Zero Waste

The onion bag saga

I had such a dilemma in the grocery store today. Those plastic mesh type bags that onions and other produce come in have been really upsetting me these days.

The other day I vowed not to buy produce in those plastic mesh bags. I can see the mesh bag easily being torn into little tiny bits and winding up as micro bits of plastic. It is so unnecessary. At the grocery store today, the 3 lb bag was on for $2.99, which breaks down to about $1.00 per lb. I said to myself, go for the loose onions without the packaging. But the loose onions were $1.99 per lb, double the cost. If it was only onions then I could just pay the increased cost, but as my other blogs show, going for the environmentally better items is often more expensive and it all adds up. I thought again about the 3 lb bag. I use a lot of onions so loose onions could get really expensive. There was only one bag left and the onions in it did not look very good so I asked the produce guy if there were any more out back. He brought out a huge plastic mesh bag that had a bunch of 3 lb bags of onions in it. He cut open the big bag and put all the 3 lb bags on the shelf. There were a few loose onions in the bottom of the big bag so do you know where he put those? Over in the pile of $1.99 loose onions! So there is no difference at all between the expensive loose onions and the cheaper 3 lb bagged onions, and yet if I want to buy the loose ones to avoid packaging then I have to pay twice as much…for the same onions. I couldn’t believe it. Even if my budget can handle a few examples like this, how can it handle going completely packaging free? And what about the majority of budgets? Many people live pay cheque to pay cheque and may not be able to buy the more expensive non packaged items and so will continue to buy onions, for example, in plastic mesh type bags, which can’t be recycled here. Shameful of the store. And shame on me in the end for going with the mesh bag. Budget won out over the environment. I don’t yet know were to draw the line with this issue.

More plastic packaging

I bought a bunch of kale, I didn’t put it in a produce bag. Good. But, it still had a plastic tape around it and a twist tie.

I want to grind my own flours and spices. The more I make myself the less packaging I have to contend with. So, I bought a new spice grinder, with lots of packaging. How ironic.

At first I was happy to see that at least it was cardboard packaging. Then came the plastic twist tie, the styrofoam type wrapping and the plastic bag. Maybe I should just go for a mortar and pestle, saving electricity as well. How much time and effort do I have for that manual job? Along with making all my own condiments and meals from scratch?

Two sets of meat packaging today. So, two styrofoam meat trays and two plastic wrapping, and then there is that smaller plastic wrapped tray liner that sits under the meat between the meat and the tray. I forgot about those. Two of those as well. I really need to find a butcher.

My frozen blueberries in the freezer were in a plastic type wrapping. Packaging is all around me no matter how hard I try to avoid it. I will keep trying.

How I did today

I popped into the grocery store for a couple of things. I bought cherries which come in a single use plastic bag that is climate controlled so it has holes in it. That means it really is single use since you can’t use it again for garbage or storage for example. I needed bay leaves and that comes in a plastic package. I was not near a bulk food store so could not use my own containers. Maybe I need to change my behaviour to plan meals so I am not buying ingredients last minute? How far do I go with this? I put the groceries in my reusable grocery bag, so that’s good. At home, I cooked meat that was on a styrofoam tray covered in plastic wrap which I had in my freezer. After I finish all the meat in my freezer I am going to try to buy meat that is not on a styrofoam tray. Thinking back, I should I have dumped the cherries in a produce bag so at least I could have used the bag for something else first? I don’t have any reusable produce bags yet, if the stores allow me to use them here. Of course I may dump the cherries into a reusable container but it still means the plastic bag the cherries were in was still used, only I am leaving it for the store to put in the garbage instead of me doing it. Or, I only buy cherries when they are loose, which might be never. Do I thus go without cherries? The fact is, the farm or whoever does the packaging should be sending cherries to the store with less packaging. This is what I need to advocate for, but I don’t know how yet.

I feel discouraged

Over the last few days I can’t seem to get away from plastics and packaging despite trying. About a month ago I moved into a new condo and bought a few things like a new microwave. I found the box in my storage unit today. I collapsed it to be recycled, but not before I had to pull out styrofoam and a plastic bag for the garbage. I also found the box my mattress came in and all the plastic wrap my mattress was rolled up in (and it was a lot). All that plastic wrap into the garbage. I decided to make muffins. I went to the store to buy butter. I bought the package with four individually wrapped sticks because it is so much easier than cutting off butter from a block and floating it in water to measure it or using a scale. It wasn’t until I was pulling out one of the sticks for the recipe that I realized that because I want convenience I bought butter that comes in a box and includes four foil paper wraps, instead of one larger block of butter with just one foil wrap. Convenience is so ingrained in us today that even when we try to be conscious of our actions we are still programmed to go for convenience. I will overcome this but it is work to be this conscious of what I am doing. On the other hand, I did buy some vegetables at the ByWard Market yesterday all of which was put in a single plastic bag without any other packaging. I kicked myself for not bringing my reusable shopping bag with me but I am still happy that one plastic bag was the only packaging. Just like the American Express motto, when it comes to reusable shopping bags “don’t leave home without it”…even if you are just going for a leisurely bike ride like I was. I will keep plugging along.

Strawberries in a clam shell

I had to run to the grocery store for white vinegar this morning (I was window washing and I am trying to make my own environmentally friendly cleaners now). Of course the white vinegar comes in a container, recyclable…if that means anything. I saw cereal on sale so I bought a box. The box is cardboard but the cereal inside is in a plastic bag, not recyclable. I will consider whether or not I will continue buying the cereal like that. I can buy oatmeal with less packaging from a bulk store. Then I saw strawberries, organic, on sale for $2.00. A great price. I bought them, excited. Then, on the way home, I realized the strawberries were packed in a clam shell container. My brain saw the yummy strawberries and the sale price, not the packaging. My brain will eventually be trained to see these things. What I am thinking about now is what is reasonable regarding changing my eating habits. If it is packaged in plastic, I shouldn’t buy it? What is not packaged? Many things are not. Large tomatoes instead of buying cherry tomatoes; melons; apples; lots of things. There are lots of things I won’t be able to eat including corn not in season. Oh, I bought two english cucumbers yesterday I just realized…wrapped in plastic. Won’t buy those anymore now. Local fruits and vegetables in season often come in cardboard containers, so I should eat with the seasons. One last thing, when I cooked supper tonight I finished off the mushrooms, which I realized I had bought in a plastic container. Geesh. Okay, from now on I buy the loose mushrooms and put them in a paper bag, even though they never go on sale that way. P.S. I brought home a flyer from the grocery store. Recyclable, but could I not have looked on line? Hummmm.

Today went well, then took a nose dive

So one issue I have had is that because I can’t compost all food waste goes into the regular garbage can. If there is only a little bit of garbage and then I throw in some onion peels and coffee grinds making the garbage smelly then the garbage has to go out, even if the bag is not full. So I decided I should act like I have a compost bin. I can use a small bag for smelly garbage and take it out daily and take the non smelly garbage out only when the bag is full, which should not be that often if I am reducing well. So I was happy today to find that my non smelly garbage was very little so it wouldn’t have to go out yet. I would just take out the compost bag. Then I got a package from Asus that I had ordered (I needed to replace my power adapter).

It came in a box full of styrofoam, white and pink, bubblewrop and the adapter was wrapped in plastic. Strike one. Then I took the meat out of the fridge for dinner, on a foam plate wrapped in plastic wrap. Strike 2. Then I took out corn.

Four corn on a foam plate wrapped in plastic wrap. Strike three. I can’t believe it. As conscious as I am being, I bought corn on a foam plate wrapped in plastic. So my very little non smelly garbage in the span of about half and hour went to bulging out of the bag. Can I find companies that have environmentally friendly shipping? Should I base my shopping on companies that have environmentally friendly shipping? Should I not be ordering on-line and having things shipped to me? And, I would like to find a butcher where I don’t have to buy prepackaged meat on foam plates wrapped in plastic wrap. Butchers can be more expensive, can my budget handle yet another higher expense in order to be more environmentally friendly? Can I take my own container to the grocery store to put my meat in? More things to research.

I can’t let food go to waste

Humans waste a lot of food. I am so against wasting food and it is rare that I do. Today I had a mango that was looking a bit over ripe and I don’t like the flavour when it is over ripe. My brainstorm was to put it in my blender with some kale, lime and water and I made a thick drink out of it over ice cubes.

I had been away for ten days and my limes were looking a little shriveled so I squeezed them all and put them into an ice cube container and froze them. I turned them out into a baggie…my bad, I realize that should have been a reusable container…and they stay in the freezer. When I want lime, I take a cube out of the freezer.

My question is now, what can I do to reduce the waste that comes from produce, peelings for example. I need to research this. Some peelings can be used for flavouring stock. What about orange peels, for example. And do I need to cut off the end of the cucumber? Why can’t I eat it? I cut off ends out of habit. This is a process of looking at my habits and reconsidering them, bringing them into consciousness.

So many garbage cans, so little space

I live in a small condo, very small in fact, but I have at least 6 different containers for waste.

  • paper
  • cardboard and egg cartons
  • batteries and hazardous waste
  • non-stinky garbage to go out when the bag is full
  • stinky garbage in a small bag to go out daily
  • containers

I also have a paper shredder to protect me from identity theft (haha, and my info is all over the internet! lol). There will also be the pile that goes to second hand stores and an electronic pile if any of my electronics bite the dust until I can get to an electronics recycling depot (I don’t have a car).

It all keeps coming back to reduce, but I still need a place for all these different things.

Things I use that I need to reconsider

I use a lot of foil for roasting. I don’t want my food to stick to the pan and I don’t want to be poisoned by a non stick coating so I use foil. I need to break that habit. Parchment paper is compostable, except this condo building doesn’t compost. I bought a pan with a ceramic non stick coating, I need to see if that will poison me or not.

Throw away dusting cloths such as Swiffer. I need an alternative. I have hardwood floors and I need something that won’t kick up the dust like a broom does, but also don’t want to bring out the vacuum all the time. But it didn’t take long for the dusting cloth to collect a lot dust and that was only half the floor. I vacuum the cloth but not all the dust comes off it and it needs to be thrown away. I realize that is a waste.

Stickies. I love taking notes on stickies, but what a waste of paper when I can put my notes on a larger paper with more real estate or better yet into my phone or onto my computer.

This is all about realizing what I am doing and how it impacts the environment and then choosing what to continue doing and what to stop or change – rather than just using these things without thinking.

What’s it all for, can I really make a difference?

Making my own food, sorting, reducing, finding ways to bring my own containers to the store (I don’t have a car), all these things I am working on in order to reduce my footprint on this world…am I really making a difference? I myself won’t put a dent in the issue. So why should I put myself through all the work it takes? Even 10,000 people like me working to reduce their footprints won’t make much of a difference in a world of billions of people and a bunch of greedy companies. So why am I compelled to do it? Good question. I will answer it tomorrow.

One thought as I leave, making your own food has the added benefit of being more healthy.

Putting my garbage in single use plastics

This issue perplexes me. We have to put our garbage in plastic bags, most of which do not biodegrade. Even worse, here in my condo building we have to put recyclable containers in plastic bags to send them down the chute. Plastic bags are not recycled here in Ottawa. I read on the Ottawa government website that citizens are not supposed to put recyclables in plastic bags because the automated machines at the depot cannot tear the bags open and the bags can get caught in the machines. So what happens to all the recycling materials that all the condo and apartment buildings send for recycling that are tied in bags? I need to find this out.

But here is the other perplexing thing. I am committed to working on zero waste so I have my reusable shopping bags and I am remembering to take them with me where ever I go so I don’t need to use a single use plastic bag. Great, so at home I have no plastic bags. Great. So now what do I put my garbage in? Oh, I have to BUY plastic bags! Unbelievable really. What is the point of making bringing my reusable bags a habit when I need plastic bags anyway. The only benefit to a bought plastic bag is that they don’t tend to have holes in the bottom of them.

So, I thought I would see about buying compostable bags. Expensive. Better for the environment, I am guessing, but more expensive. If that were the only extra cost of being environmentally friendly then that would be worth the expense. But as I have pointed out before, environmentally friendly products or doing things in a more environmental way is often more expensive and it all adds up with all the other rising costs. The majority of budgets cannot handle too many of these increased costs. So, how do I decide which situations I should go with the increased cost for the sake of the environment and which do I let go?

Reducing is the best way I can think of right now to deal with this issue at least in part. If I have less garbage and less recyclables then I need less plastic bags. Also, instead of sending a plastic bag full of paper down the chute, I will carry the paper down to the recycle room and put it in the bin bagless. I can do that with cans and bottles as well, but there is no bin in the room for other recyclable containers, those I have to send down the chute in a plastic bag.

I am working on reducing, but as I point out in my previous blog, it takes work and time and I am wonder if I can do it all despite believing it in. I assume after a period of time it all becomes part of my schedule and habit.

Change of behavior and attitude

Here are some thoughts. I could say so much more but I can tidy this post up later. I just wanted to get these thoughts written down.

We need to change our behaviour and our attitude. With technology, fast food and things served up on our doorsteps with the click of a mouse, we seem to think convenience is the norm. Well I guess it has become the norm but it is taking a toll on the environment. People don’t want to work for their stuff anymore, or they don’t know how anymore, or are too busy with other things and want convenience. Businesses are all too happy to encourage that convenience and to make things so convenient despite the harm to the environment. So as I am trying to tend towards zero waste I keep thinking, gee, this is work, it is time consuming. But I only think that way because convenience has become the norm without us even considering the consequences.

For example, my husband likes applesauce. So we used to buy the set of six little containers. If he ate one each day that would put 365 little plastic containers into the recycle or landfill or ocean each year, and 365 tinfoil type tops as well. Wow. When I make applesauce for him nothing but apple cores end up in the landfill all those containers and tops out of the landfill (grrrr, my condo building does not compost). But, making applesauce takes time, peeling, cutting, simmering, cooling, putting them in little containers. How about yogurt? By making my own I can keep about 52 containers out of the landfill/recycle/ocean, however, it takes time to make yogurt, time in the morning and again 10 hours later. How about my own sauces, jams, preserves? I can do all of these and I enjoy cooking. But that takes a lot of time. How about all the sorting, the trips to the hazardous waste depot? That is where attitude comes in. I can change my behavior and make my own food. I also need to change my attitude towards convenience. I can’t be resentful of the amount of time it takes, or see it as a chore to make these things. It was common in the past for families to make their own preserves and breads and applesauce. It was the norm. Convenience has freed up time for us to do other things but to a large part at the expense of the environment.

So, just by making my own applesauce and yogurt I can keep 417 containers out of the landfill/garbage/ocean. And I can see this as the norm.

Flyers…in a plastic bag!

Two flyers, one for Canadian Tire and one for Rexall, were put into my mailbox wrapped together in a plastic bag! The flyers need protecting? First of all the flyers are a waste of paper. But more shameful is the use of a single use plastic that won’t be recycled here in Ottawa, or anywhere likely for that matter. Totally shameful.

Milk bags

Not sure what to do about milk bags. I just moved to Ottawa and it seems that four liters of milk only come in bags, so three milk bags are packaged in a bag. So that makes four bags in one purchase. Instead of using baggies, my parents wash out their milk bags and then use the milk bags like baggies. That is good for reusing, but the bags will still wind up in the landfill here in Ottawa since Ottawa doesn’t recycle milk bags. So, at least four milk bags a week, times 52 weeks, that’s 208 bags a year. Astounding. What’s the answer…don’t drink milk? That is debatable but I am not ready to give up dairy…yet. I could just buy two liters at a time which come in recyclable containers rather than bags but the cost of one two liter container of milk is almost as much as buying one four liter bag. So is doubling my cost of milk by buying two liter containers reasonable to help save the environment? At two containers a week that would be 104 containers a year and I don’t even know that the milk containers are not ending up in a landfill anyway. Things that are environmentally friendly, local, recyclable etc are often more expensive, so how much extra expense can my budget take to help the environment?

$4.39 per 4 liter milk x 52 weeks = $228.28

$4.17 per 2 liter milk x 2 per week x 52 weeks = $433.68

So it would cost about $205.40 extra per year to buy milk in recyclable containers (which may or may not get recycled). How many budgets can handle that with all the other rising costs? I need to think about how to overcome the milk bag challenge a bit more.

Food storage

I have always been conscious of not wasting, trying to reduce and reuse, and of course to recycle. But now that I am really focused on zero waste I am really conscious of some items I have been using that I see are quite wasteful.

I generally use glass containers for leftovers and food storage. I prefer glass over plastic containers but I do have a few reusable plastic containers for times when I need a non breakable container. But I also have baggies and plastic wrap. I rarely use plastic wrap and I will aim to never use it. Baggies, on the other hand, I have used quite a bit lately. I do try to wash used baggies and use them a second time (if they did not have meat in them) but ultimately baggies wind up in the garbage after a couple of uses. I use baggies to store meat in the freezer and then to marinate the meat. This is a waste since the baggie gets used only once. So, what do I use to store meat in the freezer? And when I marinate meat in a container I have to remember to keep flipping it maybe. I will work on this. Baggies may have their place, but that place should be for storing things where the baggie can be used long term or reused, for example for storing buttons or something. A glass jar would work just as well. I will work on moving baggies out of my storage arsenal.

Near Zero Waste

I want to try for zero waste. Recycling is not enough since much of what we think we are recycling is going into the landfill, and the ocean, anyway. It won’t be possible to get to zero waste because I live in a condo that does not have composting. So, at the very least I will have compost to put in the garbage. I will explore what I can do with compostable material as I go along (bucket of worms…balcony restrictions…and winter…? finding out how to use peels etc to minimize produce waste?…we’ll see). My condo is very very small as well so it will not be easy to store up recyclables to take to appropriate depots, and I don’t have a car making it more of a challenge. Reducing and reusing are the best methods for me but trying to reduce when so much is packaged is a challenge. Sometimes packaged things are less expensive (like a package of four or six peppers is often less expensive that buying them individually). So there is the challenge of balancing being cost effective with doing what is right for the environment. And, trying to get to zero waste takes time and effort. Making my own applesauce, for example, instead of buying packages of six containers wrapped in cardboard. Anyway, lots of challenges as I go along in this quest for near zero waste.