My top #sustainabilitychallenges from 2017

If you spend some time on social media, you must have seen them this year. Who? These planet-friendly challenges inviting us to tread lightly.
They’re launched by activist groups, celebrities or brands and spread like wildfire on the web, helped by # that made them recognizable, “followable” and countable.

They reflect a general appetite for taking actions on environmental challenges and live a new version of  “the good life”.
The “challenge” effect makes the campaign look like a game. In this game, we are all players of a global team, working to fight for a cause. (on that topic, Jane McGonigal’s Gaming can make a better world is brilliant!).

Below are my favorite challenges of last year:

#whomademyclothes and #fta10x10

Launched by Fashion Revolution, a UK-based organization, this campaign happens in April, as a commemoration of the Rana Plaza events (April 2013).
During the “Fashion Revolution” week, people are encouraged to question fashion brands using the hashtag “#whomademyclothes” followed by @brandname. In return, brands are expected to answer using “#Imadeyourclothes” and say a few words about the labor practices of their suppliers. The fact that consumers start asking this question and ask for more transparency in the supply chain is a very positive signal, not only for the fashion industry, but for all B2C (Business to Consumers) environments.
Almost 200,000 hashtags #whomademyclothes were shared on Instagram.

#imadeyourclothes
Here in Toronto, the organization Fashion takes action also does a great job at educating young people about the impact of fast fashion on people and the environment.
In April, they launched their own minimalist challenge, #fta10x10, encouraging people to wear only 10 pieces of fashion during 10 days. I joined the challenge and it was super fun. Not only did I have to be creative to create outfits with only 10 pieces (!) but I also realized the value of what I own.

fta10x10

#plasticfreejuly

The challenge here is to “simply” refuse all single-used plastic items during a month. The website of this organization does a great job at explaining why plastic is a huge environmental issue and what solutions we should use to solve it.

plasticfreejuly

#stopsucking and #strawfreeseptember

Did I just say that refusing all single-used plastic item was “simple”? Actually, not that simple.
Last summer, I lost many times to waiters who tried diligently to put a plastic straw in my glass. This is a tough game. What are you going to do when the straw is already in your glass?
As I became better at the game, fall was already there… but I’m not giving up.
The hashtag was largely shared on social media, with pictures of reusable straws or biodegradable ones, marine species, or dirty areas filled with plastic waste.

glass straw

#OptOutside

An inspirational campaign launched by US outdoors equipment co-op REI. For the third consecutive year, the co-op decided to close all its stores on black Friday and encouraged people to enjoy the outdoors instead. (and also gave a paid day-off to employees). This campaign reminded me of the “Don’t buy this jacket” one, by Patagonia. We may be entering an era where brands encourage consumers to not consume as an innovative, powerful (?), marketing message. In any case, thousands of people refused to compulsively consume on that day and to spend some time outside instead.

An act of modern resistance?

optoutside

#knowitorgrowit

TV series focusing on sustainable food alternatives are increasingly popular. (If you missed “Cooked” by Michael Pollan, I recommend it ++).
Actress Zooey Deschanel has also created her own “The farm project” with her husband. Their goal is to educate us on the reality of industrial food and on sustainable alternatives. Their Facebook page shares informative content and short videos that I find interesting.
The motto #knowitorgrowit encapsulates the general idea: not everyone can grow their own food, but we can at least all know what is inside it.
Anecdote: I volunteered in December in a food bank in New York and I was dumbfounded by the number of “food” that I was not able to identify. It was SO processed that it looked like… nothing to me. (and it’s not like I never eat processed food).
Only eat food that your great-grandmother would be able to recognize, they say! …

KIGI

But don’t forget to share the # to spread the word… Happy 2018!

“Think Dirty”, the app that cared for you

What is the Think Dirty app?

April’s Green Living Show in Toronto is an awesome event to attend! While at the show last year,nd k I discovered new and interesting products brands like Haute Goat. This year, my favorite discovery was a cool little app…The ‘Think Dirty’ app.

Think Dirty is an app that enables consumers to scan the bar codes of beauty products  to obtain an overall rating of the “dirtiness” of this product based on 3 criteria: carcinogenicity, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and allergenicity/immunotoxicity. The concept is simple: the higher the grade, the dirtier the product.

The app also lists all of the ingredients of each scanned product in a pleasantly readable format. Each ingredient is also categorized as either “Clean”, “Half n’ Half” or “Dirty”, and further valuable explanations are available on each of them.  Information like alternate ingredient names, the role of this ingredient in the product, health impacts, and sources that led to the rating, all provide a comprehensive view of the products we have been using on a daily basis! Lastly, the app also suggests alternative, ‘safer’ products to the dirty ones.

Capture
… simple!

Methodology

Evaluations are performed by the Founder and the advisory board of Think Dirty. They all have relevant experience in the field of biology, biochemistry, chemical engineering etc and all the sources used are available on their website. The ratings are based on the potential health impact of the ingredients displayed on the list of ingredients. The “dirty meter” ranges from 0 (neutral) to 10 (dirty) on each of the 3 criteria mentioned above and gives a final grade.  The grade is based directly on the weakest score of the three criteria.  Hence, a product can receive criteria scores of 1, 4, and 9 (in say carcinogenicity)- the overall score of this product will then be 9.

Testing the tester

The first products I scanned from my bathroom were not referenced yet and I received an “Oops-kind-of” message inviting me to suggest the product for future referencing. The process simply consists of taking a picture of the front and the back of the product and to send it to Think Dirty after scanning it. Most of my products were not in their database yet, I imagine because they are from smaller brands (like Green Beaver or even smaller independent makers).

After more investigation, I found some suspicious items in my bathroom… a Nivea Men face wash gel! The thing was Avatar-blue and smelled awesome. I reckoned it HAD to be dirty!. Scanned it and sure enough my instincts were right -it was a 9. Yikes.

This particular product ranked worst on Developmental and Reproductive toxicity, and the list of ingredients shows the presence of methylparaben. In this gel, methylparaben is used as a fragrance and a preservative. It acts like estrogen and is a hormone disruptor, on top of having been linked to some cancers. Better to avoid it next time, maybe?

Dirty meter
The overall score for this product is a 9
Ingredients
The list of its ingredients and additional information on each of them

Spreading the word

One area of improvement I see for the app is to rate more virtuous brands as well. It would be rewarding for people who have great products in their bathroom. And by incorporating better rated products into the database, the app could more readily provide alternate suggestions to the dirty products that are out there.

Also, for users, cross-checking information with other sources is a good idea. Think Dirty is great and it’s from Toronto (yeah!) but other organizations have also developed similar apps. The Environmental Working Group’s app is called Healthy Living and their methodology is very different so it can be interesting to compare both. And as with anything, always apply critical judgement with this type of apps and use them in a way that works for you.

Overall, Think Dirty is a great app. I find it very user friendly, I like the transparency of their methodology and the fact that they’re trying to continuously extend their database. I’ve been using it constantly since I installed it and I am diligently talking about it to loved ones.

So, are you ready to think dirty?!

 

 

Sustainable Joes

About the Joes

A few weeks ago, I attended the premiere of The time is now, a documentary produced by SustainableJoes, self dubbed “a global movement of “Everyday Joes & Jaynes” creating a sustainable tomorrow”. I had never heard of them before Facebook notified me of this event. Needless to say, I had to check out what these Joes were all about…

So, there I was, observing the crowd of eco-enthusiasts who had gathered at Lula lounge for the screening. The time is now focuses on simple, implementable solutions that everyone can adopt in their daily lives. Promise held, they are indeed “About solutions”. Eating less meat, questioning the clothes we wear, preferring reusable things over disposable items… these are real answers that the movie suggests we all try. I liked their realistic and fun approach to sustainability.

Here is a selection of ideas that  gave me food for thought:

Questioning

We have become blind to the “what” and “how” of things we consume. Most of the times, I don’t know the origin of what I consume and how this product will end its life. I know nothing about the origin of my T-shirts. What’s the story of people behind this garment? How much was taken from the earth to make it? Can earth swallow and digest it when it is no longer wearable? As mentioned in the movie, the apparel industry is one of the less transparent. But it is up to us, consumers, to ask the right questions and show that we care. Question after question, we can make things change.

Finding the mint of sustainability

As explained by Dr Dan Ariely, a specialist of Psychology and Behavioral Economics, people don’t brush their teeth because it is healthy to do so. We brush our teeth because it makes us socially acceptable and sexy. He says human behaviors in general are focused on short-term results and strongly influenced by social pressure.  In general, what are the triggers that can be activated in order to drive positive human behaviours? And more specifically, how to make sustainability sexy so that more people get interested in it? His conclusion: “We need to find the mint of sustainability”.

An impossible answer

One more take-away from the movie is this inspiring quote:

“The answer to an impossible situation is an impossible answer” from Captain Paul Watson, founder of the SeaShepard Conservation Society. In many ways the ecological crisis (or hoax, call it what you want, #darkirony) is an impossible situation. So let’s look for impossible answers, they may be the real ones. And next time I catch myself thinking “this is impossible” I will take a sec to reconsider. Maybe impossible IS the answer…

On a personal note, what I think is fascinating about the journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle is how the boundaries of possible and impossible are always shifting. Most of the things I do today I would never have imagined doing only one year ago. (making all my home cleaning products with only natural ingredients is an example).

I am looking forward to seeing how this community of “everyday Joes and Jaynes” will grow in Toronto!

Christmas like never before: 10 ideas of ethical gifts

Christmas is coming!

I love this celebration and this time of the year because they are synonymous with enjoying good family time, eating yummy food, and watching the snow fall from my new local headquarter: the couch!

What I don’t like about it is the frenzy around buying goods in crowded malls and this sense of obligation to comply that chubby Santa Claus and jingle bells instill in our spirits as early as November.

Ever thought of doing things differently?

This year I really want to. I am mostly going to make stuffs, buy immaterial experiences and a title of Lord of the Highlands to my elder bro’ (who doesn’t read my blog, don’t panic). I gathered 10 ideas of gifts that are eco-ok and support local, sustainable brands. These ideas are for all budgets and could save us sweaty marathons at the mall. Curious?

Zero Waste Gifts

#1. A S’well bottle:

A perfect functional gift that could convince someone to stop buying water in plastic bottles. On top of having a very beautiful design, these bottles are also highly efficient at keeping liquids cold (24 hours) or hot (12 hours). They come in different sizes (260, 500 and 750 mL) for different needs. Pick your own!

#2. A reusable coffee mug:

The JOCO cup is also a cool takeaway coffee cup that easily fits in a purse. Similarly, travel mugs could divert tons of non-recyclable coffee cups from the landfill. And most coffee chains give a discount if you bring your cup! Small incentive, big impact.

#3. A basket of natural, local and ‘nude’ cosmetics:

Pick a couple of packaging-free products from Haute Goat, Captain Jamie, and Sudsatorium. It is not the first time I mention these brands because I really appreciate the quality of their products and the passion of their founders (that I all met and discussed with). They are all Ontario-based and use natural ingredients only.

Experiences

#4. A workshop with Kathrin Brunner:

Kathrin is the founder of For the love of body. I can’t stress enough how much I love Kathrin’s workshops. They are perfect occasions to learn a useful skill to live a healthier life.  Kathrin, a holistic nutritionist,  teaches people how to brew kombucha, ferment foods, create natural cosmetics, make soap, forage and many other things. Offering a workshop to a close one (and yourself) is the guarantee of a nice moment spent together, and something to eagerly look forward to.

#5. A worskhop at STEAMLabs:

Be ready to make anything at STEAMLabs: jewellery! laser cut! 3D print! The place is a big maker lab that offers workshops all year round. Such an awesome thing to gift to someone who is into DIY! Personally, the “Make a [wooden] wine box”  workshop is the one that I’d love to attend. Take a look at their gift cards.

Talking about experience, I learned that 3 out of 4 millennials today would rather spend money on experience or event than things. (NOwnership, No Problem: Why Millennials Value Experiences Over Owning Things)

Subscriptions to better living

#6. A subscription to Toronto tool library:

Ever wondered what was the point of buying a driller or a camping tent that you are going to use on average 0.4 times a year? Me too. To answer this nonsense, Toronto tool library created a “library of things” where people can borrow tools, equipment, games and a quantity of other things with an annual membership. A good idea for young parents, sport and outdoor addicts and DIY lovers.

#7. A subscription to healthy eating:

I recently tried Fresh City Farm and I am very happy with it so far. Their products, organic and grown locally, are delivered weekly to your door or you can choose to pick your bag at one of their pickup locations. They propose a selection of bags (veggies, fruit, a mix of both, local only…) that the client can then customize, adding products from local producers (eggs, bread, honey..).

What about offering a one-month or two-month subscription to someone who wants to eat more organic food? These bags are also a nice way to avoid some trips to the grocery store. I haven’t tried other options in Toronto but this article is comprehensive.

Supporting local artists

#8. A piece of art from Harbourfront Centre’s Artists in residence:

If you have never been there, go! It is a unique place where you can see artists in action (Textiles, Glass, Ceramics, Metal, Design), blowing glass, sewing or making ceramics. The boutique is right next to their studios and you can purchase ‘extra-local’ gifts from these artists. The products, from ceramics to wooden toys and jewelry, are unique and very beautiful.

The gift of creativity

This last section is for the artist sleeping inside you. I am sharing two ideas that I have been dreaming of doing for a long time.

#9. A home-made calendar of the fruit and veggies:

I have seen many calendars about the seasonal fruit and veggies, and I find them very useful. If you have any drawing, collage or photography talent, what about creating your own calendar as a gift?

#10. Coupons

I wish I did, but I did not invent this idea. In this time of the year, I read more and more about the ideas of gifting coupons for immaterial and personalized experiences and I find them very exciting! More than anything, they are an excuse to book quality time with someone you care about.

-A ritual against winter depression (eg: watching a Disney movie every Sunday afternoon till the last snow melts)

-A morning ice-skating followed by a hot chocolate at your favourite café

-A 30 minute massage at home

-An afternoon colouring while catching up on each other’s lives

-An afternoon making canned veggies and fermenting things

I hope this short selection was inspiring! Happy and generous Christmas to you!

Scoop: BulkBarn allows BYOC at its Liberty Village store

Good news! BulkBarn recently started a concept test at its new Liberty Village location: the store is now allowing customers to bring their own containers to fill rather than the usual disposable plastic bags.

BulkBarn is a chain that proposes mostly food items in bulk, free of plastic packaging. The advantages for the customer are mostly savings. Yes, packaging and marketing come with a cost that is always transferred to the final product (economics 101).

For eco-conscious consumers who try to reduce the amount of waste they produce, it is also a great solution to avoid multiple packaging that weigh a lot on our landfills. In the past, BulkBarn has been reluctant to allow its customers to bring their own containers. Hygiene and safety reasons were mentioned to justify a policy that many customers questioned. I also found the brand’s arguments not compelling when many markets (St Lawrence included) were already allowing BYOC or when other safety “threats” appeared more real (children snacking from the bins?).

The chain changed its mind and recently decided to allow the practice in Liberty Village. The concentration of Millennials (supposedly more opened to change) in this area of Toronto convinced the chain to try the concept there.

Today, I decided to go and see by myself. The concept is easy: Clean, weigh, scoop, pay.

20161030_144801

I brought my own boxes and had them weighed first. After a quick inspection, the cashier put a little sticker on them indicating their weigh, so that I pay only for my food. I came back a few minutes later with the boxes filled with pasta and beans, paid, and voilà!

I think it is great that BulkBarn allowed the concept and I hope it will help raise awareness of the practice and foster conversations about reducing waste. When the cashier started putting my boxes in a plastic bag and I had to say no, she looked surprised (if not shocked). When I asked about the adoption of the concept in her store, she told me that so far people haven’t been bringing their own containers a lot. Let’s hope that curious consumers will question why fellow shoppers bring their containers and be tempted to try. I am convinced that a financial incentive, even minimal, would help. Humans are like that, our brains are just wired to love rewards.

Time will tell how the initiative is received but for now, let’s talk about it and ask other BulkBarn(s) to follow!

(update 26/11/16: Other BulkBarns have followed the Liberty Village example since I published the post and are now also proposing BYOC!!)

 

Good Food For Good

I am thrilled to introduce a social enterprise whose approach to nutrition and sharing totally needs a space here.

The origins of a social entreprise

Having worked for the conventional food industry for many years, Richa Gupta started to feel increasingly frustrated by the poor quality of food sold in the market. Food that is very high in calories and poor in nutrients. Food that is “made of ingredients” instead of being the ingredient. In fact, westerners have never had so much food in terms of calories intake and paradoxically, so less nutrients.

Richa questioned the status quo, only to find out that selling better, qualitative food wasn’t at all a priority for decision-makers in the food industry. Tired of working for products she didn’t believe in, she left and created her own company, GOOD FOOD FOR GOOD in 2013.

A reminder of what food is

She lived through again as she started making fresh, locally-sourced, organic, vegan, and gluten-free sauces inspired by Indian and Mexican cuisine. These sauces can turn any preparation into a sophisticated and delicious meal. Her “ketchup” sweetened with dates is also an astute alternative to sugar-bombs regular ketchup.

Richa also blends delicious turmeric teas. They nicely provide a daily intake of this highly beneficial root in our diet. Turmeric is a great anti-oxidant, thus helping cancer survivors heal. But, as Richa explained to me, people are also increasingly interested in turmeric as a preventive approach to diseases. For more information on its benefits, you can read this interesting post Turmeric, the golden root.

As her own CEO, she regularly had to make tough decisions that implied choosing between quality or easier profits. She never compromised on the quality of her products, regardless of people’s advice. For instance, she fiercely resisted adding preservatives to her sauces, and tests revealed that they actually didn’t need them.

Good news! We can now buy Richa’s products in many stores in Toronto. You can find the list here . Even my Longos sells her Ketchup.  Good job, the Bro’s.

 

IMG_20160813_143538

Richa (2nd from left) and her team at Toronto Vegan Fest (08/13/2016)

Food that fights hunger

Feeding Canadians with real, nutritive food, was not enough for the entrepreneur. Fascinated by the One for One example of TOMS’ shoes, she decided that a percentage of each purchase would be donated to charities in India. This amount offers a meal to a child in need in India. For these kids, the perspective of being fed a meal is an incentive to go to school. And because hunger is not a reality in India only, GOOD FOOD FOR GOOD also partners with Food Banks Canada. I read on their website that a daunting 13% of Canadians live in a state of food insecurity, meaning they have no access to safe and nutritious food in sufficient quantities.

Lastly, if Richa is so inspiring to me, it is because like too many of my friends today, she used to be dissatisfied and unhappy with her job but decided that things could be different. It takes a lot of courage. And, as she humbly recalls, a lot of support too. But where there is passion, there is a way. That’s what she told me over a big batch of turmeric tea one day.

David Suzuki – The sacred balance

Who doesn’t know David Suzuki?

I moved to Canada in 2015, and it was not long before I heard about the man, his actions, his convictions and the Foundation.

In a desire to “Canadianize” myself quickly, I borrowed the first book from him that I found at the library (randomness has its charm). I watched interviews where he tells how his childhood memories are full of souvenirs of fishing with his dad in a still-preserved Canada. I immediately liked his smiling eyes and sense of humor.

My point here is of course not to try to synthetize The sacred balance, but to say why I liked it and what I will remember from it.

I would recommend reading the book first because it awakened my interest in science. And guess what? I was bewitched. By the magic of the chlorophyll, the fact that I may have breathed air molecules breathed by Gandhi, the nature of fire and the steadiness of H2O molecules. If you want to learn or re-learn about science, this is a good, accessible-to-everyone book. The chapters are dedicated to each of the elements (air, water, earth, fire) and the last one deals with positive actions that we can implement on our daily lives to reduce our environmental footprint.

The necessity of harmony between us, other creatures and the elements is a very present idea. There is a deep spiritual meaning to this harmony he makes a call for.

For me, the most important take-away from the book is the following quote, that entailed major changes in my day-to-day life:

 “Make ‘disposable’ an obscene word and favour the reusable over the recyclable.”

(See article My journey from disposable to reusable – 1st mile)

Finally, I would like to end with a list of concrete and relatively easy steps that Suzuki says are the most impactful we can have:

  • Reduce home energy by 10%
  • Eat meat-free meals one day a week (See http://meatlessmondays.ca/)
  • Buy a fuel-efficient, low-polluting car
  • Choose an energy-efficient home and appliances
  • Stop using pesticides
  • Walk, bike or take transit to regular destination
  • Prepare your meals with locally grown food
  • Choose a home close to regular destinations
  • Support alternatives to the car
  • Get involved, stay informed

If you are looking for an inspiring and useful read for the summer, look no further!

Paul Hawken – The ecology of commerce

This book landed in my hands thanks to my condo neighbour and I am really grateful for the loan because it was such a great read! I would totally recommend this essay, which is accessible and solutions-oriented. No wonder it was a best-seller since it 1st publication in 1993. I would like to mention some of Paul Hawken’s ideas that I particularly liked.

One of the most important is that our markets are imperfect in that they fail to reflect the real costs of products and services. Why? Because real costs include all the externalities linked to them. These externalities can affect biodiversity, the quality of water, the preservation of ancient cultures, people’s health, air pollution etc… All the actions undertaken to “repair” those negative consequences have costs.

Because the costs of these “negative externalities” are difficult to take into account and because industrials don’t pay for them, our markets are fundamentally flawed.

As good “homo-economicus”, looking for the cheapest option is the basis of our purchasing behaviour. Unfortunately, today, the cheaper options are also the ones that bring about a cheap environment, cheap human rights, and a cheap world. This is true for all the goods we consume, from the 10-dollar H&M T-shirt made in Rana Plaza, to the cheap chicken wings hardly made of “chicken”.

Back to topic: how do we concretely include the price of negative externalities into our products?

As far as the environment is concerned, Hawken advocates for a solution that appears simple (at least conceptually): green taxes.

If polluting industries were taxed according to the environmental damages that they cause, the prices of their products would automatically be higher to include the costs of the taxes. Meanwhile, companies selling the same product that does not harm the environment would be more attractive to final customers. Their prices would have a competitive advantage (their lower cost).

“We must design a marketplace that obviates acts of environmental destruction by making them expensive and rewards restorative acts by bringing them within our means”.

The concept of green taxes is at the core of the “restorative economy” that Hawken is defending. Interestingly, he distinguishes two types of costs that would have to be taken into account: the “actual damage” caused by a company to the environment or to people; and the damages to future generations, which are more difficult to take into consideration but equally important.

In my opinion, that solution would bear a lot of potential. In a world where politics cared.

Regardless of political decisions, we as consumers will always have the power to make choices through our consumption habits. Hawken says:

“… the cash register is the daily voting booth in democratic capitalism”

I am skeptical about governments’ will to change things.
I am skeptical about traditional big companies’ will to do good. But I am definitely optimistic about people’s ability to make sensible purchasing decisions, provided they are informed.

Hawken even talks to the activists in us and suggests writing to companies, to question them, to tell them what we think about their behaviours (good or bad).

I leave you with a quote and a warm recommendation to borrow the book from the library.

 “We need to imagine a life where having less is more satisfying, more interesting and more secure”

 

 

Captain Jamie’s

Gabi Star

She couldn’t meet on Monday because she was rescuing a cat. So we postponed our meeting.

I met Gabi Star at The Backyard Farm and Market (Mississauga) earlier in June, where she sells her cosmetic products and co-manages the market. On that day, I was volunteering at the Eco-Kitchen but I managed to escape and roamed around her stall, asking to test her natural sunscreen. She intrigued me, as well as the name of her brand, Captain Jamie’s. I decided that I needed to meet her again.

Intuition seldom misleads me. Gabi answered enthusiastically that we should definitely meet. A rescued-cat later, we met at the Thrive Organic Kitchen & Café in Etobicoke.

A Captain behind a brand

Why “Captain Jamie’s” was one of my first question but she answered before I could ask. The Captain is a man who survived many storms, (as beautifully stated by Gabi), including two cancers, and whom Gabi seems to deeply admire and respect. He talked her into exploring her creativity at a deeper level. After making first soaps that were not exactly successful, she persevered and decided to create her own body-care product line, entirely based on natural ingredients. Offering gentle and safe products for fragile people is also what pushed her to undertake this project. The vision behind Captain Jamie’s product line is simple: “to promote a healthy lifestyle, create awareness and inspire”.

Product line

Among other things, Gabi makes sunscreen creams, lip balms, deodorants, body scrubs and soaps. She uses only natural components and none of the harmful ingredients found in conventional cosmetics. (Parabens, aluminium, fragrances, to name a few). Nature provides Gabi’s ingredients. Her favourite spots to forage are secluded places in Toronto and Niagara Escarpment. There, she finds the lavender, peppermint, geranium, chamomile, strawberries and other treasures that end up in her products.

Gabi 3Gabi 2

After testing the sunscreen she gifted to me this morning, I am in deep love with it and can confirm its total efficiency (I am editing this article after a summer spent using it). The texture is amazing and I had to refrain from eating the cream right from the pot. Ingredients? Coconut oil, shea butter, apricot kernel oil, mango butter, aloe gel, beeswax, essential oils and zinc oxide. (If you are interested, here is an article that explains how zinc oxide works).

More products are to come to complete the line, but she can’t tell me what yet, as she herself doesn’t know. She “goes with the flow” and mostly, listens to what people need and answers their needs.

Quote

The soul of a Shaman

At the market, Gabi Star became a doctor to many, though she insists that she is not a dermatologist. But people keep asking her how to treat their skin conditions, and from their questions she draws enormous motivation to keep learning about the healing power of plants. But how does one become some sort of a modern shaman in a city like Toronto, today?! I’m glad I asked, because it turns out that her grandmother was herself an Aboriginal shaman and a healer in Moldova, where Gabi grew up. She taught her that Nature has to be listened to and has treasures to offer if we love and respect Mother Earth. The wisdom and knowledge of Aboriginal peoples is also a deep source of admiration for Gabi, namely for “their ability to feel the oneness”.

Speaking of which, she explains to me that the intention she puts in creating her products, which is all love, will be felt by the persons who use them. Because we are all connected. I could feel what she meant by that. As if I was stretching my arm to grasp this oneness concept I have heard about, but it was just an inch too far away. But I guess you need to experience oneness to really understand it. Like you need to ski to understand the feeling of skiing.

Message in a bottle

“Choose a better way. Choose a better path” is the message that Gabi and the mysterious Captain send to people who want to use safe, affordable and authentic cosmetic products. After trying them, I’m on board!

My journey from disposable to reusable (1st mile)

“Make disposable an obscene word and favour the reusable over the recyclable.” is one of my favourite quote by David Suzuki.

Zero waste may sound intimidating but no matter how you call it, the point is to try, collectively, to reduce the amount of waste we produce.

I wanted to share with you the basic first steps that I have been taking in that journey. Let’s hit the (waste-free) road!

In the kitchen:

-From food packaging → to bulk and non-processed food

Buying in bulk is synonymous with buying raw, non-processed food. It’s the best thing you can do for your body, for the environment and for your budget without a doubt. I am still dreaming of a well thought-out grocery store where everything could be bought in bulk at the same place: rice, olive oil, tea, coffee, laundry detergent etc…

-From kitchen foil → to plates and reusable clothes

I cover my leftovers in the fridge with a simple plate. I wrap my sandwiches in a clean cloth, or in plastic boxes (I still have plenty). And I recently discovered a great brand called Abeego. They produce reusable beeswax wrap that replaces kitchen foil perfectly.

-From absorbing paper →  to sponge and cotton towels

It can be replaced more easily than I thought, with small towels and a sponge. If I need to grease a pan (which has been a problem for me until I read a blogger’s idea), I now grab a stale piece of bread or a leftover vegetable to do the job. Creativity at all levels!

-From plastic plates and cutlery → to napkins and hands

When I have a party at home, I’ll have my guests use napkins instead of disposable plates and make sure they can eat with their hands. No plates and plastic knives, glasses, forks and spoons. Gross? Less than throwing everything away the next day. Even if this kind of plastic can be recycled, the best waste is the one that you don’t create in the first place.

-From chewing gums → to cloves

This one is anecdotal: when my Indian in-law gave me cloves to freshen up after lunch, I knew I could immediately add “Chewing gums” to the “don’t buy again” list. I love to find solution from unexpected sources.

In the bathroom:

-From shower creams → to bars of soaps

Shower creams are expensive, their plastic packaging is completely useless (in regards of the final use), they contain weird chemicals. There are plenty of places in Toronto where we can buy nude bars of soap. And for the most adventurous makers, why not try to make your own soap?

-From liquid shampoos → to solid bars of shampoo

Same as above. Solid versions come in recyclable card or better, naked. Lush has some solid bars that work well. They have very flashy colours, which first made be cringe, but the brand displays its ingredients in a way that is rather transparent. Better yet, Sudsatorium is a Toronto-based cosmetic company that also sells solid shampoo bars.

-From disposable makeup-remover cottons → to reusable cotton towels

There are many options here too. I bought some very soft mini towels that I wash at the end of the week. (from Logan and Finley, on Queen West). Some of my friends are huge fans of Konjac sponges.

-From tampons and pads → to menstrual cups

How many discussions with my girl friends did the cup bring about! Obvious, economical and convenient, they just require a little practice to overcome the prejudice we can have towards them. DivaCup, Mooncup and the like can be bought online. If you are not convinced yet, look at a rubbish ad for tampons and raise a finger at how they talk to women. (These ads infuriate me…)

-From Q-tips → to bamboo sticks

Simple as a soft stick collecting earwax without damaging the eardrum. I haven’t found that in Toronto but I brought one from France. You can take a look at it here.

-From plastic toothbrush → to recyclable toothbrush

Bamboo is a good solution. I use a Woobamboo! one, they (or equivalent) can be found in any organic store. This will still be a waste, but a recyclable one.

-(My next challenge) From tissues → to handkerchiefs

This one I haven’t done yet, as I still have plenty of Kleenex at home. But don’t say yuck. We should only yuck at our useless waste.  We just have to do it cleanly with a minimum of hygienic common sense.

I can’t help adding that reducing is also key in the bathroom. Just came back from my bathroom to check on the toothbrush’s brand, and sighed at the quantity of things I still have.

Outside:

-From plastic bags → to reusable bags

Not that I don’t like the poetry of plastic bags floating in front of my 20th floor-window, but seriously, let’s all say no to plastic bags. There are too many of them in the ocean, the trees, and birds’ stomachs and the solution is too easy. Bring your reusable bag with you everywhere, period.

-From coffee cups → to refillable mugs

Your coffee cups are not recyclable. Only their lids are, provided they are not black. I know, this sounds esoteric. Check Ask the wizard for more information. This is an online tool provided by the City of Toronto with a simple concept: type the name of the item you don’t know how to recycle, and the Wizard will give you the answer.

Bringing your own mug with you when you go out is really not that hard. I have found a refillable one at home, but there are several other options, one being the JOCO cup. Starbucks and Tim Hortons will even redeem you 10 cents if you bring a travel mug.

-From plastic bottles → to reusable bottles

I came to the conclusion that I should always leave home with 3 things …  my coffee mug, a bottle of water and some nuts (to avoid buying compulsively expensive plastic junk food) … in a reusable bag. To remember myself of doing so, I just stuck a note to my door. Sometimes the dumbiest tips are the best.

To go further:

This is the state-of-the art of my zero waste efforts as per May, 30th, 2016. I have loved writing it, and I hope you did too. Reducing one’s waste is a journey, it requires organization and perseverance.

But more than everything, it’s fun! And visualize the amount of trash we can all avoid with these simple and economical alternatives. Here are two additional resources that I find interesting.

Toronto Environmental Alliance launched a project called The Waste Free Project. It sets challenges for all Torontonians to reduce their waste in several areas. It’s community-based and people can share their experience and upload pictures of how they succeeded in taking the challenge.

Lastly, you can also take a look at US-based Lauren Singer’s blog, Trash is for tossers. Her Zero Waste Alternatives is a very complete article.

More than ever, let’s go Green TO!