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!

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!

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).