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Tetra Paks: The Good, the Bad, and the OH GOD MORE TRASH

Tetra paks... Those inventive little containers that you can buy on a warm shelf and keep in your warm cupboard for months/years before it spoils.... I have been asked about tetra paks a few times in the last few weeks so I figured I would write a little blog about them. Since one of the most bought items in our house used to be almond milk in a handy little tetra pak, I went and did my research on why tetra paks are not-sustainable, not recyclable and definitely not zero-waste. Soup, almond milk, juice, etc. The verdict?

Tetra paks were an incredible invention. These new containers could extend the shelf-life of many products by months, if not years. Drinks and food could be transported unrefrigerated and shelved at a store in a non-refrigerated section and not spoil. And on top of that, they were made to flatten down for easy transportation to a recycling plant. It is a much safer alternative to epoxy lined cans containing BPA (your canned foods are actually COOKED in the cans leeching BPA into your food, and also in your beer or soda can - more on that later in a BPA post - yay). So yes, tetra paks sound awesome. Their massive amounts of moneygreenwashing their product is a little disturbing though. There are actually not as many places that will recycle these containers as you think. Only 20% of cities in America offer recycling of tetra paks and even then, you will probably have to drive to the facility and pay to drop it off. Why is this so difficult? Tetra paks are created using seven layers. Of those layers, the LDPE (Low-density polyethylene used for moisture protection, adhesion and lamination), is layered in between aluminum (used for oxygen, flavour and light protection) and paper. Now to “recycle” the container, the recycling plant has to strip these layers apart. This process is close to impossible and extremely time and money consuming, so most facilities (which are subsidized by the government) end up with a big blender type machine that chomps its all into mush and recycles it into toilet paper or other non-recyclable items at a very high cost to tax payers. This is not recycling, it is actually considered “down-cycling” because the product that is being recycled, is being turned into a non-recyclable item which will eventually end up in the landfill: the exact place that you thought you were saving the item from going. That is not RE-cycling. The idea of recycling is to continue using that same material over and over and never let it get to the landfill. Unfortunately, our recycling system is broken and most mixed plastics, once “recycled” have one more life in them before going to the trash. This is a good thing to remember before rationalizing buying a container that has a #plastic on it. Glass, paper and metal have a greater chance of being truly recycled since these materials can be broken back down into their original material and reused again and again. But that is a whole other blog post for the future. Going back to the tetra paks, 80% of these containers actually end up in the landfill anyway and with all those layers of polyethylene, it takes a veeeeeeeeery long time to break down. It will NEVER biodegrade, but the sun will at least break it into smaller pieces through photodegradation (thank you science class) so wildlife can eat it up and die. BOOOO! Bye bye, tetra. You were great until I realized how ungreat you were.

So, if you are like our little family and LOVE your non-dairy milks, like almond milk, try making your own! It is extremely simple and much more cost effective. Not to mention it connects you more to what you are putting in your body. Listen to Winter: She will show you how to make your own here. Enjoy!


Unexpected Surprises

I am quickly learning that it is very difficult to maintain our efforts when there are outside forces we can’t control. Along with receipts from stores, straws in drinks and junk mail, it is also hard to decline kind gifts. With good intentions and generous hearts, we have had friends and family give us things like food treats, clothing and toys. We are so grateful to have people in our lives who are thinking about us and wanting to buy us things. Having kids who grow so quickly, like little sprouts (or weeds), we often receive new clothes.  Now that we have taken on this challenge, the gifts have become much more of a stress factor than a perk. With all the research that we have done and the info collected, we know now that new clothes are just not necessary and should really be avoided. Buying used or swapping clothes with other families that are looking for a different size is the better option. Even if you do decide to buy the clothes new and give the hangers back, those usually end up in the landfill anyway since the distributors ship the clothes pre-hung. Making those new products is also using up valuable finite resources on our planet just to make something that is already here.

Talking about just clothes hangers specifically, according to Green Progress over 8-10 billion plastic and wire hangers are sold each year, with only 15% ever being recycled.

“To put these numbers into perspective, picture the Empire State Building packed from floor to ceiling and from basement to observation deck-all 102 floors-with plastic hangers. Now multiply that by 4.6 to get the number of skyscrapers needed to hold 8 billion hangers. Or put another way 8 billion plastic hangers would fill 46,296 semi trucks full of polystyrene and polycarbonate hangers stretching 464 miles. That's bumper to bumper across the entire state of Oklahoma. Every year!”

It’s not just that these hangers will lay there for the next 800-1000 years, but that they are leaching benzene, a carcinogen, into our drinking water. This is the same active ingredient in cigarette smoke. And polycarbonate leaches bisphenol-A, a hormone disrupter, into the ground water. Canada recently banned polycarbonate for use in making water and baby bottles. BPA has become a big concern and you now see “BPA free” all over the place for good reason.

Things to keep in mind: Even if you are not buying gifts for a zero-waste household, think about what went into the product you are gifting. Materials, resources, ethical labour? Are these things worth it? Is this person you are giving it to going to throw it away in a week or a month? Will it last? Think about the alternatives for a gift. Think about gifting an experience or a sustainable product instead. You will feel better knowing you haven't spent your money on something as temporary and the person you are gifting to will appreciate your extra thought going into the gift. It's a win/win situation. 

This is definitely a journey...

One Boy, Two Cups

This past weekend I joined a couple of my greatest friends and their families to Big White ski resort in Kelowna BC. If you know me at all you know that snowboarding is possibly my favourite thing to do ever and my good buddies and I do at least one of these multiple day road trips a year. It’s always an amazing time and I cherish each moment we get to spend together up in the mountains.

This year my perspective shifted to a new angle now that we have implemented this zero waste ideal into our lives. I was actually excited to take on the challenge. I had packed all my food: raw fruits and veg or bulk stuff in glass jars. When I was finally in the truck and ready to be on my way I felt pretty damn great about all the good food I had managed to bring with me and that there was almost no packaging. The only groceries I brought with me or purchased up there that were not zero-waste were a couple ProBars, a bag of tortilla chips and 2 packages of tofu. I did pretty well with my groceries and my food supply was not really an issue at all for the 4-day trip. There were plenty of jars and cans from food and drinks while we were there and we recycled all that. Obviously, my other weekend house mates are not on the same mission as my family and living with others for four days really reminded me how much packaging everything comes in. Chips, crackers, cookies, dips, sauces, you name it. Bags-in-boxes-in-bags straight from the store. I had a little shelf in the cupboards for all my jarred up goodies and later in the first night when I was snooping around the condo I stumbled upon everyone else's groceries and was taken by surprise.

Six adults and three kids need a lot of food. Thats just the way it is, but it still shocked me a bit when I saw all those boxes and bags of stuff on the shelves. Our little family has always been pretty conscious of what we buy even before this new mission and I guess it had just been a long time since I had seen so many packaged groceries in a cupboard all at once. Even though a bunch of the paper packages could be recycled it still left me contemplating how package crazy we are as a society. Another big issue that slipped my mind was compost. I’m so used to having our compost box for all our food scraps at home that I didn’t think twice about what the situation would be during the get-away. Obviously there was no compost situation whatsoever at our condo or seemingly anywhere else on the mountain. All our food scraps went into the trash and I’m still a bit upset with myself for not somehow remedying that situation. I just couldn’t find a container or series of containers that would hold it all. Im definitely coming prepared next year.

Out on the hill, there was one major wasteful situation that I didn’t anticipate: the water stations. In the village centre and at various food and rest shacks on the hill you can find water fountains or full water pitchers set up to drink from. They also provide an ample supply of paper cups to drink from. Beside each of these thirst quenching displays is, of course, the trash bin for all those used cups. Over the three days I drank a lot of water at these stations. At the very first station I was pretty saddened at the massive garbage full of paper cups with no indication of it all being recycled so I decided I would just keep my paper cup in my jacket pocket and try to reuse it as many times as possible. It lasted for almost two days worth of water pit stops until it eventually got a hole and I had to grab a new one. The second cup lasted the rest of my time on the mountain. So over 3 days, I only used 2 cups and I brought them home with me to show off to Lyndsey and recycle them. I definitely plan on buying a camel back for my water supply on the hill for future as well as bringing compost containers. I feel like I learned a lot on my first attempt to be as close to zero waste on a road trip. Next time it will be even less.

 

-Jesse

Taking out the Trash

We took out our trash today. It had been 3 weeks and we decided it was time to bundle it up and say goodbye. It only filled the trash bag (that we still have from before) about ¼ full. It felt like one of the moments where we could be proud of ourselves. We could have probably waited a bit longer to take it out and try fill up the bag, but our garbage can is so small now that the bag is oversized. There are definitely still things that we need to eliminate from our daily life. It is hard being a vegan household with two kids and changing up our routines to shift into a zero-waste lifestyle. If we were meat eaters or cheese eaters, we could very easily bring our own containers to the grocery store or deli and ask the butcher or cheese-slicer person (!!?) to fill up our containers. However, we are a bit more difficult. After searching high and low in this city, there are no places in a 30 mile radius that sell bulk tofu (without that non-recyclable package) OR a very important staple in our diet: DAIYA. It took many, many years for there to be a vegan cheese on the market that did not taste like vomit or hold up like cardboard under heat until Daiya came along. Melty, ooey-gooey, cheeesy shreds that we have enjoyed completely guilt-free, up until now… We are very reluctantly parting ways with it. At least until they can meet us in the middle and either choose a recyclable package to put their product in or choose to sell it in bulk somewhere accessible. I am planning on contacting them this week and I have already contacted Sunrise Tofu, which is produced here, to see if I can buy some from their factory in my own container. I spoke with someone a couple days ago and they said I could buy it in bulk from their factory, however, it is still packaged. That is not the kind of bulk that I need! AHHH. I wrote a letter to their headquarters to see if there was something that I could do to make this more available to the Vancouver people. Here is what I wrote:

"Hi Dorothy,

We are big fans of your sunrise and soyganic tofu and have been buying it for many years. Recently, we have decided to become more conscious of our waste and our consuming habits and one of the products that we are having a hard time finding a package-free alternative for is tofu. We would love to continue buying your tofu but the package is not recyclable and it is a repeat offender on our trash bin. I spoke with someone at the factory but they have said that they will not sell it without the package. I was hoping to convince your company to provide the option for buying without the package to be able to provide customers tofu who are avoiding plastic and non-recyclable materials. We would really like to continue buying sunrise and soyganic tofu but we will be unable to do this if we cannot buy it without the package. I know a large group of friends and family that are also transitioning into a zero-waste lifestyle and they are also looking for options for tofu without the plastic. Could we open a dialogue about the future possibility for this option? I really appreciate your help in this matter. Thanks!

Lyndsey”

And this was the response:

“Hello Lyndsey

I will pass along your message and comments to our VP and see if there isa health reason we can not this or if I can find out the reasons behind the decision I will let you know. It may take me a while to get an answer.

Dorothy “

The part where she talks about it maybe taking awhile, I get it. But I will definitely be writing again if I don’t hear in a week or two. If there is a product that you really would like to see in a more eco-friendly package, I encourage you to write to the company. Most companies appreciate their customers feedback (even though they may not actually do anything about it) but to quote an overly used quote:

“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Do it!

So if you really want to know what is in our trash right now, the main culprits are:

-Daiya wrappers

-tofu wrappers (although we have cut down DRASTICALLY)

-produce stickers

-a piece of tape from a package that was sent to us

-the few little pieces and parts of products that have safety seals, like vitamins and pickles

-chip bag (Jesse is also having a very hard time letting go of the luxuries)

-and we are using up the last of our Q-tips

On top of those things, we have the random item that breaks and we have nothing else to do with it…. broken water bottle lid, broken pen, broken tupperware lid. Ugh. I guess this is where avoiding buying breakable things comes in handy. We are trying our best! This is a journey, afterall.

 

-LM

My Addiction Can Live On

I have been seriously addicted to ice cream since my steady self-sabotage in the fall. I took a break from my rigorous yoga schedule and just cut my exercise down to biking to work everyday. Around the same time, my addiction to ice cream was back in full swing. It is the best treat to indulge in right after I put the girls down to sleep at night and the house is quiet for a little before bed. This is Mama's vegan ice cream hour. Now, when we started this zero waste journey a couple weeks ago, I knew that I would soon have to quit ice cream since those containers are not recyclable... Ice cream containers, as well as other frozen food boxes, are often made out of a thick paperboard that is molded from paper pulp that is sprayed with a plastic polymer. While good for packaging food, this plastic can make recycling frozen food containers more difficult to recycle because it is impossible to remove the plastic from the paperboard. This means that paperboard that is used for refrigerated products is often recyclable, whereas those intended for the freezer are not. 

 

In comes Earnest Ice Cream.

My ice cream dreams have been answered. Just up the street from us is an ice cream shop that is commited to being ZERO WASTE! All their ice cream comes in glass jars that you can reuse or return to them for $1 for them to wash and reuse. They started off riding their ice cream around the city like the ice cream truck does, except they were doing it on a bike! They use all fresh and seasonal ingredients so their entire business is built on sustainability. I am so glad I found them! For the vegan folks out there, they have one vegan flavor a week in pints and a different one for scoops. Once they run of the pints though, that's it until the next week. I highly recommend getting there at open on Thursdays to make sure you get their freshest batch. I thought a bit of a positive blog might be a good idea since most of the things I am discovering in the journey are quite upsetting. Up next: TOXIC RECEIPTS (cue the doom and gloom music). 

 

-LM

Saying Goodbye to our BIG Can

About a week ago, we decided that it was time to say goodbye. Our trash can in the kitchen was BIG. Way bigger than neccessary and reminding us of all the trash that we have created. We need a fresh start and a bit of a kick in the butt. The best way to motivate? Just FORCE it! If we have a teeny tiny trash can (the one that used to be in our bathroom about a year ago), then we will have to be more aware of the stuff we put in it. This little bin also has no lid, so no smelly stuff can go in unless we want to live in a stinky house. The average North American household has a big kitchen trash can, about 13 gallons (~50L), and a few wastebaskets around the house in bathrooms and bedrooms. With options for disposing stuff in every room, of course it's easier to not think about what we are throwing away. And depending on how many times you want to take out the trash, you might even have a bigger trash in the kitchen. Once that receptacle is gone, you really have no choice but to face your demons (demons being your garbage!).

As you can see by the photo, we already have a place for our recyclables right next to our little bin and we have a compost bucket under our sink which we dump into our green waste bin outside when it's full. It feels really good to get rid of that big stinky white bin and be able to SEE the trash we are creating. Our eyes are opened and we are aware. Now when I feel like giving in and buying a yummy snack that comes in a horrendous non-recycleable plastic package, I immediately think about the fact that I will have to look at it sitting in my kitchen for a long time, frowning at me and yelling, "HEY HEY! LOOK AT ME!" Yes, I am so crazy now that my trash frowns and yells at me. 

I challenge you to consider downsizing your trash cans (in size OR quantity) and to also consider using biodegradable liners. We have opted out of a liner since our trash is no longer sticky or gooey or will leave any mess behind (thank goodness for composting all that stuff!).  A great idea if you decide to do this is to find out what your city recycles and if there is an organic waste program. This will immediately cut down most of your trash. 

Let me know if you are jumping on board, I would LOVE to hear it!

Unavoidable setbacks

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I was feeling good about the day. I had gone the entire day without using or buying anything with plastic packaging (baby steps..). I had sourced out almost a dozen products that we regularly purchase to a package free option somewhere in the city. I actually went to 3 different places to get the things we needed just to avoid the garbage. Then, I went out for a drink with my friend, Jamie. When the server brought me my special drink, there was astraw.... A big, evil, tantalizing plastic tube that was staring at me and ruining my drink. Ok, it didn't really ruin my drink, but I did feel a little defeated from my trash free day. And before you tell me to chill out a bit (I told myself this at first), "it's just a little straw", it is the little things like this that we can pass off as insignificant, when in fact it really does add up. Did you know that each day we use 500 million straws--enough disposable straws to fill over 46,400 large school buses per year? And did you know that the average person, individually, uses 38,000 straws between the ages of 5 and 65 years old That straw isn't so little now, right? Colorado even went so far as to proclaim a Straw-Free Day.

Up until this point, I did not even think about the fact that I will just be given trash without asking for it sometimes. Since I am at the beginning of this learning process, it just never occured to me to ask for no straw. Some might also argue that since I wasn't at home and it's not actually going in my trash can that it doesn't matter that much. But I am taking full responsibility for every piece, no matter whose bin it goes into. So not only do we create trash with the things we buy ourselves, but by the outside world bringing that trash to us. Now, I know that I was the one who ordered the drink so technically I brought that straw into my own prison. However, things like credit card receipts (which print automatically), non-recyclable junk mail, and then of course gifts from loved ones are so very hard to avoid unless I write ZERO WASTE HUMAN on my forehead and send out a press release. For now, I will remember to ask for "no straw, please" when I eat out or get a drink to go. Make straw-free day EVERY day. 

If you are a straw lover, there are a ton of alternatives. Here are a couple: 

Glass Straws

Bamboo Straws

Stainless Steel Straws

And remember, if you order something online, write a note to the seller asking them if they wouldn't mind avoiding any extra packaging when shipping. Zero-waste shipping is a whole other post!!

-LM

In the beginning....

I have always loved a challenge. Especially a challenge with purpose. 

I think this might have something to do with my stubbornness and my competitiveness. If something seems especially difficult, I am even more interested. Bring it on. So what is it this time? Living our lives without creating any waste at all? COMPLETELY zero-waste? Is this even possible? Since the chance of this being a reachable goal seems very far off in the distance (like galaxies away), SIGN ME UP! 

For a couple years now, I have always had this little voice in the back of my mind nagging at me about the amount of garbage our little grubby family creates every week. Ever since we saw the documentary called "The Clean-Bin Project" created by a couple here in Vancouver, BC I have continued living my life as before with an added 70trillion tons of guilt on my shoulders. Achieving a zero-waste lifestyle just seems like toooooo much work. Especially working full-time and raising two little kids (I have so many more awesome excuses for putting this off, just ask).  

Why?

We are creatures of convenience. In our society, in this country, at this moment in history, we have all grown to expect everything to be quick, easy, cheap and efficient. High speed interwebz at your fingertips, free fancy smarter-than-StephenHawking handheld devices with a 3 year contract, perfectly ripened bananas (from thousands of miles away), etc. without even thinking twice about how AMAZING all these things are (hence the word EXPECT). Along with these conveniences, we also have disposable everything, especially our state of mind. We are in a disposable age. A conveniently disposable age. Phone died? BUY ANOTHER! Phone is out of date (after 6 months)? BUY ANOTHER! Phone isn't big enough? BUY AN IPAD TOO AND THROW THOSE OUT IN 6 MONTHS FOR THE UPDATED ONES! (What happens to those old phones anyway?) ...Ok, I've gotten off track...

Convenient and disposable. Our food travels from very, very far away. At least most of the time. For this to be possible and safe, these foods need to be loaded with preservatives to make sure they last long enough to make it into our tummies and they also need to be wrapped in the air sealed, inexpensive and transportable plastic. Keep it "fresh"! Packed full of preservatives and covered in plastic? Yum! It is very difficult to find any kind of food in a conventional grocery store that isn't in some sort of package. Most of these packages are not reusable. It wasn't always like this.

In the early 1900's and previous, products would come in a tin or a jar or a refillable glass to be used again. Packaging was MADE to be reused. From 1947 to 2000, refillable glass drink containers (soda, milk, etc.) has dropped from 100% down to 1%. Today, it is made to be thrown out (one-way containers). I could go on and on about this, as well as things being "built to last" before as opposed to today's standards, but this isn't the point I am trying to make. The point is, for a person or a family to attempt a zero-waste lifestyle, it is VERY difficult to avoid the overwhelming amount of packaging. I am finding out very slowly, day to day as I encounter new obstacles and difficult decisions for the things we buy/consume and the impact that is making.

We took the plunge about 2 weeks ago. This is our record of the ups and downs, trials and tribulations of transforming our trash talk about being a "green family" into actually LIVING it. Money has officially been placed in our mouths.

First step: Keep a notepad near the garbage and write down EVERYTHING that goes into the bin. 

Second step: Sit down and source out different products or places to buy these items with a glass or recyclable package (plastic aside). We decided that even though some plastics can be recycled, that doesn't change the fact that the plastic itself, no matter how many times it's "recycled", will forever be on the planet, clogging up the arteries of the Earth. Check out this other doc from Vancouver: From the Waste Up by Taina Uitto.

Third step: Cross off the items on the list that we have found packed-free and contact the companies of which we have no other options. Strike up a deal? Beg and plead for them to re-think their current forms of packaging? Stalk them until our demands are met?

Over-arching theme: Commit to buy NOTHING with plastic in, on, around, or on top of it. 

No problem, right? OH BOY. Here we go....

-LM

Just a Little Bit About Us

Lyndsey and myself (Jesse) and our two daughters are just a regular family trying to do our part. Nothing special. Yeah, Lyndsey is super pretty and our kids are cuter than is really fair to anyone else, but other than that we’re just a super awesome and well-mannered family of punks trying to do our part. We have both been mental health workers in Vancouver, BC for many years and we are slowly transitioning into other fields. I am also a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Lyndsey is a Secondary School Teacher. 

I think Lyndsey and I have always been seekers of the truth. We have always had a vested interest in living out that truth especially when it benefits the creatures we live amongst and the planet as a whole. “Our part” up until now has chiefly involved living a vegan lifestyle. Along with the obvious ethical reasonings behind adopting a vegan diet, there are also massive issues involving the amounts of wasted resources, pollution produced and destruction done to the environment. We couldn’t possibly eat any less animals than we are now (which is zero..), but what more can we do to reduce our waste and involvement in pollution and environmental depletion? Plastic is a great place to start.

Face it, folks. We produce way too much damn garbage. Who do we think we are anyway? A bunch of jerks thats who. Theres a garbage patch in the pacific ocean twice the size of Texas for crying out loud! Real talk! Look it up, Jack! That’s our fault. Our plastic bottles and wrappers and widgets and whosits all made out of craptastic plastic that will never go away ever. It just goes on the next trash pile and leaks into the water and chokes the oceans of all purity and life. Big deal right?

We buy too much, we use too much, we need too much, we want too much and we ignore too much.

This planet we all share, this giant rock spinning us through existence is the only home we’ve got but we’re bleeding it dry and saturating it with toxins. We should be preserving our world as best we can by implementing sustainable practices into our lives. We should be nurturing this planet the way it has nurtured and sustained us throughout known history.

Lyndsey and I have a dream to share our story about going zero-waste to help show the world that we can ALL scale down our consumption and actually improve our lives. By simplifying our diet and lifestyle through buying in bulk, doing away with packages and wasteful practices, eating seasonally and locally and being more mindful of our impact on the world around us, we can achieve a new and improved perspective on life.

ZERO.


-JM