January is a great time to declutter

If you’re like me, maybe you’re finding the garage is a bit fuller than it used to be, the basement is filled with stuff that’s rarely used and the desk is full of important papers that haven’t been touched in months.  All signs that it’s time to declutter!

Where to be.gin?  The David Suzuki Foundation’s Queen of Green has an excellent step-by-manageable-step process for decluttering.  It starts decluttering one corner of your bedroom, and builds from there to your home office, kitchen, garage and storage locker.  Instead of me cutting and pasting, why not check out the original posting here?  It’s worth a read.

Then happy decluttering!

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Last-minute tips for a low-stress, greener Christmas

Still scrambling for gifts?  Me too, in spite of my annual promise to self that it won’t happen again.

Here are a few ideas to help you cross those last names off your list – and tread more lightly on the planet in the process!

  • For the foodie, a share in a local community supported agriculture operation that will provide a weekly box of fresh, local food
  • Coupons for hair care, gym membership, home cleaning, snow removal, massages, theatre or dinner at a local restaurant
  • Homemade items like knitted goods, baking, preserves, soap and crafts

And:

  • Shop secondhand stores for nearly-new clothing, books, music, electronics, furniture and more at a fraction of their original prices
  • Make commemorative donations to organizations that share your values: a homeless shelter, food bank, nature trust or animal shelter
  • Purchase carbon offsets for your friends. Learn more at tinyurl.com/COffsetInfo.

Even more ideas here.  So don’t stress out, and Happy Green Holidays!

Homemade toothpaste?

December 5, 2017

Simple recipe, simple ingredients, simple process

I’ve always been a bit hesitant about homemade toothpaste, soap and detergent.  How could they be as good as the commercial stuff, and aren’t they a nuisance to make and use?  But I think I’m coming around: my wife has started making soap and my sisters have started making toothpaste and laundry detergent!

So here’s my sister’s recipe for homemade toothpaste – pretty simple, with ingredients available at the grocery store, pharmacy or health food store:

  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2-4 tablespoons baking soda or a combination of baking soda and sea salt
  • Up to one tablespoon xylitol powder (optional)
  • 20 drops cinnamon or clove essential oil (optional)
  • 20 drops peppermint essential oil (optional)

And it just takes five minutes to make.  You can dip your toothbrush into it (like a finger in the peanut butter jar) or, if it’s for family use, use a popsicle stick.

Here’s an alternate but similar recipe, and here’s a bit more about the dos and don’ts of homemade toothpaste.  Happy brushing!

Thanks to sis and subscriber Yvonne Duivenvoorden for today’s Green Idea!

Flush a little less?…

I was a bit shocked last week to read that the average American uses 57 squares of bathroom tissue a day, or fifty pounds a year.  I’m guessing we Canadians aren’t much different.

57 squares: that’s a lot of paper – by my math, nearly six metres or 20 feet!  Unfortunately, recycled fibres make up only a small percentage of that; the vast majority of bathroom tissue is virgin fibre.

Upstream of consumers, that’s a lot of trees, energy, water and other resources used.  Downstream of us, that’s a lot of flushed fibre for our sewage systems to handle and process.

TP is a consumer staple we don’t often talk about, but it clearly has a significant environmental impact.

So what to do?  Perhaps two simple things.

First, since Reduce is always the most important of the three Rs, strive to use just a bit less every trip to the WC.  Small actions by many equal huge differences.

Second, choose the most eco-friendly paper you can; look for high post-consumer recycled content and third-party certifications such as the Forest Stewardship Council logo.

(And that’s a wipe… I mean, a wrap.)

Save on paper by using both sides

True story: I can’t remember when I last bought a package of printer paper for my home office. Why?  Because I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping paper that’s just been used on one side, and then using that for ‘internal’ purposes like:

  • Printing anything that’s for my use only (like meeting agendas, speaking notes, outlines, drafts or working copies)
  • Printing anything destined for a file cabinet (like tax e-receipts or project documents)
  • All faxes
  • Scribble sheets for note-taking (in place of notepads)

And more!  In fact, I’ve discovered that very little of my printing actually requires clean, new paper.

Interested in saving on paper in your home or workplace?  It’s easy – just place a small bin beside your printer and/or fax machine for paper that’s been only used on one side (be sure there’s no sensitive info on the side that has been used).  Then encourage everyone to take from that bin when they need to print or scribble, and contribute to it with their own ‘half-used paper’.

(And please recycle paper after it’s been used on both sides!)

Five ways to improve your indoor air quality

From a recent blog post I read: “Commercials and slick marketing techniques have led us to believe that ‘clean’ equates to a scent that you would not find in nature.  But what does a clean home really smell like?  Nothing at all!

It’s true: we’ve become accustomed to air ‘fresheners’ and ‘fresh’ smells in our cleaning products.  But often the chemicals that produce those pleasant smells are very unnatural concoctions, negatively impacting the quality of the air where most of us spend most of our time: indoors.

So what to do?  Here are five quick tips for better indoor air quality:

  • Choose fragrance-free products, because most ‘fragrances’ are chemicals your lungs and skin would be better off without
  • Avoid aerosols, because they create fine particles that are more likely to be inhaled because they float in the air longer; use spray pumps instead
  • Look for logos of third party certification like EcoLogo (Canada) or Safer Choice (US EPA); don’t accept manufacturer claims of ‘green’, ‘natural’ or ‘new and improved’ at face value
  • Read labels, and beware of vague ingredients like ‘parfum’ or ‘preservative’
  • Diffuse natural oils like lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus or others to naturally freshen your air

More info here and here (the sources of this info)!

Be conscious of palm oil’s impacts, and strive to choose wisely

From a news article I read last month: “Few ingredients highlight the planet-friendly dilemma more than palm oil. Found in everything from margarine to ice-cream, this ubiquitous vegetable oil is natural and plant-based, yet it’s also linked with the destruction of vast tracts of rainforest.”

And that about sums it up:

  • Global demand for palm oil has skyrocketed; it’s used in just about everything, including biofuels
  • Global production of palm oil has skyrocketed, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia
  • A significant consequence has been the clearing of tropical rainforest, the lungs of the planet, to make way for palm oil plantations

So what’s a caring consumer to do?

  • Look for the logo of the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPOPalmOil) on the products you buy; it’s an indicator of sustainably-produced palm oil. If you can’t find it, look for the Green Palm logo, indicating products in transition to sustainable palm oil.
  • Check out the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Palm Oil Scorecard to see how your favourite brands are doing
  • Learn the real story of palm oil through this interactive website from the Guardian

And then do your best to make wise choices!

Toothpaste, soap and a moisturizer/fragrance

A few years ago, our family went on a four week backpacking vacation.  If you’ve ever backpacked, you know ounces count – so one of our weight-saving strategies was to limit our toiletries to one tube of toothpaste, a small bar of soap, a bit of moisturizing cream and some sunblock.  Light and simple, they suited our needs perfectly.

Akamai, a new personal care company, suggests that most of us could live on just three personal care products: toothpaste, soap (for skin and hair) and an oil spray for fragrance and moisture. So that’s all it offers.

Akamai’s motivation isn’t weight in your backpack; it’s sustainability and simplicity.  In the words of the co-founder, “Typical personal care product companies want you to consume more of their products, so they say wash your hair and body every day.  We have been led into this false sense of what is required to have healthy skin, teeth and hair.”

Plus – more products mean more chemicals, water, packaging and transportation.

So why not consider simplifying your toiletries cupboard?  Good for you, good for your wallet, good for the environment.  And, if you travel, good for your back!

Handwashing with cool water is just as good for killing bacteria

For years we’ve been taught that, when washing hands, we have to use hot water to effectively remove bacteria.  But a new study published in the Journal of Food Protection has found no difference in washing effectiveness when hands were washed in water that was 16, 26 or 38 degrees C.  (Note: for reference, 16⁰C is a bit warmer than the water coming out of your cold water tap, but it’s colder than you’d want to swim in.)

The implication: in the words of one of the study’s authors, “We are wasting energy to heat water to a level that is not necessary.”

So – something to think about the next time you wash your hands.  Cool water is much more comfortable in summer anyway!

PS: interestingly, the biggest factor in washing effectiveness was washing technique; antimicrobial soap had little effect.

Our incredible potential for keeping waste out of the landfill

This pie chart from the US EPA represents the waste profile of a typical municipality.

Waste profile

Do you notice what I notice?

  • Over a quarter of our waste is organic (food or yard trimmings), which is completely compostable
  • Another quarter is paper, which is almost entirely recyclable
  • 8% is plastics, much of which is recyclable
  • 1% is metal, which is recyclable
  • 2% is wood, which can be composted or repurposed for fuel

Add up those numbers and you can see that if we recycled, composted or otherwise diverted everything possible, we could keep at least three-quarters of our waste out of the landfill (and that’s not including glass, which is recyclable in many places).

That would greatly reduce the need for fresh resources; and vastly extend the lives of our landfills.

So – what’s in your trash bin right now?  If you’re not diverting everything you can, why not make a commitment right now?

Take a minute to imagine the potential if we all recycled and composted everything we could – then do your part to make it happen!