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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10 x 10 Challenge: DAY 5 Alternative Fabrics

My wardrobe for 10 days!

Well, it’s day 5 of the Challenge, and my last post spoke about the prevalence of plastic being used as a common fabric today. It made sense then for me to next explore some of the alternatives fabrics, so I’m doing just that, giving a quick snapshot of some alternatives: cotton, linen, wool, and bamboo. This is not meant to be packed with information, but to give enough of a glimpse to be able to compare these alternatives to polyester and other synthetic fibers. It is also good to mention that it is always good to check the tag of any garment you are purchasing, because often polyester is mixed in with more natural fabrics. Rarely do I see a piece of clothing these days that is 100% pure fabric.

Cotton

Cotton is the most widespread non-food crop worldwide, and approximately half of all textiles are made of cotton. It requires a lot of water (20,o00 litres of water to produce one kilogram of cotton). “While it covers just 2.5% of the planet’s total agricultural area, the cotton crop uses 7% of all pesticides and 16% of all insecticides” (The Guardian).

Watch this short video for more information:

The World Economic Forum has identified water scarcity as one of the top 10 global risks to society over the next 10 years, yet the bulk of cotton is grown in countries that are already facing severe water stress (The Guardian).

Despite the concerns regarding cotton and the environment, there are initiatives to make cotton more sustainable, with less water and chemical use. Organic cotton uses up to 91% less water.

Linen

Linen is a textile made from the fibers of the flax plant. The flax plant can grow with just rainwater, without irrigation or pesticides, and when left untreated (i.e. not chemically dyed) it is fully biodegradable. For these reasons linen is often described as a sustainable eco-friendly clothing alternative.

Flax is a difficult plant to harvest and it has become more costly to produce linen. Flax plants are used for many purposes, but the fiber itself comes from the stem and root of the flax plant, requiring careful harvesting, often done by hand. For these reasons, linen is not a common easily accessed material, and is typically more expensive.

Wool

Wool is the fur that is obtained from sheep and other animals. “Wool has several sustainable attributes: it is rapidly renewable, biodegradable, recyclable, and can be produced organically. … In terms of performance, wool is something of a miracle fabric. Highly durable, with inherent flame-resistant properties, it also has some natural water repellency” (The Guardian).

There are some drawbacks to wool. Sheep need large amounts of land, leaving it unattainable for alternative agricultural purposes. They also require water and food to survive, taking up a large amount of resources to simply produce a fabric. Similar to cows, sheep release a large amount of methane gas into the atmosphere, which contribute to our overall atmospheric greenhouse gases. Farming livestock contribute to approximately 6 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, and estimates have come out at totaling 18% of global emissions. This is a part of the reason why eating less meat is highly encouraged in the environmental community, as a way to reduce our global emissions.

Although this is not specifically an environmental concern, there’s been exposure on the high rate of animal abuse in the wool industry, so it is important to be aware of this, and to ensure buying from a trusted ethical source.

Bamboo

The following information has been taken from my previous post “Is Plastic Really THAT Bad?: Part 2.”

Bamboo forests have many environmental benefits because they function as carbon sinks, produce oxygen, control soil erosion, provide organic matter, regulate water levels in watersheds, conserve biodiversity, beautify the landscape, and essentially contribute to the purification and regulation of the environment” (source).

Wow, that is a big claim. It feels like we should stop right there. Of course the above information is true, if bamboo is left alone to be just a plant instead of a material we extract and use to manufacture products.

Bamboo is a plant, a raw material, and is one of the fastest (if not the fastest) developing plants. With 1,500 different species it can grow anywhere from sea level to 12,000 feet and is grown in sub tropical zones, mainly South East Asia and Central America. It is adaptable with a short life cycle. Where trees can be harvested anywhere from 10-30 years, the bamboo lifecycle is anywhere from 2-5 years. It replenishes quickly, which makes it very sustainable.

There has been a lot of information published recently about bamboo fabric. It has been advertised as an eco-friendly alternative, especially in comparison to cotton. Typically the fabric is made by soaking the bamboo in a variety of chemicals in order to break it down into a soft pulp. These chemicals are known to be harmful to human health and aquatic life, and are released into our water supplies. If you want to read more about this, please read this very informative article by The Green Hub. In this article they clarify the many terms used to describe different bamboo fabrics and what they mean. This article also talks about how Bamboo Linen is a chemical-free alternative, but is rare to find.

Here is a lovely chart for those who are visual learners:


Source: Zady

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UPCOMING POSTS

For the remainder of the Challenge, expect posts about:

  • thrift stores
  • slow fashion
  • ways to make your closet sustainable

10 x 10 Challenge: DAY 4 Plastic Fashion

My wardrobe for 10 days!

Day 4 of this challenge, and still going strong. My previous post I spoke about pollution and the fashion industry. It is the second largest global polluter, second only the the oil industry. A part of why it is such a large polluter is the use of plastic in our fabrics. I’ll be honest, years ago when I first learned about this I didn’t believe it! How can plastic be in the clothes we wear, and a better question, why? I just couldn’t wrap my head around it all, and learning about it solidified the fact that plastic is now everywhere in everything, and as our world has been learning recently it may even be in the food we eat.

Plastic Fabrics

Polyester, nylon, acrylic, and other synthetic blends make up 60% of our clothing worldwide. Fast fashion (read about it here) is creating cheaper clothing for faster consumption, and one reason why is the incredibly cheap cost of plastic as a fabric.

What we know about plastic is that it is brittle and can be broken down easily into smaller and smaller pieces if exposed to extreme heat, harsh environments or with just a lot of use. This also happens when it is in our clothing. With continued use and with continual washing, plastics break off of our clothing into very small pieces.

Watch this short video for great introductory information on the topic:

As you just watched, hundreds of thousands of these microfibers are being released from our clothing with each wash. They are too small to be filtered out by waste treatment plants, and end up in our lakes and oceans.

“Plastic fibers are now showing up in fish and shellfish sold in in California and Indonesia for human consumption. And one paper showed that microfibers are responsible for 85 percent of shoreline pollution across the globe. (PlasticPolutionCoalition).”

When I first learned about this, I felt very overwhelmed. How do you stop something that seems impossible to stop? I kept thinking, not only are we dealing with the full sized pieces of plastic that are polluting our world, not we have to deal with it on a micro-scale?

I still sometimes feel overwhelmed by it, and if you do to, and are wondering what you can do about it, check out Plastic Pollution Coalition’s list of 15 ways you can stop micro fibre pollution here.

UPCOMING POSTS

For the remainder of the Challenge, expect posts about:

  • alternative fabrics
  • thrift stores
  • shoes
  • slow fashion

10 x 10 Challenge: DAY 3 Pollution Disaster

My wardrobe for 10 days!

Today the time in between the appearance and the disappearance of trends is faster than ever. Customers can buy trendy clothing at an affordable price. The affordability of the clothing allows the cycle of trends to be very FAST! This is called “Fast Fashion,” also referred to as disposable fashion.

In my last post I spoke about our consumption habits, how environmental disasters can all be tied back to consumption, and how this extends into our closets. We consume 400% more clothes than we did just 20 years ago.

With these facts it makes sense that the fashion industry is a $3 trillion dollar industry, and is the second largest polluters next to the oil industry. It also accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions.

“The environmental impact is significant: the clothing and textile industry is depleting non-renewable resources, emitting huge quantities of greenhouses gases and using massive quantities of energy, chemicals and water. The synthetic fibres often favoured by fast fashion brands, such as polyester, nylon and acrylic, are basically a kind of plastic made from petroleum, which means they could take up to a thousand years to biodegrade” (U of Queensland).

Here are some additional facts that further explain why the fashion industry is a pollution disaster:

–  Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make polyester fiber, which is now the most commonly used fiber in our clothing. But it takes more than 200 years to decompose.

– Fast fashion garments, produce over 400% more carbon emissions per item per year than garments worn 50 times and kept for a full year.

– Cheap synthetic fibers also emit gasses like N2O, which is 300 times more damaging than CO2.

– Over 70 million trees are logged every year and turned into fabrics like rayon, viscose, modal and lyocell.

– Cotton is the world’s single largest pesticide-consuming crop, using 24% of all insecticides and 11% of all pesticides globally, adversely affecting soil and water.

– Plastic microfibers shed from our synthetic clothing into the water supply account for 85% of the human-made material found along ocean shores, threatening marine wildlife and ending up in our food supply.

– The fashion industry is the second biggest polluter of freshwater resources on the planet.

– A quarter of the chemicals produced in the world are used in textiles.

UPCOMING POSTS

For the remainder of the Challenge, expect posts about:

  • micro plastics
  • fabrics
  • thrift stores
  • shoes
  • slow fashion

10 x 10 Challenge: DAY 2 Consumerism is Killing Us

My wardrobe for 10 days!!

Well, it’s Day 2 of this Challenge, and I am feeling really good & inspired! Only 2 days in and already I feel motivated to cut down on my clothing, be more intentional with what I own, and learning to love the clothes I have more instead of feeling like I always have to add to it. I can already see that living with less in my closet won’t make it feel sparse, but rather simpler and less stressful. It has also motivated me to do another 10 x 10 Challenge with my summer clothes so that I can learn to pack better when I go camping or on vacation. Already 2 days in and I would ABSOLUTELY recommend to anyone to do this Challenge!

My Day 1 post I defined what fast fashion was. There are a lot of factors at play in our world that have created what fast fashion is today, and this includes our society’s chronic obsessive need to consume.

CONSUMPTION

According to the Globe&Mail, even though the average size of a Canadian home has doubled in the last 25 years, and family size is getting smaller, the self-storage industry is growing FAST. As of July 2019 there were 3,000 packed storage facilities in Canada, simply to hold our stuff. We are facing a landfill crisis where our stuff cannot fit any longer, but no community wants to have a landfill located near them, so where will all our stuff go? China has started to refuse our recycling. The overflow of our consumption habits are spilling from land into our oceans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has grown to be twice the size of Texas.

In addition to this, Canadians are on average are spending money they don’t have. As of 2018 according to the Bank of Canada, the average Canadian owes $1.70 for every dollar they earned per year after taxes, and owes about $30,000 of non-mortgage debt. “Approximately 1.7 billion people worldwide now belong to the “consumer class”—the group of people characterized by diets of highly processed food, desire for bigger houses, more and bigger cars, higher levels of debt, and lifestyles devoted to the accumulation of non-essential goods…Most of the environmental issues we see today can be linked to consumption” (National Geographic).

There are a lot of reasons why we consume:

  • Advertising,
  • globalization,
  • an increase in the cycle of trends,
  • an increased accessibility to cheap products,
  • products created with a shorter lifespan, designed to be disposable,
  • an increase in accessing more money than we make (i.e. debt),
  • and many more…

Whether it’s consuming essentials or non-essentials, watch this video to better understand why consuming stuff is harming our environment and as a result, ourselves.

CONSUMPTION & CLOTHING

Annually consumers in Canada spend 43.6 billion dollars toward clothing and footwear. “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.

More than 12 million tonnes of material is sent to disposal every year in North America, and 95% of it could be reused or recycled. Canada has so much clothing that we are the 7th largest exporter of used clothing in the world, with exports topping $185 million annually to places like Kenya, Angola, Tanzania and India.

Unfortunately thrift stores only sell 1 in 4 pieces of donated clothing. Of course it is good to think that unused pieces of your closet can be reused by another person, but based on this stat, chances are only 25% of your clothing is being worn again, which makes donating used clothes an unsustainable solution in cutting the waste. It doesn’t make sense to rely on the thrift system as a reason to continue to consume large amounts of clothing.

If I can easily go 10 days wearing 2 pants, 2 sweaters, and 4 tops, AND have access to a washer/dryer, then these stats of clothing consumption are a wake-up call. I expected the consumption to be high, but doing the actual research has my eyes wide and my jaw dangling.

We can’t buy our way out of climate change. That is why I wanted to build awareness in doing this challenge. That is why my family and I are doing a Buy Nothing Year. That is why this blog is not about product promotion. Continually asking myself, “at what cost?”

UPCOMING POSTS

For the remainder of the Challenge, expect posts about:

  • micro plastics
  • fabrics
  • thrift stores
  • shoes
  • slow fashion

10 x 10 Challenge: DAY 1 Disposable Fashion is Clogging our Landfills

For the next 10 Days I will be wearing 10 articles of clothing (including shoes), that are captured in this image. This challenge originally is to encourage creativity with items in your closet to force you to create different outfits with a small amount of items. Visit Style Bee to read more about this Challenge!

A good friend of mine did this challenge a few years ago, and this was the first time I was introduced to a “Capsule Wardrobe” and “Slow Fashion.” I kind of had a beginners level of awareness that our society’s consumption of clothing was at a high level, but I didn’t know details. Since then I have learned a lot more, and am excited to share this information with you, especially as I journey through my own 10 x 10 Challenge!

The Brandon Sun reported this:

FAST FASHION

The disposability of clothing today is shocking. We live in a throwaway society, so it makes sense that this would extend into our closets. The fashion industry is built to create designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores to meet new trends. Today the time in between the appearance and the disappearance of trends is faster than ever. A trend can be around for as little as just one season. A 2019 EU Fashion Report stated that back in 2000 fashion companies were producing 2 collections per year, but that in 2011 that had increased to 5! That is a lot of turnover. Today average everyday customers can buy trendy clothing at an affordable price. The affordability of the clothing allows the cycle of trends to be very FAST! This is called “Fast Fashion,” also referred to as disposable fashion.

The fashion industry generates 4% of the world’s waste each year, 92 million tonnes! This disposal includes throwing away and burning unsold stock. In 2018 it was exposed that Burberry was burning $40 million dollars “worth” of unsold stock, along with other companies like H&M and Nike. I just cannot wrap my head around this.

SUSTAINABILITY

I typically shop for clothing and shoes at thrift stores (except this year due to our Buy Nothing 2020), but I have still become discouraged at the poor quality and short lifespan of the clothing I buy. My purchases also depend on the continuing of a system that is not sustainable, so how do I approach my closet in a way that supports a sustainable solution? If I desire to waste less, it makes sense that I would take an honest look at my closet and working to make it as sustainable as possible. I am doing this Challenge to take an honest look at my closet to really examine the clothing that I am wearing, to learn more and ask these tough questions. To seek to create a wardrobe that is indisposable.

UPCOMING POSTS

For the remainder of the Challenge, expect posts about:

  • micro plastics
  • fabrics
  • thrift stores
  • shoes
  • slow fashion

Recipe | Zero Waste Granola

So much faster cooling on the porch!

Super easy and delicious, here is how to make zero waste granola. I eat this every day, I think because I am addicted to peanut butter and honey, a match made in heaven. This specific recipe you most likely can get all your ingredients in bulk or plastic-free. Also, there are many additions you can make.

If you’re a cereal addict (or your kids are!), hate the packaging, but not sure how to switch it to something else, give granola a try.

RECIPE:

  • 4 cups quick rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla or maple syrup

Bake 275 for 15 minutes, stir, bake another 15-20 minutes until sufficiently browned without burning. Keep an eye on it constantly as each oven is different and you don’t want to over bake it!

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If you require a peanut-free version, just remove it from the recipe and add 1/2 cup oil of your choice.

When done you can add many other yummy bulk foods into the granola, like nuts or seeds. If you’re vegan or just not a fan of dairy/yogurt, add some fresh or frozen fruit to the granola to give it a bit more of a wet texture.

Is Plastic Really THAT Bad? (Part 3): How to Make the “Best” Decision?

Helping you Navigate the Tension.

As you probably gathered from part 2 of this 3-part blog series, reducing waste and becoming plastic-free is COMPLICATED! Reducing our plastic consumption is desperately needed, but simply replacing it with some other material while continuing to consume the same is also not sustainable, as the alternatives to plastic (like glass and silicone) have their own eco-footprint.

I’ve discovered that a part of pursuing a zero waste life involves living with tension, and not always knowing what the “best” decision is.

For example:

  • Do I buy the locally grown cucumbers/carrots wrapped in plastic, or the unpackaged, but imported from Mexico/China? (See photos below – Canadian winters present a challenge in the produce department).
  • I need a large freezer to be able to freeze my DIY unpackaged food and store up local produce for the winter months, but another large appliance will increase my household emissions.
  • Which plastic alternative do I buy as they all have their own ecological footprint?
  • I have a refillable cows milk glass bottle program in my community, but alternative milks that come in tetra packs (like Oat milk) have an overall lower ecological footprint.
  • I don’t want to drive my car as much, but it is hard to know how to address this when living rural creates dependency on your vehicle.
  • My disability limits my ability to live zero waste.
  • My toddler is a picky eater and some packaged foods are all he/she will eat.
  • I want to advocate for the decrease of plastic food packaging, but understand the natural consequence this will have on global food waste.

It can get easier.
There is hope.
Even though it can be complicated, let’s strive to make the better choice when there is one, or the best choice we can at that moment in time.

So here is a list of things you can do to help navigate the tension along your the journey…

1) CUT YOURSELF SOME SLACK

“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

-Thank you for this Anne Marie Bonneau, Zero Waste Chef!

Such great advice! Changes and habits take time to form, and we need to cut ourselves plenty of slack when our journey to zero waste isn’t perfect. I will forget my own take-out containers when going out for dinner. I will sometimes be tempted to buy packaged crackers when they are on sale. And all of that is okay! Say it with me: “it’s okay!”

Something to remember also is that it is not solely your responsibility! Businesses need to be responsible to create and make available more sustainable products. Living in Niagara just 2-3 years ago, the only bulk store available to me did not at that time have a reusable container program, which was devastating. Having access to options will help you to succeed.

2) FOCUS ON ONE CHANGE AT A TIME

I’ve said this before, and I will continue to say it until you are annoyed. Do not jump right in and change all of your actions at once. Think about it like loosing weight. A lot of diets don’t work for a reason. Those most successful at loosing weight know that it is daily lifestyle changes over time. Read through my #WasteLessGoals post to get started. Perhaps you want to tackle one room in your home at a time (kitchen, bathroom, laundry). Perhaps it is one category at a time (food, chemicals, cleaning), or just take a look at your trash bin and tackle getting rid of one item at a time that ends up there. Whatever it is, pick something and with slow steady intensity, GO!

3) DO IT ALONGSIDE OTHER PEOPLE

Community matters. I am way more motivated to follow through on something when I am doing it with others. They inspire me and encourage me! Plus, others may have great suggestions you may not have considered before, or be able to equip you with skills you need to live a greener life.

For example:

  • Ask someone to teach you to mend or fix.
  • Join an online zero waste community that offers encouragement and ideas, like Zero Waste Niagara.
  • Plan a clothing swap with friends.
  • Join up with a friend or group of friends to complete a challenge together, like Plastic Free July

4) PLAN AHEAD

This is so important, I cannot stress this enough! When I meal prep ahead of time and make a shopping list, I buy less and I waste less food. It ensures no last minute packaged convenience meals. This shopping list allows me to think ahead and plan what containers I need to bring to the bulk store (always bringing a few extra just in case) and what reusable bags I need bring.

Every time I leave the house I think to myself, “how long am I gone? Do I need anything?” More often than not I bring my reusable water bottle, sometimes I bring my reusable coffee mug, and often when I’m out for a long time or over a typical meal time I pack a snack to prevent having to stop for packaged food. I am currently working on putting together a “Zero Waste Kit” to keep in my car so that even if I forget it’ll still be there.

This is a habit that takes time! I still forget containers for leftovers at restaurants when I go out, but that’s where I can cut myself some slack (wink, wink)!

5) USE WHAT YOU HAVE

A big part of wasting less is to examine how consumerism is embedded in our culture and in our lives, and to start to buy less. There is a huge influx of zero waste products on the market, but rather than going on a shopping spree and calling that “zero waste,” take a look at what is inside your home already and see what could be used.

The answer is not to villianize plastic to the point of ditching items that are still able to be used. When that happens we are contributing to the plastic problem by ditching good quality products to sit in a landfill never to decompose when it could be used. All products have a negative environmental impact whether it is made of plastic or glass or bamboo (see my post, Is Plastic Really THAT Bad?: Part 2 for more info!).

7) DO YOUR RESEARCH

This is very important, and will keep you on track with the truth and not just the trends (yes, there are trends in the eco-friendly world!).

Doing your research means just that, get on the internet and find out about the changes you are wanting to make. There is a lot of false information out there on the internet (shocking!), so ensure that the information you read has adequate sources. Have you just read a strong opinion about whether something is sustainable and eco-friendly? How do they know? What are their sources? Have they listed their sources? If not, run away, and find adequately sourced information.

If you haven’t heard of the term, “Greenwashing,” you should (read my Greenwashing post for more information). It’s when companies market a product to be “green” but in reality is not. Companies ultimately want you to buy their product, so they will charmingly seduce you into thinking whatever they need you to think. Especially with the large influx of zero waste products, make sure you are educated before buying – shop with intentionality!

A great example of this would be bamboo fabrics. These will be marketed as the environmentally superior option, and why not, it’s bamboo! Unfortunately most bamboo fabrics are made by soaking bamboo in harsh toxic chemicals to soften it enough to be made into fabric (read more about this here).

As I mentioned above, nothing is simple anymore, especially in our globalized world. All products leave an environmental footprint, but that is not a reason to ignore the facts, rather it should stress the need to make an informed choice.

6) BULK SHOPPING

If you have access to a bulk store, this is a great way to reduce your waste by ditching food packaging. Bring your own containers to the store, get them weighed, and fill up! Otherwise, unless you are buying only produce, it is nearly impossible to go shopping without loads of plastic packaging.

Our local Canadian bulk store, “Bulk Barn,” only started a reusable container program a few years ago, and prior to that I would get very frustrated because it seemed impossible to do my part without addressing food packaging. If you are in this situation, head over here to read a post that may help you to reduce your waste without a bulk store nearby.

8) GO LOCAL

No matter what you are consuming, the closer it is to home the more you will reduce your carbon footprint.

This includes:

Home grown Tiger Tomatoes!
  • Eating locally grown & produced food.
  • Growing your own food.
  • Buy locally made products instead of ordering from far away (see my Where to Shop page for information about where to go in Niagara).
  • Drinking water from the tap instead of bottled.
  • Make your own items from scratch or repurpose old materials into something new.

How to Steer Clear of Greenwashing

An example – “Farmer’s Market” brand, a strategic name to make you think feel
like you are buying local, but it’s really shipped from Mexico.

If you haven’t heard of Greenwashing, then you need to. Do you remember when more “green” products were coming onto the market? It seemed like either the word “green” or the colour green was on every product I was coming across. At first I was excited, but then I started reading the small print and learning more. There may have been a little portion of the product that was “green,” for example the packaging was made from 10% recycled plastic, but contained an ingredient list the same as the non-green product. Or it visually looked like a sustainable earth-friendly product, but in reality wasn’t at all! This is called Greenwashing. Marketing that makes a product seem eco-friendly, but in reality it isn’t.

Companies ultimately want you to buy their product, and that’s what marketing is for, to convince you to buy it. In a way Greenwashing is a good thing, as it demonstrates that companies are catching on to the desires of the consumer. But if this is a way to trick unknowing customers into buying a product, then this is a shameful way of doing it!

The video below uses Fiji Water as an example of Greenwashing:

Types of Greenwashing

Here are 8 types of greenwashing companies use, and these are straight from an article at Eco Watch (+ 1 from Building Green):

1. Hidden Trade-Off: Labeling a product as environmentally friendly based on a small set of attributes (i.e., made of recycled content) when other attributes not addressed (i.e., energy use of manufacturing, gas emissions, etc.) might make a bigger impact on the eco-friendliness of a product as a whole. Also, just because a product is able to be recycled, does not mean it is being recycled at your local facility, so find out first before you trust the label.

2. No Proof: Making an environmental claim without providing easily accessible evidence on either the label or the product website (i.e., a light bulb is touted as energy efficient with no supporting data, such as a certification symbol).

3. Vagueness: Using terms that are too broad or poorly defined to be properly understood (i.e., an “all-natural” cleaner may still contain harmful ingredients that are naturally occurring).

4. Irrelevance: Stating something that is technically true but not a distinguishing factor when looking for eco-friendly products (i.e., advertised as “CFC-Free”—but since CFCs are banned by law this is unremarkable).

5. Lesser of Two Evils: Claiming to be greener than other products in its category when the category as a whole may be environmentally unfriendly (i.e., an organic cigarette may be greener, but, you know, it’s still a cigarette).

6. Fibbing: Advertising something that just isn’t true (i.e., claims to be Energy Star Certified, but isn’t).

7. Worshiping False Labels: Implying that a product has a third-party endorsement or certification that doesn’t actually exist, often through the use of fake certification labels.

8. Green by Association: A company slathers itself and its marketing thoroughly in environmental terms and images so that even if its products have no environmental benefits, consumers associate them with positive environmental attributes. Examples: Gas-guzzling cars and trucks pictured in remote natural settings, or housing developments named for natural features that they have destroyed, e.g., “Conifer Lane.”

Common Greenwashing Words: Sustainable, Natural, Naturally Derived, Green, Preservative-free, Organic, Chemical-free, Dermatologist-approved, Botanical, and Holistic.


Another example – Coconut FLAVOURED Cheerios that make you believe its healthy and/or environmental.
In reality there’s absolutely NO coconut in the ingredient list and has nothing more environmental about it.

What Now?

Now that you know what Greenwashing is and how to spot it, you will be more equipped to make a more informed decision as a consumer. Make sure you are educated before buying – shop with intentionality!

Doing your research means just that, get on the internet and find out about the changes you are wanting to make. There is a lot of false information out there on the internet (shocking!), so ensure that the information you read has adequate sources. Unfortunately the growth of the internet has lead to a lot of false information. I have read statistics, claims, and opinions that are outright false or only partially true. Determining whether something is safe or low-impact for the environment can be complicated and will have many layers, and that is why it is good to rely on good research and sourced information.

Is Plastic Really THAT Bad?(Part 2): Are the Alternatives to Plastic any Better?

Are the alternatives to plastic much more superior in their environmental impact?
Looking closer at glass, silicone, bamboo & stainless steel.

In part 1 of this 3-part series I discussed what plastic was, and why it is that there is currently a massive movement toward ditching it. The pollution alone is impacting our waterways, our landfills, and our wildlife, especially single-use plastics.

It made sense to me to explore in part 2 whether the alternatives to plastic are really that much better. You’ve probably seen it, an influx of bamboo kitchen supplies & fabrics, silicone bakeware, and stainless steel water bottles. Or you’ve been hearing a lot about storing our food in glass instead of plastic.

Please note: this information has been simplified and can differ depending on country, product and circumstance. Factors that I considered when discussing each material below include: manufacturing, weight, transportation, recycling, reusability and end of life disposal. All materials require the extraction of needed substances, minerals, and “ingredients.” This requires energy output in the machinery used in the process as well as the travel required to transport it to its manufacturing destination.

GLASS

We are continually interacting with glass in our everyday life. The list includes: spectacles, light bulbs, windows, storage containers, and tableware. So much of our daily lives depend on it. In terms of food storage, I love it! It can withstand both extreme temperatures by being placed in the freezer, thrown in the oven or microwave, and then in the dishwasher to get cleaned. I can also rest assured that it does not contaminate the food that is stored in it. Out of the 4 materials, I was most excited to learn about glass because I love it so much, but how does it hold up in comparison to plastic?

Glass has existed for around 5000 years. It is made through collecting non-renewable natural raw materials such as sand and minerals. These are then heated and melted at an incredibly high heat until it turns into a liquid. From there it is then shaped and manufactured into whatever glass product we use.

The Disappointing Discovery of Sand Mining

My husband listens to the radio every day and keeps me up on relevant news topics. He was the one that first told me about sand mining, and at first I thought, “wait, what? Glass is made from sand??” But then I progressed to the more important information, sand mining. My husband at the time didn’t know a lot of detail about it, so I was hopeful it wasn’t as serious, but alas…

“Sand mining is the world’s largest mining endeavor, responsible for 85 percent of all mineral extraction. It is also the least regulated, and quite possibly the most corrupt and environmentally destructive.” Although mainly for the production of concrete, sand mining is how we get the sand that eventually turns into the glass we use (and also into the Silicone products we use, but I talk more about that below). “This little-noticed and largely unregulated activity has serious costs — damaging rivers, wreaking havoc on coastal ecosystems, and even wiping away entire islands.”

Sand mining in and of itself is not a bad thing, but because it is not regulated and involves corruption for the sake of profit, sand is being extracted at a rate that the ecosystem is unable to replenish itself. “Rivers will attempt to fill in the holes dug out by sand miners, but with twice as much sand estimated to be taken from the world’s rivers as natural processes of sedimentation can restore, they will rarely do it fast enough to undo the damage.” If you’d like to read more about this, please do at the Yale360 article, which is where I extracted the quotes from.

Glass is durable, and can be reused (if not broken) indefinitely. I did find information that the manufacturing of glass produces more greenhouse gasses overall during its lifecycle, but reusing glass several times significantly reduces its overall environmental impact.

Glass also weighs more and therefore requires more gas and oil to transport. “Lighter products require fewer raw materials, which means they take less energy to make and usually produce a smaller carbon footprint. They take less energy to transport to the consumer, and it’s easier to dispose of them when the peanut butter, baby food or soda runs out” (Washington Post). Of course, if a company buys its glass containers from a nearby manufacturing plant and those buying the product walk to the grocery store, the environmental impact of weight and transport of glass significantly decreases.

Glass has been estimated to take 1 million years to decompose (yikes!). This is that much more incentive for me to avoid sending glass to the landfill by ensuring nothing breaks! Glass can be recycled. If a facility has the ability and equipment, glass can be broken down, melted, and made into a new glass bottle. Its integrity is not compromised through the recycling process, whereas plastic does break down the more it is recycled and has an end life. Not all companies or recycling facilities are able/willing to do this though. In the U.S. only 33% of glass is recycled compared to 90% in European countries. At my local recycling facility (Niagara, Ontario), glass is broken down back into sand and sold in bags for sandblasting.

Recycling is a better option than the landfill, but requires energy for transportation and machinery to sort, recycle, and redistribute. Recycling is an element to consider in the overall conversation, but not to be relied on as a reason to use a particular product.

SILICONE

Due to the chemistry headache I got researching Silicone, I have made a purposeful effort to simplify the information below.

Food grade silicone is a synthetic material that has grown in popularity in recent years. Similarly to glass it can withstand extreme temperatures (is microwave & dishwasher safe), is durable, and as far as we are aware it is safe for our bodies and non-toxic. It does not release the same chemicals when heated as plastic does. Keep in mind though, there seems to be little overall research out there on the food grade silicone and its safety.

Silicone is a synthetic rubber that contains bonded silicone and oxygen. Silicone is made from silica sand. This is the same sand used to create glass. Silica sand is also used in the creation of concrete, ceramics, silicon chips (ever hear of Silicon Valley?), computer mouses, grout and caulking filler, wood finishing products, paints, and solar panels. As you can see, we depend heavily on this sand for a ton of the products we use. Silica sand is also extracted through sand mining, so the same environmental concerns that were discussed above with glass also apply to silicone.

Creating silicone products requires extremely high heat, where it is melted down, pigment is added and then it is molded into the intended shape. Manufacturing this material is energy-intensive, similarly to glass.

Silicone is not biodegradable, and is thought to take around 500 years to break down. It is recyclable, but only where facilities are able to. Here in Niagara it is not recyclable. It is very durable though, less likely to break than glass, and has the potential to last longer than most (if not all) of their alternatives. It also does not break down in the same way as plastic, and therefore does not produce the same amount of pollution.

Low grade silicone can contain fillers, which are not disclosed to the consumer, so check the labeling to ensure it is high quality food grade. I read online that a quick test for this is to pinch it and if you see white, that means it has fillers.

BAMBOO

Bamboo forests have many environmental benefits because they function as carbon sinks, produce oxygen, control soil erosion, provide organic matter, regulate water levels in watersheds, conserve biodiversity, beautify the landscape, and essentially contribute to the purification and regulation of the environment” (source).

Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

Wow, that is a big claim. It feels like we should stop right there. Of course the above information is true, if bamboo is left alone to be just a plant instead of a material we extract and use to manufacture products.

Bamboo is a plant, a raw material, and is one of the fastest (if not the fastest) developing plants. With 1,500 different species it can grow anywhere from sea level to 12,000 feet and is grown in sub tropical zones, mainly South East Asia and Central America. It is adaptable with a short life cycle. Where trees can be harvested anywhere from 10-30 years, the bamboo lifecycle is anywhere from 2-5 years. It replenishes quickly, which makes it very sustainable. Bamboo can then be planted over and over without incurring any damage to the environment or to forests, and can survive with significantly less water supply than its alternatives. Bamboo produces more than 35% more oxygen than trees. Research in Japan and elsewhere has demonstrated that bamboo can absorb as much as 12 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare per year. It is also very light weight and can be transported easily. Amazing!

Bamboo has been used in furniture production, for food products, pulp & paper, fuel, textiles, and housing materials. Vitamins, steroids, and amino acids have also been extracted from the plant, and has also been made into beverages, medicines, and pesticides.

It has grown in global popularity as a sustainable eco-friendly alternative for good reason. Unfortunately this growth has lead to illegal logging, negatively impacting natural forests. These forests have been split into fragmented pieces surrounded by human activity. This has also had the consequence of putting the Giant Panda at risk of survival because bamboo is their source of sustenance.

This growth in popularity has also lead to mass deforestation in China as they have increased in number their bamboo plantations, with little government regulation. Having a bamboo plantation with no biodiversity leads to an increase in insect populations, leading to a high amount of pesticide use. There are now broad initiatives underway in China to attempt to rehabilitate degraded forest lands by restoring biodiversity and improving soil and forest condition.

Bamboo is grown and harvested overseas from Canada, which means it takes a lot of energy to travel before it ends up in our home. Although at this point in history in our globalized world, it is difficult to find anything 100% made locally when you look at and consider all stages from extraction to consumption.

There has been a lot of information published recently about bamboo fabric. It has been advertised as an eco-friendly alternative, especially in comparison to cotton. Typically the fabric is made by soaking the bamboo in a variety of chemicals in order to break it down into a soft pulp. These chemicals are known to be harmful to human health and aquatic life, and are released into our water supplies. If you want to read more about this, please read this very informative article by The Green Hub. In this article they clarify the many terms used to describe different bamboo fabrics and what they mean. This article also talks about how Bamboo Linen is a chemical-free alternative, but is rare to find.

What about other bamboo products? Bamboo is cut down, split into strips, and dried out. It is then layered and shaped into the product it is meant to be, glued and/or polished. Heat is sometimes used to shape it into the end product. Some bamboo products are “carbonized,” which is exposing the wood to high heat to give it a brown colour (example: bamboo flooring). The more the bamboo product is in its natural solid form (for example: plates, toothbrush, hair brush, etc.), the more environmentally friendly it is. It is naturally a very hard material, which is why it takes a lot of chemical processing for it to be broken down into fabrics such as towels, clothes, or sheets.

Food grade bamboo is made from bamboo or something called bamboo fibre. Bamboo fibre is extracted from bamboo pulp and then made into tableware. There are chemical and natural ways to extract the fibre, so I would do my research prior to buying any bamboo product claimed to be made from its fibre.

Bamboo is biodegradable because it is a natural raw material, but only if it has not been chemically treated. How long it takes to biodegrade is anywhere from around 6 months to a couple of years depending on the product. Recycling bamboo will depend on your local facility. I had a difficult time finding much information on this, but I did read a lot of sources that were confident that you can just burry it in your backyard and it will naturally biodegrade.

If you want to read about bamboo toilet paper, click here.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is everywhere. It’s in our buildings, infrastructure, tools, ships, trains, automobiles, machines, appliances, and so much more. 

Photo by Sander Dalhuisen on Pexels.com

Steel production is the most energy consuming and CO2 emitting industry in the world. Stainless steel is a complicated material in the extraction and manufacturing processes, involving 1,400 steps each with its own environmental impact (eek!). For example, the mining of chromium ore, which is an essential piece of the stainless steel ingredient list, involves energy-intense heating to extract the metals needed that eventually becomes stainless steel. This process releases greenhouse gasses, carcinogens, and toxic material into soil, air and water.

Manufacturing stainless steel requires 10x more pollution than regular steel. To make it, raw materials such as iron ore, silicon, nickel, and other things, are melted together in an electric furnace. This usually involves 8-10 hours of intense heat. It is melted, welded, ground, cut, polished & formed. Steel production requires something called coke (similar to coal) in its heating ovens, and emits highly toxic air pollution. “Coking” also disposes toxic chemicals into our waterways.

The industry is starting to make changes, at least that is what the steel company websites are all boasting about. During production companies are recycling scrap metal that would have normally been discarded, and some companies are stating that up to 70% of the end product is coming from recycled material.

Food grade stainless steel is safe to use (for example: water bottle, straw, cutlery, storage containers). There may be leaching of some elements of stainless steel into your food or liquid, but they are generally not toxic and are at levels that are safe to consume. Stainless steel should not be confused with aluminum, although at times they look very similar (example: water bottles). Aluminum products are coated with plastic, so ensure that what you’re buying is actually stainless steel.

These items we use in our everyday lives are durable and will not break down easily. If taken care of they have the potential to last forever. Stainless steel is 100% able to be recycled, and can be dropped off at a scrap metal recycling yard.

SUMMARY

  • GLASS: is safe, non-toxic, reusable, although heavy and can be easily breakable. Sand mining is unregulated, corrupt, and environmentally destructive.
  • SILICONE: newer material that is extremely durable and reusable, lightweight, and non-toxic. This material also is created through sand mining.
  • BAMBOO: super renewable resource that naturally biodegrades after it becomes unusable. Safe to use & non-toxic. Not able to be grown in Canada. Popularity in the resource has caused environmental destruction in China due to bamboo plantations. Bamboo textiles are chemically treated and polluting our air and water.
  • STAINLESS STEEL: most energy consuming industries globally. Polluting our air and water. Durable, long life span, and light weight.

CONCLUSION

So, is plastic really THAT bad? Yes. Plastic is by far the biggest land and water pollutant compared to any other material. Made from fossil fuels, it is full of toxic chemicals. It isn’t durable and breaks down into tiny pieces, and makes its way into our earth and oceans. With most of this pollution coming from single-use plastics, no wonder there is a push for reusable materials like the ones mentioned here.

The above materials have their own environmental issues, but what makes them far superior is that they can be reused for their entire lifetime, which could be as long as our entire lifetime. There are also some plastic products that can be reused (but with a shorter lifespan and more potential to break), and so no matter what product we are using, we need to REUSE them until their end.

Moving forward we should be looking to replace our plastic with its alternatives, but simply ditching all the plastic we have and consuming the same amount in another material form is not the answer. As you can see, even the production of these alternatives has an environmental cost. This type of thinking – our chronic consumptive culture – has more of an environmental impact than what material an item is made of.

Single-use items need to go. No matter if it’s paper straws, “biodegradable” cups, or wooden cutlery at a fast food restaurant (yes, McDonalds, I’m talking about you), going through the extraction and production process for any item to use only once is incredibly wasteful and harmful to our planet, especially when we have reusable resources right at our finger tips!

What I hope part 2 has done is give you the information needed to make an informed choice if you need to buy something new. But ultimately I hope it has also inspired you to use what you have, to think through your purchases more intentionally, and be an end-user.

SOURCES

Glass:
Washington Post
TappWater
c&en
Scienceabc
YaleEnvironment360
Niagara Region

Silicone:
Minerals Education Coalition
MPA
Quebec Gov
Recycle Bank
David Suzuki

Bamboo:
Science Direct
The Guardian
The Guardian
Organic Clothing
Bamboo Habitat
Guadua Bamboo

Stainless Steel:
sassda
NY Times
Greenspec
The World Counts

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