Guest Post | Urban Gardening in Small Spaces

By: Jolien Carter

Our first tomatoes have tiny fruit on them. The promise of great reward for patience and tender care. This is when we really start seeing the “fruits of our labour”.

When Megan asked me to write, my automatic thought is, “Where do I start?” But maybe that’s a part of it. When you enter into gardening, you enter into this rhythm, this cycle. For us this means each season brings its own joys and its own trials. This year’s cycle really begins last year, with carefully harvesting and preserving seeds from our tomatoes, marigolds, peppers and more (though to be fair we waited too long for our peppers and they were hit with an early frost, so we had to buy seeds/plants this year).

At the end of summer/early autumn we usually remember it’s time to collect seeds (though really you could do it earlier). For tomatoes, we set them aside in separate little containers while making sauce. Each one carefully labeled so we remember which plant it come from. We let them sit out until they mould over and then rinse & repeat until the liquid is clear. At that point we carefully dry them on a rag or paper towel, being very sure there’s no chance of a breeze sending all our organization into chaos.

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Over the winter we clean tools, rest, and plan for next year’s garden. By the time the new year comes we are just itching to get back into the soil. We temper ourselves and hold off until late February/early March. This year we hauled our bin of seed starting mixture into the living room on February 22nd. We’re in a smaller home and have to be creative about how we use our space. This year, instead of having the living room full of seed trays over the radiator like last year (they were too leggy and we ran out of space) we’ve set up a corner in our unfinished basement with grow lights and a heating mat (a Christmas gift to ourselves). We started our tomatoes, some peppers that we managed to save before the frost, onions, mustard, thyme and cilantro, as well as a few flowers. Copious amounts of basil were planted at a later date.

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Already by the 26th of February we saw wee sprouts push through and by the 1st of March we had little seedlings for each variety we planted. Running down to check on “our babies” first thing in the morning and after work was a daily occurrence. I cannot begin to describe the sheer joy one gets out of tiny flecks of green during mid-winter dreariness! One of the things we’ve discovered with this method of seed-saving is our germination rate is remarkable. We always seed way too many and end up thinning and giving seedlings away. We put water into the tray instead of watering from above, letting the seedling soak it up from below (underwatering). This makes for deeper roots and helps prevent damping off disease. We also set a fan to run, blowing them gently overnight to help prevent damping off and to promote strong stems. It may sound like a lot, but it is fairly easy and low maintenance at this point!

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After a couple of weeks, the seedlings develop their “true leaves”. The first leaves you see are actually embryonic leaves or cotyledon. True leaves are the first set that resemble what the leaves look like on a grown up plant. This means they’re ready to transplant! By this point our basement is a bit warmer, so we do the messy bit downstairs. Grasping the little seedling gently by the true leaves (never the stem!), we loosen the soil below with a fork or popsicle stick. They each get their own pot and we label each with popsicle sticks. Because we give many away, we do this right away instead of just labeling a tray. This makes it easy for when people come to pick up their plants! This year, we ended up having double the seedlings we needed for ourselves and others. These extras we gave to a friend, who was delighted to have 72 bonus tomato plants, as well as peppers and herbs! Did I mention we always plant too much?

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The seedlings grow downstairs and we continue with the watering and breeze, adding in some fertilizer on a bi-weekly basis. I am always amazed at how much they grow during this time! This year we had to move the lights up twice to accommodate their growth!

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The next stage is the one I find the most challenging and anxiety inducing. When weather begins to be warm enough, it is time to harden off our babies, which means exposing them to the real world. We carry them upstairs and place them in the shade for increasing periods of time, and then after a while we move them into the sun for increasing periods of time. Much like us after a long winter, the hot sun will burn them if you don’t let them get a base tan first. We lost two plants this year in the process, the exposure to the elements was too great for them. 

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At the end of May we were finally able to pant them into the beds, one of the most exciting days of the year! Our plants responded very well to this and within days were stronger and more green. Within days we even noticed them beginning to bud. And now, after a couple weeks, each one has flowers and we’re beginning to see the fruit form! The first day you pop a fresh heirloom tomato, ripened on the vine and warmed by the sun, into your mouth… now that has to be one of the best days of the year! Pasta sauce, tomato sandwiches, pepper parties and more. We can’t wait to enjoy all the things we were able to grow ourselves. We’ll try to remember not to eat them all this year before saving some seeds for next year! 

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I really encourage you to give seed starting a try! We do it out of our small home in the city and the back corner of our yard, but really you can do it anywhere – from large country plots to a pot on the balcony or windowsill. Being able to grow your own food and share from what you’ve grown is powerful. I could go on for days about all the benefits we’ve discovered through it, but why don’t you give it a try and find out for yourself!

UPDATE

Since this post was written, Jolien’s garden has sprung into action, and here are a few photos showing its progress:

Guest Post | Gardening in the Suburbs

By: Kristy Onclin

Growing up in rural southwestern Ontario, my parents always had a giant garden. They grew all types of vegetables. Radishes, beans, tomatoes and more. Rows upon rows of perfectly parallel mounds of dirt yearning for the rain and the sun to nurture the seeds within. The harvest was always plentiful, and a lot of it was then preserved for the winter. Looking back now, it was heavenly; but had you told me then that fifteen years later I’d be writing a guest blog about being an avid gardener in the middle of suburbia, I’d have laughed at you.

My hobby started small. It was my first spring in my first home and I was gifted a few tomato plants from my father (who still to this day grows an incredible garden). I tended to them a bit, forgot to water them often, and was surprised when I actually pulled a few tomatoes off of the plants later that summer. Now, three houses, two kids and many gardening fails and successes later, I am happy to share with you the how, the why and a few things you should consider when growing a veggie garden in the city.

Why grow a veggie garden?

This could be an entire article on its own, citing studies that show how microbes in the soil are a natural antidepressant and increasing the amount of greenery in and around your home can help to battle anxiety. Great added bonuses, but not the reason I started growing veggies.  

Fresh vegetables are great for our bodies, but not necessarily great for our wallets. Whether you purchase from a Farmer’s market or a grocery store, fresh vegetables can be pricey. These two reasons were why I continue to grow my own garden. As I became more knowledgeable about nutrition, and my passion for the environment grew, I started eating more vegetables to support a mostly plant-based diet. My garden grew in size and variety because of this. 

Having my own garden means I can control how my plants are grown, how the soil is tended. The accessibility of the vegetables (in proximity and in price) increases the ease in which I can eat plant-based and lowers my eco-footprint. Since I only have to walk outside of my door to cut some lettuce or pluck a red pepper removes all of the transportation needed during the normal process of shipping the produce to the store and onto my plate!

The best reason though, is the experience it gives my family. Obviously, the health benefit of consuming fresh vegetables rides high on my priority list, but better yet is the time we spend together planting and tending to the seedlings. My children, now 4- and 6-years old, love to count the seeds, practice their printing when labelling the containers, measuring how tall the plants are, and predicting which seeds will grow first. Once we take the seeds outside they love carrying buckets of water from our rain barrel to water the plants. It takes them twice as long as it would if I just did it, but they giggle when the water splashes on them on a hot day. They have names for some of the plants, and when the fruit is ripe they love to ‘sneak’ the cherry tomatoes off the vine and eat them.  

Where to put a veggie garden in the city?

The first thing to consider is space. Whether your space is limited to an apartment balcony, or you have more yard space available to you, I am a fan of keeping gardens up and off the ground. This is great for people who are renting homes or condos as it doesn’t leave any permanent changes to the yard. 

Pots

This way of growing your own vegetables is great for people who have patios or large concrete areas. It is also a great way to take advantage of small spaces, or spaces that don’t get a lot of sunlight as they can easily be moved around. Vegetables such as beans, tomatoes, and peppers do well in pots.

Fence Planters

If you have a fence around your yard, hanging or building planter boxes is a great way to decorate your fence while also maximizing space. Anything you put in a pot can also be put in a planter. I like a deeper planter box as it expands your options for vegetables to things like carrots, onions or chives. Fence planters are also great for lettuce. Placing the fence planters lower to the ground provides a great natural climbing surface for cucumbers and peas.

Raised Boxes

This style of garden can be any size. I like this type of gardening in the city, because it is high enough off the ground that small animals like rabbits cannot get in and destroy your seedlings. It also minimizes the weeding necessary because you are not fighting with whatever has already been growing in the ground for years as you would if you dug up some grass space in your yard. Again, anything mentioned above can be grown in a raised box, but if it is larger it gives you some room to experiment with things that require more space, such as zucchini, cantaloupe, broccoli or squash. 

Where do you get your plants and seeds?

Many popular stores have garden centers when the season starts. They have seeds you can start on your own, or pre-grown plants. When I first started I loved the ease of purchasing already growing plants. Tomatoes and peppers are commonly bought this way because they take longer to grow and need to be started much earlier in the spring.

If you are interested in trying to start your own seeds, they are very fun and easy to do. All you need is a window that gets plenty of sun, some potting soil and something to hold the soil. Egg cartons work well as they decompose as you move the seedlings into larger pots. Paper cups, or plastic tubs work well, but remember to poke a hole in the bottom for water drainage. Tomatoes and peppers need to be started early, around mid-March for those of us whose outdoor season runs from Mid-May to late September.  Broccoli and cauliflower also require plenty of growing time.

Final Thoughts

If you are like me, you will likely plant way more seeds than you need. If it is extra plants you have early in the season, you may be able to find other gardeners to trade with to expand your vegetable options. You can also give them as gifts to friends to encourage them to grow a few plants, or donate to community organizations.

Don’t stress too much about what to plant next to each other. At the start of this article I spoke about my parents gardens in neat little rows, that is not how I garden. I place things where I have space, and all over the place. The raised beds and purchasing bagged soil remove the hassle of weeding.

Plant things you like to eat. I don’t plant beets or radishes (although they are very easy to grow) for this reason. I have planted them in the past thinking “maybe I will add them to a salad” and I never do. So now, I save the space for my favourites.

Watering is important. It is hard to overwater a vegetable garden. Sunlight, temperature and wind all remove water from the soil, so water daily, especially in the first few weeks of planting. Living in the city, sometimes the treated water can be a bit hard on the plants due to the level of chlorine and other chemicals. If you can collect rainwater in some way, (ex: leaving a pot out on the corner of your patio, or at the end of a down spout) this water is much more gentle on your plants.

Don’t be afraid of planting too much. You will always have neighbors who are overjoyed to receive some fresh produce, or again trade with another gardener to gain a variety of plants. Just because you grow a garden does not mean you have to preserve them for the winter months. My career picks up in intensity in harvest season and I don’t have time to do this. These two things are completely removed from each other.

So good luck, and happy gardening!

RE-Purpose Your Trash into Treasure!

A list of 6 common household items that can be transformed…

I have been so inspired lately by all of the creative ideas out there on the internet! It seems like at least once a week I am wide eyed in wonder at some new idea on how to repurpose a common item that is in every person’s home. Repurposing is of environmental importance because every physical item ever made has an environmental footprint, no matter how “eco-friendly” it is or may seem. But giving it an extended life actually decreases the overall footprint! Good news, right?

No matter where you are at in your waste less journey, we all have items lying around in our home that could be reused in an incredible way that perhaps you have never though of. This post is to simply point you toward some of those ideas, and inspire you to give new life. This post is inspired by a friend who took her empty laundry soap container, and now her kids are using it as a fun outdoor water play dispenser!

So here are 6 common household items that can be turned from trash into a new treasured item:

1. T-shirt

Pillow – do you have a favorite shirt you no longer wear, but you don’t want to throw it away? I think this is a great solution to continue your enjoyment.

Yarn – cut up t-shirts into thin strips to create yarn to be used to crochet a basket, or braid for an area rug. These examples are listed below.

Rug – There are several ways to make a rug out of strips of fabric, and this is one of them.

Basket – crochet a basket to store your sewing supplies, rags, or yarn.

Bag – make a bag that can be used as an every day carrier, or specifically for produce and/or bread when shopping.

Children’s clothes – a large t-shirt can turn into a girls dress, or even a romper.

Headbands – super easy, and requires no sewing.

Bracelet – This is also very easy to make, and a great if your daughter is looking for some friendship bracelets with her friends.

Dog toy

2. Toilet Paper Rolls

Pen holder – As someone who loosing pens often, this is a great idea.

Organizer – organize more than just pens, store scissors or paper clips too.

Seed starter – as paper biodegrades, this is a great way to get extra life and grow the beginning of a yummy food.

Kids crafts – create shapes for “stamps” or a play village, there are a lot of options to make crafts out of these rolls.

Home Decor – there are a lot of surprisingly beautiful wall hangings made out of these rolls, check them out.

Fire starter

Chord holder – keep your chords organized with the ability to label them too.

3. Cardboard Box

Coasters

Crafts with Kids – nothing more fun to a child then a cardboard box. So versatile, it can become a play house, a car, or something else.

Picture frames

Cat scratcher

Clothing drawer separator – Marie Kondo the crap out of your drawers!

Storage Totes or basket

iPad case

Caddy – for bbq items or bathroom storage.

Shoe Organizer – many different ways to transform cardboard into shoe storage.

4. Plastic Lids

Crafts for Kids – create a bottle cap snake, little bugs, or flowers with your little.

Vase or Clock

Paint Catchers – separate paint colors by using a plastic lid with no home.

Plant Coasters – prevent your plants/seedlings from seeping water onto the surface under it.

Other – Popsicle drip catcher, hamburger separator, coaster, etc.

5. Containers

Storage for bulk food – keep containers you might normally discard and keep them to store your bulk foods. For example, I use my epicure spice jars to fill with bulk store spices.

Planter – if you have a plastic container without a lid, consider using it to grow flowers or get your produce plants started.

Freezing food – instead of throwing your yogurt or peanut butter jars into the recycling bin, keep them and use them instead to freeze food such as broth, baking, fruit, or homemade pesto.

Baby Wipe Container – this is a great container to keep and store your reusable rags in, but can be repurposed in many other ways too.

Vomit Catcher – this may seem weird, but in our home we have kept bowl shaped containers to use for when someone in the home is ill. Don’t want to use the regular mixing bowl for that!

Gum/Mint containers – use for loose change, bobby pins, paper clips, you name it.

Tin cans – consider keeping your tin cans to store your pencil crayons, or as a planter.

Jugs – use your empty jug to use as a watering for your indoor or outdoor plants. Milk jugs can also be used to store bulk items such as rice, beans, or lentils.

6. Egg Cartons

Give Away – if you know someone who raises chickens for their eggs, save your cartons and see if they’d like to reuse them.

Seed Planter – similar to the toilet paper roll above, the carton biodegrades, so it it perfect for planting seeds that can eventually be then planted in the ground.

Organization – the carton can be used for organizing jewelry, small items like screws and paper clips, mustard bottles in the fridge, sewing supplies, Christmas ornaments, nail polish, and paint. The list goes on…

Home Decor – check out this homemade wreath. Or these beautiful light covers.

Furniture – not kidding with this one!

Game Card Holder – if you’re a card player, check this out.

Crafts for Kids – these are amazing, and such fun ideas to create with your littles.

Bulletin Board

Gift Box – make it the size you want, and be creative about how it looks!

Buy Nothing Challenge Update #2

Well, it’s already April and I haven’t done an update on our Buy Nothing Challenge for a while. March came, and then shortly after that the pandemic. It almost seemed silly to give an update considering all that is happening, and the fact that a lot of people are struggling financially. My husband was able to continue his full-time job from home, which is a huge blessing, but my heart goes out to all who are not in that same circumstance.

My family’s purpose for this challenge is not centered on finances, but on consumption, which can reach all of us, no matter our circumstances. If you’d like to read more about why we are doing this challenge, click here. Consumption is such a large part of our culture that we don’t even see at times how deeply rooted it is in our actions, our way of thinking, and how we feel. So it it because of this that I decided to continue with our challenge updates, despite how silly is may seem.

February & March

February was 2 months in to the challenge, and I was definitely starting to feel it. In my month 1 update I anticipated that the real challenge would come after 2+ months. Despite starting to feel it more, I am loving it! We have had great success since January. I did buy a pair of shoes, which I could easily justify as an essential, although I could have waited to purchase them when this challenge was over, but who can resist 40% off???!!!.

This month we figured out some of grey areas mentioned in my month 1 update. We decided that eating out would be allowed, as well as experienced-based activities. It really helped for my husband and I to get more on the same page and work those things out. Obviously currently we are not going out and not spending money on those things!

Clothing

February I hosted a clothing swap with some friends at my house, which was a ton of fun. I was able to add a couple of tops and a super comfy pair of pants to my closet without having to purchase anything. This event really got me thinking about swapping items beyond clothing, and how great it would be to have this kind of event open to the community. My instinct is to buy first, so this challenge is stretching my thinking around seeking out other options, and getting creative.

Toys

This has been the most difficult area of temptation so far, to my surprise. Going without clothing – so far, meh! Without make up or beauty items – no problem! Toys though has been a struggle. As my son grows I get very excited about his interests and love watching him engage with toys or other kinds of kid activities. Majority of the time I buy toys second hand with the awareness of mass superfluous consumption in this area in our society, so I did not anticipate this to be a challenge for me.

So, I’ve had to get creative. Thanks to a suggestion from my sister, I am taking a portion of my sons toys and hiding them for a time, then reintroducing them. It has worked! My son plays with these toys as if they are new. I am also reusing recyclable items for crafts more than before, partially due to the staying home social isolation, and partially due to this challenge. So I am slowly letting go of bringing home “new to us” toys as a necessity. I am very thankful for a plethora of ideas on the internet that have inspired me to get more creative.

Some of the reused craft/activities:

  • toilet paper rolls & small box put together to make a dinosaur
  • used tape on the floor to create train tracks
  • I found an old bag of unused balloons, drew a dinosaur on one, and that entertained him for days
  • used a large box to make a car for my son to sit inside & drive
  • broke out his puddle jumper to wear around the house, which he did…A LOT
  • used an old toothbrush & ladle in a bin of soapy water to “wash” his toys
  • a bin of uncooked rice, beans & pasta to pour into different containers

Home Decor

Most of the items in our home (furniture, lamps, wall pieces, etc.) are second-hand, hand-me-downs, or gifts. We have felt truly thankful that we have family and friends that have poured out their generosity on us to fill our home. Like toys, I also feel the draw of needing to further fill our home with more. Like clothing, home decor follows trends, and they seem to be having shorter and shorter life spans. I understand the draw and want to have beautiful things in our home too.

I started sitting in different rooms in my home and asking myself: “What if this room looked the exact same way 20 years from now? How would I feel? Why?” I highly recommend doing this! I had some good feelings and some very uncomfortable feelings, but the point is I gained awareness of feelings in connection to stuff. It helped me put into perspective the reasons behind my motives for buying and decorating. And it helped develop gratitude for what matters most: having a beautiful home shared with my favorite people. Cheesy, I know, but not any less true.

So far, taking on the same philosophy as toys, instead of buying anything new for the home, I started to move some of the items I have to new areas in the home, and found in a closet some forgotten pieces. Switching things around has given new life to my home, without having to buy anything!

Lend & Borrow

A lot of items we probably would have bought this year, specifically related to camping, as we are now starting to do this annually. These items would only get use the one week per year we go camping though. It got me thinking, what if we could have a library of things in our community (other than books), such as camping equipment, kitchen supplies, tools or toys – items that would only be used for a smaller amount of time. I love this idea, and there are a lot of these kinds of libraries popping up around the globe, like this one. What an awesome and creative way to help slow down consumption, reduce our waste, and build community connection.

Inward Challenge

The truth is things do not define us, they do not control us, and they don’t matter, even though marketing wants you to feel differently. Once our world gets back to normalcy (assuming that happens), I can guarantee that marketing is going to try to draw people back into a rhythm of buying.

This challenge has continued to push me to question why I buy, why I have attachment to physical items, and why I become dissatisfied with the items I already own. Sometimes the “why” is clear, and other times it’s not. But what I do know is if life isn’t about stuff, then what better time to rediscover this joy than right now with the time we have. Let’s refocus our priorities, activities, and routines on what matters most.


101 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day 2020

This year is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and there are a lot of ways we can celebrate this year despite social distancing, whether it’s learning something new, making a zero waste swap, tackling one area you’ve been wanting lately to change, or participating in a one-time activity. Here are 101 ideas. The hope with this list is that there is something for everyone!

So here goes….

1 – Explore the “Earth Day” website to see how you can get involved

2 – Calculate your carbon footprint here

3 – Plant some seeds

4 – Make a meatless meal (like this one)

5 – Refuse to buy plastic packaging on one or more items on your next grocery trip

6 – Switch one of your bills to paperless

7 – Cancel one flyer delivery

8 – Take political action by signing a petition

9 – Start following an environmental community coalition on social media (like Plastic Pollution Coalition or For Our Kids)

10 – Make your own shampoo or buy an unpackaged shampoo bar (like this one)

11 – Repurpose one item in your recycling bin

12 – Learn to mend

13 – Go 24 hours without turning on any lights

14 – Hang dry your next laundry load

15 – The next item you need to purchase, buy it locally

16 – Turn off the water while lathering during your next shower

17 – Bake your own package-free bread (see recipe here)

18 – Do a 10 x 10 Challenge or a Project 333 Challenge with your wardrobe

19 – Build a capsule wardrobe

20 – Make your own deodorant

21 – Collect old unusable clothes and cut them up to use as rags

22 – Keep your plastic bags, wash & reuse them

23 – Read about why plastic is a problem here

24 – Make at home something you normally would buy packaged (ex: granola, crackers, pesto).

25 – Wash your next laundry load on a cold water cycle

26 – Donate to an environmental charity

27 – Meal plan for the following week to reduce food waste

28 – Save your veggie scraps to either regrow or make veggie broth

29 – Adjust your thermostat 1-2 degrees

30 – Educate yourself on how to have a sustainable wardrobe

31 – Save the containers your food comes in (yogurt, sour cream, jam jars), wash them & reuse

32 – Save your toothbrush and use it as a cleaning device

33 – Look around your house prior to making your next purchase to see if there was something you could repurpose instead

34 – Buy a device to collect micro fibers in your laundry, (such as Guppy Friend)

35 – Read about the problem with micro fibers here

36 – Buy a reusable coffee pod instead of the disposable ones

37 – Repurpose an old t-shirt into a produce bag (watch tutorial here)

38 – Learn about greenwashing here

39 – Make your own hand soap, or buy it unpackaged

40 – Join a Buy Nothing Challenge

41 – Implement the Buyerarchy of Needs for your next purchase

42 – Learn what is recyclable at your local municipal facility

43 – Make your own lip balm

44 – Buy a menstrual cup, period underwear, or reusable pads

45 – Do a nature scavenger hunt with your kids (see more nature activities for kids here)

46 – Use a plastic-free container for the next item to be thrown in the freezer

47 – Make your own multi-purpose cleaner

48 – Buy directly from a farmer in your area

49 – Learn about your local seasonal foods here

50 – Buy in-season produce your next shopping trip

51 – Collect rain water or save your indoor grey water to reuse for your garden

52 – Switch to a bamboo toothbrush

53 – Buy a bidet (like this one)

54 – Switch to a reusable coffee filter (like this one)

55 – Switch to a reusable loose leaf tea holder (like this one)

56 – Make your own toothpaste or buy zero waste toothpaste

57 – Choose not to spray your lawn with pesticides this Spring

58 – Opt to go for a walk or bike ride rather than a drive in your car

59 – Switch to a reusable razor

60 – Read about the dangers of consumption & the environment here

61 – Support your local bulk store

62 – Switch to a vegan milk (oat or coconut)

63 – Switch to unpackaged body soap

64 – Plan a zero waste or plastic-free at home birthday

65 – Make your own moisturizer

66 – Have a picnic outside

67 – Learn how to properly dispose of your cell phones, batteries, etc.

68 – Switch to reusable snack bags

69 – Switch to plastic-free floss

70 – Make the switch to LED light bulbs

71 – Unplug your appliances when not in use

72 – Fix any drain drip you might have in your home

73 – Switch to reusable facial wipes/makeup removers by cutting up old fabric

74 – Stop using plastic water bottles

75 – Refuse to idle your car

76 – Switch to reusable food wraps

77 – Turn off the water flow while you lather your hands or brush your teeth

78 – Switch to a low-flow shower head

79 – Switch to rechargeable, reusable batteries

80 – Unsubscribe to junk mail

81 – Opt for a paperless receipt when offered

82 – Shop at your local Farmer’s Market (if still open)

83 – Plant a tree

84 – Commit to at least a weeks worth of no processed frozen meals

85 – Start composting your food waste

86 – Manually wash your dishes and/or clothes

87 – Research environmentally sustainable & ethical clothing/shoe brands

88 – Join a local group that is actively helping the environment

89 – Go for a walk and explore nature

90 – Collect litter while on your walk

91 – Conduct a household “Waste Audit”

92 -Begin a zero waste challenge

93 – Install a nature playground for your kids instead of a plastic one

94 – Write a letter or email to your local representative about your concern about the future of our environment

95 – Make a list of your Waste Less Goals for 2020

96 – Start a Bee Garden

97 – Opt for a chemical-free alternative

98 – Build a birdhouse

99 – Commit to participating in a plastic-free challenge, such as Plastic Free July

100 – Share what you’re doing with others, including sharing in the comments below letting me know what you did to celebrate

101 – Celebrate Earth Day EVERYDAY!

5 Ways to Help the Planet While Stuck at Home…

Are you going crazy yet? If you’re stuck at home (for a GOOD reason), and potentially loosing your mind, you are in good company. I miss people. I miss the option of going out. I miss hand washing being optional (obviously kidding).

But staying home is giving some time to get things done around the house. Perhaps you are trying new recipes, decluttering that forgotten closet, or learning how to knit to pass the time. I have begun to learn to use my sewing machine, and attempting to crochet some “slippers” for our kitchen table chairs.

Our home, our hub, our refuge. This place plays a vital role in reducing our environmental impact, but often I forget that I can make a difference with some simple changes around the home. I often thought that in the grand scheme of things it wouldn’t make much a difference if I left a light on or left my appliances plugged in. But then I thought of a saying I heard not that long ago, “it’s just one take-out coffee cup….said 1 million people.” It’s easy to forget that collectively we hold the power to make big changes, much more than just us as individuals. If collectively we all started to refuse take-out coffee cups, imagine the giant impact this would make! And it’s the same with all other “small” decisions.

So on that note, here are 5 areas you can tackle while being at home:

  1. Household emissions
    • Turn off that light
    • Unplug that appliance
    • Turn down the thermostat
    • Do less laundry
  2. Drive less
  3. Meal plan & consume less meat
  4. Switch to reusables
    • Cleaning rags
    • Facial tissue
    • Toilet paper
  5. Buy local

…..

Household Emissions

Did you know that 19% of the total CO2 emissions (2015) in Canada is produced by Canadian households? That includes emissions released when using fuels for transportation, home heating, & electricity.

The lights we have on, the appliances we have running, and what we use to heat & cool our homes all use energy that burns carbon dioxide into our atmosphere.

Collectively, turning our lights off when we are not using them, switching to LED lights, using our appliances as little as possible, and turning the thermostat down lower even 1 degree has an impact on the pollution households are responsible for.

How you do laundry can also help to reduce your household emissions by:

  • Washing your clothing less frequently (my rule: no spills & no smell under the arms, I wear it again!),
  • Considering hand washing your clothes,
  • Using shorter wash cycles & using cold water cycles,
  • Only washing your clothes if you have a full load, and
  • Hang drying your clothing.

There are a LOT of kitchen products and appliances, and of course marketing is designed to make you believe that they are a necessity, or that it will make your life much more convenient. In reality, they may partially help, but most likely not an essential. Often they sit on our counter or in our cupboard collecting dust until we dispose of it. So, before buying that kitchen appliance, ask yourself:

  • Do I need this?
  • How often will I use it?
  • Will it help reduce the energy I produce (example: toaster oven) overall, or will it increase my household energy?
  • Is there another way that does not require this appliance?

Drive Less

Okay, so this is an obvious one as overall there is much less traffic on the roads since we are required to stay home. But if you are getting antsy at home and wanting to get out of the house, consider taking a walk, riding your bike, or just sitting on your front porch instead of taking a drive.

Transportation is one of the fastest growing sectors of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Globe&Mail).

“Light-duty vehicles (read: cars) produce more than four times the GHG emissions of all domestic aviation, according to Canada’s 2019 national greenhouse gas inventory. If you include light-duty vehicles and light-duty trucks – so, cars, pickups, SUVs and smaller vans – they account for nearly half of all GHG emissions from the transportation category. Heavy-duty vehicles, such as 18-wheelers and larger pickup trucks, make up the other big chunk, at 35 per cent. Railways account for 3.8 per cent of the category, while motorcycles contribute 0.2 per cent.” (Globe&Mail).

Check out the Globe & Mail article to read about which vehicles are worse for CO2 emissions, which is quite surprising. If you are in the market to buy a new vehicle, ensure you do your research on what is more efficient.

Meal Plan & Consume Less Meat

I believe meal planning is an under appreciated action step in reducing our waste. Taking an hour or less weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly will help ensure that all items you are purchasing will get used, and lessen your need to buy quick packaged goods. During this time of isolating at home, it has the potential added benefit of reducing the amount of visits to the grocery store or another take-out food location due to not having an idea what dinner will be. Win, win!

Globally we consume 315 million tonnes of meat every year. The amount eaten per person has doubled in the last 50 years, and it is anticipated this will continue to significantly increase in the next 20 years. Raising livestock has a higher carbon output than vegetables, fruits & grains, and these animals release carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide into our atmosphere.

Becoming vegetarian can save 0.8 tonnes of carbon emissions per year per person.

“As global meat consumption increases, so does its climate impact. Livestock production accounts for 70 per cent of all agricultural land use, occupies 30 per cent of the planet’s land surface and is responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide. Growing animals for food is also inefficient. It takes about five to seven kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of beef. Each of those takes energy and water to produce, process, and transport” (David Suzuki).

My family has started reducing our meat consumption. We have begun having at least 2 meals per week without meat, and reducing the quantity of meat we put in the other meals. Meal planning has significantly helped me to reduce our meat intake as it gives me time to research vegetarian meals, and ensure that what I am making will be enjoyed and consumed (my toddler is quite picky these days!).

If you need some inspiration, check out this vegan family’s recipes & weekly meal plans!

Switch to Reusables

Rags, facial tissue & toilet paper….

Now is the time to try giving up paper towel, napkins, and maybe even toilet paper. We have been using rags for a while now, and being a cloth diaper mom I have definitely felt less stress about getting my hands on paper towel and toilet paper during this pandemic. We have saved some old clothes to use as repurposed fabric, and I have been cutting them up to use to clean (wipe surfaces, dust, clean dishes, wipe up spills), as facial tissue/table napkins, and potentially toilet paper should we come to that. The only extra personal energy required is to remember to throw them in with your laundry load.

Check out this video of a family of 4 that uses cloth as toilet paper!

Buy Local

Our economy will be impacted by this pandemic more than we can currently fathom right now. Buying local will not only support those small businesses owned by your neighbours during this difficult time, it will put money back into your local economy.

It will also reduce your overall indirect household emissions. “The average meal travels 1,200 kilometres from the farm to plate. Food grown closer to home produces fewer transportation emissions, is fresher and supports local farmers. As the distance food travels decreases, so does the need for processing and refrigeration to reduce spoilage” (David Suzuki).

Grow your own…

It’s Spring, the perfect time to consider growing your own food, which is as local as you can get. Trust me, there is nothing more satisfying than going out to your garden to pick the ingredients you need for dinner. Now is a great time to give gardening a try to grow your own produce! Click the “follow” button at the bottom of this page to stay tuned in to hear from some amazing guest bloggers who are gardening in the city!

Ultimate Guide to a Sustainable Closet

Last day of the 10 x 10 Challenge (click here to start reading my other posts), and I’m sad that is has come to an end, but I think this will become a seasonal tradition for me, in the hopes that I can become more aware and connected to the clothes I have and become a more conscious shopper.

To finish off this challenge, I wanted to compile all the information I shared during these past 10 days and create for you a go-to reference of steps to make your wardrobe more eco-friendly.

This guide addresses the 5 areas of the clothing’s lifecycle: material, production, shipping, use, and disposal.

#1 – MATERIAL

Consider what your clothes are made of & do your research.

Avoid buying plastic fabric. Some examples are: polyester, lycra, and nylon.

Ensure the alternatives to plastic fabrics are being made with the environmental impact in mind (for example cotton is certified BCI – “Better Cotton Initiative” promoting more sustainably-made cotton).

Check out Day 4 & 5 of my 10 x 10 challenge to learn more about why materials matter.

# 2 – PRODUCTION

Prioritize quality over quantity.

Avoid fast fashion retailers such as H&M and Zara.

Research the brand/company & consider:

  • Where is the product made?
  • How is the product made?
  • Is there a certification mentioned (check out different textile eco-labels here)?
  • What is their mission or vision? Is the environment mentioned in it?
  • Do they have a good reputation for being environmental?

#3 – SHIPPING

Again ask, where is this garment made?

The closer to your home the garment is made, the less it travels, which then reduces its carbon footprint.

#4 – USE

Shop in your closet & use what you already have.

Buy less.

Build a capsule wardrobe with your existing clothing.

Buy second-hand clothing.

Plan and/or attend a clothing swap.

Take care of your clothing:

  • Wash your clothing less frequently (my rule: no spills & no smell under the arms, I wear it again!),
  • Consider hand washing your clothes,
  • Use shorter wash cycles & use cold water cycles,
  • Only wash your clothes if you have a full load,
  • Use liquid detergent with plastic fabrics,
  • Buy a device for your washer to catch micro-fibres (such as Guppy Friend),
  • Sun bleach instead of using chemical bleach,
  • Hang dry your clothing.

#5 – DISPOSAL

Avoid the Landfill:

  • Mend the clothing you have to give it a longer life,
  • Keep old clothing and consider repurposing them into items such as rags, wipes, or yarn,
  • Only donate clothing that has good resale value,
  • Reduce how much you buy.

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MY 10 OUTFITS FROM THE PAST 10 DAYS (10 x 10 Challenge):

10 x 10 Challenge: DAY 9 Slow Down & Encapsulate Sustainable Fashion

My wardrobe for 10 Days!

Day 9, and I can’t believe the Challenge is almost over! Reflecting back I wish I would have selected a couple more comfortable items within the 10-day wardrobe. My son being sick forced me to switch into some sweats that I was more okay with being ruined. So if you are considering doing this challenge, take my advice and get some comfy items in there!

Have you ever gone into your closet and felt like you had nothing to wear even though your closet was full? I know I have, and during this Challenge, I’ve noticed that I have felt excited to be creative in how I put the pieces together, and I have also been less stressed each day thinking about what I am going to wear. It has made me more aware and mindful about what I own and ultimately shown me that I don’t need tons of different clothing items to have a “full” wardrobe. It has helped me to slow down with my closet.

WHAT IS SLOW FASHION?

Fast fashion is our current cultural reality. We are less likely to repair or make do with the items in our closet because replacing with something new is convenient and affordable. The fast pace of trends are also enticing us to buy more (read more about fast fashion here).

There are a lot of definitions of slow fashion, mostly because it is a newer concept that has been changing and evolving over the last couple of decades. Not surprising though, slow fashion is the opposite as fast fashion, and does the following:

  • Considers the entire lifecycle of the garment from beginning to end,
  • Views clothing choices as long-term and not disposable,
  • Values quality over quantity in buying pieces of clothing that will last longer,
  • Is aware and mindful of the ethical and environmental impact of the garments,
  • Slows down the pace of shopping and consumption.

Overall it encourages slower production schedules in the industry, fair wages, lower carbon footprints, and zero waste at end-of-life.

WHAT IS A CAPSULE WARDROBE?

One way to engage in slow fashion is through building a capsule wardrobe. It is a smaller collection of clothing in your closet focusing on the bare minimum, and targeting better quality, longer lasting pieces. It can be anywhere from 27 to 50 pieces of clothing, and the idea is that these pieces will last a very long time, or even an entire lifetime (ideally).

The pieces of clothing are versatile to ensure that they can be paired together more than just once (like in the 10 x 10 Challenge).

HOW DO I BUILD A CAPSULE WARDROBE?

Do not build a capsule wardrobe from scratch. If consumerism is the cause of our environmental issues, then we cannot buy our way out of our pollution crisis. So if you are interested in building your capsule wardrobe, first look in you closet and shop there first.

Secondly, if you are buying clothing, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Some ethical clothing brands such as Encircled in Toronto are not affordable for everyone, although is a great choice if you are able to afford it. What is great about shopping thrift is there can be good quality pieces of clothing at an affordable price.

This is a great video that explains some basics of the what, why & how of a capsule wardrobe, and will also guide you through doing it sustainably:

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10 x 10 Challenge: DAY 8 Reduce Your Foots Print

Try not to roll your eyes at the post title, I’m a bit of a pun lover, and thankfully I am married to an english teacher who is one also.

When I think about mass consumption in our closets, what first comes to mind are shoes. You know the common stereotype on television of the everyday woman and her large shoe collection; the one that makes you doubt your womanhood if you own any less than 20 pairs of shoes.

In reality 24 billion pairs of shoes were made in 2018, over 2 million pairs sold in the US alone, which is more than 7 pairs per person each year. So the reality of the consumption of shoes worldwide seems to potentially match this common stereotype.

Thankfully the awareness of ethical shoe production and consumption has been growing in the last 10 years, but about 300 million pairs of shoes are still thrown out every year, and shoes are quite difficult to recycle due to the variety of mixed material components. Using fewer materials in a pair of shoes makes it more likely to be recycled, but is much harder to find.

Like clothes, shoes pre-1800s were made of materials from the natural world, such as natural rubber, leather, and wood. Today we still use some of these natural materials, although there has been a shift to synthetic materials such as synthetic rubber, synthetic leather, petroleum, and plastic. If you’ve been reading my previous 10 x 10 posts, this is not surprising. These synthetic materials are cheaper, easier to access, and are lighter weight, which is attractive to the shoe industry.

Using leather in shoes holds the same environmental impact as eating meat. One kilogram of leather is responsible for 10 times as much greenhouse gas production as synthetic alternatives or even more natural options such as hemp or wool. Using leather also contributes to the destruction of rainforest, and also contributes to manure and harmful chemicals being disposed into our earth and waterways.

Check out my Day 5 post talking about alternative clothing fabrics to read about the impact of using fabrics such as cotton and wool in our footwear.

We are currently in a plastic pollution crisis, and shoes are not exempt from this. Most shoes are partly or at times completely made from plastic and plastic-like materials. Billions of pairs of shoes are produced every year, mostly made from virgin plastic, rubber, petroleum.

You may be wondering, if shoes are completely made from plastic, could’t we just recycle it? “…The limits of plastic recycling are currently hard. It takes energy to collect the materials, remake them into their second existence—and in many cases, that second life is their last, so recycling extends the process but doesn’t solve the underlying problem” (National Geographic – read this article if you’re interested in reading more about the history of shoes and the materials we use to make them).

As mentioned above, the demand for making shoes more responsibly is growing, so there are a lot of different innovative designs from shoe companies. Unfortunately a majority of designs are made from recycled plastic, which assists in reducing the amount of virgin plastic being produced and brought into our world, but does not address end-of-life plastic pollution, as the shoes are still without the ability to breakdown in a landfill.

Also, the continual increase in our consumption of shoes is counteracting the improvements being made in the industry.

HOW TO SHOP FOR SUSTAINABLE SHOES

Although my #1 advice would be to seriously limit your purchasing of footwear by getting the best life out of what you currently own, there will come a time when we may need to purchase new. So, here are things to think about:

  1. Consider the materials used:
    • what is this made of?
    • what would be its end of life?
    • how long will this pair last?
  2. Avoid buying plastic or petroleum-based materials
  3. Consider who made it & how; ensure those making the shoes are payed a fair wage and treated well.
  4. Beware of Greenwashing by researching the company to find:
    • ethical & environmental certifications
    • historical practices
    • reputation in industry
    • company vision & mission

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10 x 10 Challenge: DAY 6 & 7 The Reality of Second Hand

Day 6 & 7 of this Challenge, and I wanted to talk about thrift stores. Several of the items I have been wearing during the challenge (including a pair of shoes) are thrift store finds. I have been aware for a while now the environmental impact of bringing new items into our world, so for years I have been prioritizing second hand as my go-to instinct. This is why I wanted one of my challenge posts to be about thrift stores.

Not only am I interested in thrifting, a study done in 2018 stated it was seriously gaining in popularity, estimating it would grow to total $41 billion US dollars in the next four years, so of course I wanted to take a closer look!

Donating and buying second hand uses what is already in circulation, therefore reducing the items overall environmental impact, and it saves you money, so win, win, right?! Well, after doing some digging, I wish it was that simple.

DONATED CLOTHING

As I mentioned in my Day 2 Challenge post: “The average Canadian buys 70 new pieces of clothing each year, about 60 of which ultimately wind up in a landfill. According to a British study, the average article of women’s clothing is worn seven times before it’s discarded” (Globe&Mail). We consume 400% more clothes than we did just 20 years ago. More than 150 billion garments are produced annually, enough to provide 20 new garments to every person on the planet, every year. That’s a lot of clothing!

For those wanting to avoid having their clothes end up in a landfill, it makes sense to want to extend the life of a garment by donating it to the local thrift store. The donor gets to declutter and the new owner gets to purchase clothing at a lower cost. Unfortunately it is not that simple. North Americans send 10 million tonnes of clothing to the landfill every year, and only donate approximately 15% of their clothing to be used second hand.

For the major thrift chains in North America (Salvation Army, Goodwill, and Value Village) only 50% of what’s donated at their stores end up on their racks and shelves, and only 50% of that is purchased. This means only 1 in 4 donated pieces of clothing is sold.

So what happens with the other 75%? The remainder is either resold locally, sold second hand abroad, cut down and used as rags, ground down/reprocessed (at a textile recycling facility), or sent to the landfill.

RESOLD GLOBALLY

Some of the unsold clothing in Canada is sent overseas. “In 2017, $173 million in worn or used clothing was exported from Canada to countries and regions around the world” (CBC). According to this same CBC article, the big problem with developing countries receiving our second hand clothing is it suppresses the textile industries in those countries. Countries like Kenya have had their textile industry wiped out because of our “generosity.” This way of “recycling” our clothing also diverts our waste just to another countries landfill, and often they are countries without a formed and structured garbage/recycling system, so it ends up being burned.

Similarly to other avenues of “aid” given to developing countries, the economic impacts of used clothing imports, create a relationship of dependency on the west and in many ways prevent these countries from developing. There are many layers of horror to our economic global system and how it is built to benefit the rich and oppress the poor, and although discontinuing your donations won’t stop the problem, it is beneficial to be aware of how our mass consumption of clothing and booming second hand industry contributes to it.

STEER CLEAR OF DONATION BINS

These are the bins you often see in a parking lot. Some of these bins are run by for-profit companies, often undistinguishable from the for-profit bins. Often the clothes donated here get sent overseas, and are not sent directly to the charity, so it is best to give directly to the charity itself.

SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS

The majority of our clothing ends up in the landfill, and only 25% of what’s donated gets a second life. But what is important to know is extending the life of a garment lowers its overall environmental footprint. According to a BBC article, continuing to actively wear a garment for just nine months longer could diminish its environmental impact by 20–30%. Of course of the stats mentioned above, we cannot rely on donating our clothes in order to give it that extra length of time. Seek out other ways of ensuring your items get a longer life. Give your clothing to someone you know will use it, or hold a clothing swap in your community or amongst your friends.

Relying on the thrift system is not sustainable, as it does not address the many other issues that I’ve touched on in previous posts: consumerism, plastic clothing waste, microfibers, and fast fashion. In some ways the success of this system is built upon the consumerism that is slowly killing our planet, and is also perpetuating negative consequences on more vulnerable countries.

There are alternative actions that can be taken to reduce your clothing waste and be more environmentally sustainable, which I will be discussing near the end of the 10×10 Challenge!

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