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.

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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!!)

 

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!

A Soap-making workshop with Kathrin

Have you ever thought of making soap by yourself? Learning alone can be difficult, but learning with Kathrin from For the Love of Body is a completely different story!

Why to make soap by your own?

First, you may wonder why to make one’s own soap instead of buying regular ones from the supermarket. Good question!

-Commercial soaps and shower creams (and cosmetics in general) contain many chemicals whose effects on human bodies and the environment are either dubious or clearly harmful. Since 2006 in Canada, cosmetic manufacturers have to disclose the list of their ingredients on the product. But there are still many grey zones. One of them is the “fragrance” or “perfume” issue: because they are considered as manufacturing “secrets”, brands don’t have to reveal their composition. But it’s a cocktail of chemicals that raise many interrogations.

-Another reason is simply quality. Commercial soaps usually get rid of the glycerin that is a perfect moisturizer since it comes from fat, and they sell it to other industrial purposes. As a result, they don’t leave the skin moisturized and we have to buy separate moisturizers. (it’s a commercial logic, not a logical logic). With your own soap, you can choose which oils to add depending on your skin’s needs and tailor a perfect soap for you.

-Soaps are wonderful gifts for family and friends. They are not only beautiful and smelling delicious, they are useful.

-It’s fun and entertaining to make soaps. The last time I made my own was with a bunch of friends at my place and we spent a super nice moment together.

-It’s zero waste! No plastic needed in the process.

For the Love of Body

I discovered For the Love of Body in Kensington market and immediately knew I had found a gold nugget in Toronto. Kathrin, its founder, is a holistic nutritionist, yoga teacher, and natural products-maker. She teaches soap-making, foraging, kombucha brewing, detox, natural home-care products. In a nutshell, the kind of things that keep me awake at night.

Here, I am going to tell about the first – and not last – workshop that I took with her in April.

Let’s get started

On this sunny Sunday, we were around 13 at Kathrin and Andrew’s workshop. I came with my friend Marie who is a also a zero-waste advocate and maker. We met at the Centre for Social Innovation in Spadina, a charming sort of coworking place for entrepreneurs and change-makers (update 09/10/16: I can’t help adding that I have joined CSI since then and that I am blessed to be part of it). The room was sunny, wooden-floored and with a big nice carpet.

Melt and pour soaps

We learnt how to make two different kind of soaps: melt-and pour soaps and traditional ones. The former are faster to make and don’t require the use of lye (caustic soda). You basically melt a base and then customize it with essential oils, natural fragrances, scrubbing elements and whatever you like.

While the base was melting in the double-boiler, Kathrin explained to us the benefits of essential oils and the difference between them. A topic so vast it could justify another workshop of its own, I thought. We then made two groups and each poured the basis in its mold and chose a fragrance and colour. Our group added Egyptian Geranium essential oil, white clay and dried rose petals… we religiously stirred the mixture, taking tours and chatting happily over our soap-to be.

For melt and pour soaps, there is no curing (drying) period, so after pouring the base in the molds and tracing, we were given our own little cube of pink soap!

Traditional cold process soap-making

After a short break, Kathrin and Andrew started the demo for traditional soaps, that involves lye. This process gives better-quality soaps that can be stored longer. Also, it allows to choose what kind of oils to use, and can be adapted depending on the skin’s needs. The process consists of first mixing water (1) and lye (2), the mixture reaching quickly a very high temperature. Andrew, all googles on, took care of it while I was discretely moving my chair back.  While it was cooling down, we started melting hard oils together in another pot. I think we melted coconut oil and avocado butter. Olive oil, that makes the soap bar hard, was finally added by one of us. It. We then poured the lye into the oils and used an immersion blender to mix everything!

Finally, the mixture was transferred into a wooden mold, to form several long bars of soaps that will be cut into small bars two days after.

The last ingredient of the recipe is patience, as a curing period of around 4 weeks is necessary before being able to use your soaps!

Next steps

I was super happy about the experience and I have already started collecting the ingredients to make mine. I warmly endorse Kathrin for her vast knowledge and enthusiasm! Check out her website for future workshops to come.

 

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Cube soaps on the left: melt and pour . Yellow soaps: traditional cold process soaps

 

 

For the love of bulk

Buying in bulk has many advantages, from saving tons of useless plastics to saving money.

I am currently trying to convert to bulk as much as I can. But why and how? Read more about it and please share your tips and comments!

Why to buy in bulk?

Buying in bulk addresses the crucial problem of packaging and our over-consumption of perfectly useless plastics. Going to supermarkets sometimes makes me mad. Why do these innocent spinach leaves, almonds, sushis, croissants have to be put into plastic boxes? This is a pure nonsense. Let alone the sanitary questions of how plastic components interact with our food over time, it is an environmental disaster.

What’s in it for me?

Savings: marketing and packaging costs are reflected on the price of the final product. And at the end, do you want to pay for your rolled oats or for their packaging? (For example, as per April 2016, rolled oats at Noah’s Natural Food bought in bulk cost 3,69/kilo. Organic rolled oats at Longos cost  6,98/kilo).

Another aspect of savings is some stores offer a small discount when you bring your containers, which is fair since you save them the cost of the bag too.

Avoiding to waste food: when buying food in bulk, we can buy the exact quantity we need, period. No need to buy a 500g bag of walnuts if it’s only to make one cake.

Aesthetics: transparent jars where you can see the food directly look really appealing ,,,. Making them more visually accessible is also a good way to diversify the menus of a week. Instead of sticking to rice and pasta, beans, quinoa, brown rice, and lentils will inspire you through the glass.

-Last (but maybe should have been 1st): buying in bulk often means buying raw materials that have not been transformed industrially. Long story short, it is incredibly healthier.

How to buy in bulk?

So, what does it mean to buy in bulk? It means, first of all, to find grocery stores that sell food in bulk. (see a list of options below). It also requires to bring containers to the store, like cotton bags, jars, or plastic tupperware. Some stores accept it and some don’t, for so-called sanitary reasons. It is often worth insisting a bit, and explaining the reasons of not wanting to produce waste when it can be avoided.

If this step seems like a big challenge, you can also, in your usual grocery store, make better choices. Veggies and fruit packaged in plastic boxes often have “nude” alternatives. Go for them.

Tips

My advice to begin would be to start with “easy food” like rice, pasta and lentils. Just start by transferring your existing food to three jars. Continue and explore quinoa, bulgur, beans of all kinds. You can then transition to food that are a little more logistically challenging like teas, spices, chocolate. The most difficult things being probably meat, dairy products and liquids in general. (I’m not there yet!)

Also, start collecting all your glass containers. I bet that once you’ve started, you’ll be running short of them.

Lastly, get inspired by Béa Johnson, a zero waste leader in the US.

Where in TO?

Basically everywhere! But here is my shortlist:

-BulkBarn: so far the most comprehensive bulk store I have found in Toronto. they have everything from pasta to rice, flour, sugar, dried fruit… in pails, tubs or bins. The bags they propose are all made in Canada and 100% recyclable. Right now, customers are not allowed to bring their own containers to refill for safety issues. The reason given is that customers may pour extra amounts back in their containers or directly dip theirs. But they are actively working on an « even-better » solution. (This is a list of stores in Toronto).

[Update from 11/05: BulkBarn is allowing Bring Your Own Containers at Liberty Village!]

-4Life Natural Food in Kensington: actually, there are plenty of organic stores that sell in bulk in Kensington. I just selected this one because it is spacious and well organized. You can find all sorts of rice and grains there. (210 Augusta Avenue).

-Saint Lawrence Market: the lower floor of the market is home to many shops where most sellers sell in bulk their bread, flour, oats, dried fruit etc.-

-Noah’s Natural Foods: they have a selection of products sold in bulk, including rice and rolled oats, and most of them are organic. (Four locations in Toronto).