that would be delivered to 2000 single family homes and even a few multi-family buildings.  This is a really important step. If the pilot goes well, then they could roll the program out to the rest of the city and everyone could be composting ALL their food scraps, not just their veggies! We’re talking about an extra 26,000 tonnes of food waste diverted from landfills every year. Read more about the pilot here.

I’m pretty confident that Council will agree with the recommendation for the composting pilot, but they can always use a little nudge. If you live in Vancouver and you think composting is important, please come to City Hall Council Chambers on Thurs July 14th at 9:30am and show your support. If you don’t have time to go down, send a quick note to one if the Councillors via email or even Twitter (@andreareimer @MayorGregor @VanRealDeal @SuzanneAnton)

Side note: Yes, I do think that backyard composting is still very very important, and we should all be backyard composting as a first option.


Filed under food waste

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) .


Filed under DIY, food

Sun(burn) Style

sunscreen fail – can you tell I was at least wearing sunglasses and a hat?

As a fair-skinned redhead who spends a certain amount of quality time outdoors (think cycling across Canada for three months) I go through my fair share of sunscreen.

And then I saw the movie Chemerical and started thinking about toxins in my products. Why the heck would companies put known carcinogens in products meant to be slathered on our skin and therefore absorbed into our bodies? I visited the skin deep cosmetic database and found out that my favorite sunscreen ranks 4 out of 10 on the unsafe scale. Not bad, but I was  thinking I ought to give some of the other guys a try. So here’s my non-scientific sunscreen review:

1) Coppertone Oilfree 30 SPF. 4/10 on skin deep. I have been committed to Coppertone oil-free for awhile now – it doesn’t make me break out, it goes on silky smooth, it smells good, it’s waterproof, and dammit it works. Unfortunately, it’s also flagged with concern about neurotoxicity (from aluminum starch octenylsuccinate) and endocrine disruption ( from oxybenzone).

2) Burt’s Bees 30SFF. 4/10 on skin deep.  Last summer I tried my first “natural type” alternative; I love Burt’s lip balm, and their products smell good, so I figured it was worth it regardless of the slightly hefty price tag. After the creamy absorption of Coppertone, I have to say that Burt’s was an adjustment.  It went on like paste, left a chalky residue, and I ended up getting burned which defeats the whole purpose of sunscreen. Don’t let me turn you off though – maybe it’s just my skin type.

3) ECO logical 30SPF. 1/10 on skin deep. We went to the Farmer’s Market in Newport Beach and there was a stand selling ECO sunscreen; it was nice to have a face to face conversation with the actual business owner, and we bought a tube. Initial review is that it goes on smooth-ish; not as smooth as standard commercial brands, but smooth enough to absorb. It smells like nothing much, it’s biodegradable, it’s made with organic ingredients, and it works (we were warned to reapply if we are sweating lots or swimming).

Now, onto the waste part. I have yet to find package-free sunscreen.

Some tubes are PET 1 or 2, so you can recycle them which is better than nothing. We chatted with ECO Logical folks for awhile about what they could do to reduce plastic packaging. They’re using recycled plastic for their containers, but we’d like to see bulk sunscreen pumps at stores and refillable containers. The problem is that sunscreen expires. It must be stored in an airtight container out of direct light, and that poses a problem to having it around in bulk.  If anyone has a good solution, please let me know.

A secondary waste issue is the sunscreen itself. I had never thought about it, but apparently “5,000 tons of sunscreen are washed off people and into the oceans each year”. That is a lot of sunscreen! And the accumulation on coral and the sea floor as well as the addition of toxins to the food chain is a really big deal.

I wish I had a real answer in terms of zero waste sunscreen, but for now, here’s a few lower waste tips for the summer:

-wear a hat and long sleeves to reduce your need for sunscreen if spending lots of time outdoors

-pick sunscreen that comes in a bottle you know you can recycle

-opt for sunscreens that are biodegradable

-visit the EWG Sunscreen 2011 page to see how your sunscreen ranks and find the safest options

If you have any great sun tips or any favorite sunscreen options, I’d love to hear them!


Filed under Hygiene, product reviews

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.


Filed under Around the house, DIY, food