Archive for the ‘Wastefree’ Category

Sustainability for the Holidays

Whew. It’s been a long time since I’ve got myself together to write a blog post. Let me get back to it!

If you’re anything like me, the holiday season can be a little bit of a nightmare. I love being able to spend time with my family – in fact, if that’s all Christmas was about, I would be thrilled! Food and family, that’s what I want!

But that’s not really the way it works. I come from a long tradition of Christmas like it is on TV – lots of gifts, food, and general holiday excess. And it can honestly be more stressful for me to receive gifts than it is to give it, as I dread being left with a pile of unsustainably made, highly packaged items that I don’t need, no matter the good intentions that went into them.

I’ve had to introduce things slowly into my family, and some changes have stuck, while others are still a battle. But I do have ways that you can make changes for things that are within your control.

Gift giving

There are a lot of great eco-blogs and suggestions about how to be more eco-friendly in your gift giving. Here are a few suggestions:newspaper-wrapping1

  • Reduce and reuse wrapping. Try newspaper or home-decorated recycled paper.
  • Give homemade gifts. If you think about it far enough in advance, homemade items like candles are pretty easy and fun, or edibles like granola, party mix, or baking. For the planners and homesteaders, I love to give home canning or preserves.
  • Like they say at Metro Vancouver, give memories, not garbage. Tickets to plays, concerts, comedy shows, or plans for experiences like taking someone out to dinner and a movie, some kind of lesson, bowling, or Science World.
  • Give the gift of time. For the new mom, 10 hours of babysitting, and for a friend or colleague, offer to teach them something you know (i.e. Candlemaking, home canning). If you have any special skills like plumbing or carpentry, the gift practically makes itself!

Travel Footprint

Many people travel long distances for the holidays to see friends and family, and though I usually recommend the staycation and avoiding flights where possible, family is key and if yours is far away, going home can be the most important part of your year. Invest in quality carbon offsets for your trip. Although there is much debate about the value of carbon offsetting, when flights are non-negotiable, they can be one small way to give back.

Avoid Excessive Consumerism

Boxing Day, like Black Friday, is a nightmare for the environmentalist – so many people, buying so much crap that they don’t need and didn’t know they wanted before it was on sale, or getting a newer version of the same gadget they already have. I actually heard a tech expert on the radio stating, as though it was an obvious fact, that everyone gets a new TV every 3 or 4 years. Seriously? Not necessary. Skip the malls, and stay home with a movie and hot chocolate, or plan a games day with

The summer's preparation for Christmas giving

The summer’s preparation for Christmas giving

friends and family to eat all the leftovers.


Food is a major part of the holidays, so it’s an important piece to consider when thinking about the environmental impact.

  • Where does your turkey come from, and what kind of life did it have? A lot can be said about the horrific conditions of factory farms. If you’re eating meat for the holidays, support local farmers, and invest in a free-range, organic turkey.
  • Buy local – visit the Winter Farmer’s market for your dinner ingredients if you can, buy local organic wines and microbrew beers, and take advantage of seasonal goods for things like pumpkin or apple pie.
  • Don’t make too much. Leftovers are great, but will it all be eaten? So much food goes to waste, and food should not be going to our landfills, taking up shrinking space and releasing greenhouse gases as they decompose inorganically. Dump whatever leftovers you can into a big pot of soup, and compost what’s left.

Save Energy

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - Too many lights?

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – Too many lights?

The holidays are a time when a lot more energy gets used. Reduce your impact on the electrical grid.

  • Consider whether you really need holiday lights, and how many. Use less energy intensive lights, and when they’re broken and burnt out, dispose of them properly.
  • Turn down the heat. Ever been to a holiday party where you could walk around in a tank top and shorts? With more people in the room, not to mention heat produced by cooking and baking, there is no need to crank the heat. Turn it down well before people come over, and encourage visitors to be comfortable in pants and sweaters, rather than dresses meant for summer weather.
  • Use kitchen energy efficiently. Try to do as much baking in a row as possible, to reduce the amount of times you need to heat up the oven. Think ahead to plan for thawing items, to avoid use of the microwave. Keep drinks outdoors, and eliminate the need for the beer fridge.

Give Back

It’s an often mentioned theme, but giving back to your community is a great way to celebrate a time of year meant for love

Give a gift that gives in more than one way

Give a gift that gives in more than one way

and family. Many charities count on donations received during the holidays for their yearly budget, so open your chequebook and be generous. Find out the favourite charity of a family member or friend, and make a donation in their name. If money is a problem, take some time to volunteer at a busy shelter or food bank, if they need it, or commit to volunteering in the New Year.


I have found that by making as many small and large changes as possible, I can reduce my own holiday stress, as fewer things I encounter directly oppose my own values. Every year, I make more changes, and encourage my family to do the same, and small changes don’t detract from the overall holiday traditions. Less stress means a merrier Christmas!


Top ten easy changes you can make towards sustainability

Change can be hard. Trying to break old habits and form new ones does not come easily. But it can be done! Here are my top ten changes everyone can make on their journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

1. Make smart commuting choice

  • Do you really need to drive there?

    Biking on Salt Spring Island

  • Try walking, taking the bus, biking. It might take a bit longer, but you get exercise, it’s cheaper, and no road rage.
  • When you’re ready, try giving up the car entirely. If you live in Vancouver, it is so easy to get around by public transit and bicycle, and when you really need one, there are loads of car shares available (car2go, Zipcar, etc)

2. Switch to 100% recycled products

  • You might be really proud of yourself for recycling, but if you don’t buy recycled products, then where do you think all of that recycling is going?
  • Toilet paper, paper towel, notepaper are easy examples of paper recycled products that are just as good as the non-recycled kinds. And no rainforest gets cut down.
  • Some clothing is made from recycled plastics. MEC carries such products. There are also things such as chairs, tables. This leads into my  next point:

3. Reduce! Stop buying things in plastic!

  • Do you still drink bottled water? Here is an excellent video stating, in 3 minutes and 30 seconds (in an entertaining way), exactly why you should NEVER DRINK BOTTLED WATER. Ever.
  • Besides that, look to buying things in bulk, like beans, rice, nuts, and all sorts of other things. Save-on-Foods usually has great bulk sections. So do some of those mom-and-pop shops on Fraser Street.
  • Bring your own containers and bags. You do not need styrofoam containers for that little bit of leftover Chinese. You do not need that plastic bag for those 3 products. Get one of those little pouch bags you can keep in your purse/pocket, and have containers every time you go out for food.

Not good for turtle digestion

4. Support local food systems

  • Some potatoes and greens grown right on our tiny patio.

    Buy from your local farmers market or food that is locally grown. It reduces food miles, and thus carbon footprint.

  • It supports people who work pretty damn hard.
  • Food tastes better when it’s picked and consumed within days, instead of traveling across the globe.
  • When you can’t buy local – and I know, it’s tough – choose organic and fair trade.

5. Give good gifts

  • Give experiences. Tickets to a sporting event or theatre, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
  • Choose things that last a long time, not something that will break right away.
  • Get things that people actually want and need, not just something random because you feel like you’re supposed to get them a gift (no one needs another bath set or scented candle).
  • Edible or otherwise consumable gifts are great – a bottle of nice local wine, some excellent fair trade organic chocolate, some homemade cookies or candles show that you spent more than just money on the person.
  • Don’t wrap it! Seriously, how pointless is wrapping paper and ribbons?

Green Angel campaign from Metro Vancouver


6. Save power

  • It’s good for the environment, and it saves you $$.
  • Turn off you computer, turn off the lights. Seems so simple, but it can make a big difference.
  • Did you know that your electronics still draw power, even when the power is off? You cell phone charger, your laptop, your TV, are all drawing vampire power, even if you think you’ve been diligent and turned everything off. Easiest thing to do is plug everything into a power bar, then turn that off at night. BC Hydro tells us, “Standby power can use up to 10% of a home’s energy consumption.”
  • Hang dry your clothes. A dryer is a serious waste of energy.

7. Save water

  • In a rainy city like Vancouver, water seems endless. But we don’t harness the power of the rain in most places, so it’s important that we are conserving water, so that we have clean water sources for generations to come.
  • Take shorter showers, and lower water use in toilet by putting something solid in the toilet tank (i.e. a filled water bottle), which will reduce the amount used when flushing.

8. Compost

  • Food waste rotting in landfills is a major source of greenhouse gases.
  • You might be thinking this isn’t very easy. But it actually is. If you’re lucky, you live somewhere with curbside pickup. But most of us don’t.
  • You can get a worm composter, which is small enough even for small apartments. The City of Vancouver even offers subsidized bins for residents.
  • Drop off your food scraps at the Farmers Market. The Winter Farmer’s Market at Nat Bailey Stadium collects them, and I hope to see all the farmers markets this summer doing food scrap collection.

9. Eat less and choose better animal products

Happy cows in Agassiz, BC

  • Raising animals for food has huge impacts on the environment, considering everything from waste, land use, feed, and greenhouse gasses.
  • Eat less meat (try Meatless Mondays)
  • When you do eat meat, try to choose happy, healthy meat – grass fed beef, organic free-range eggs and chicken, oceanwise fish. Why? Watch this fun video.

10. Support green initiatives

  • Lots of local and international businesses are trying to reduce their carbon footprints. Support businesses that are doing that, and tell them that’s why you’re supporting them.
  • There are lots of great local green businesses in Vancouver. The Soap Dispensary lets you fill your own shampoo and detergent bottles, and Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. offers sustainable food and social initiatives (not to mention fantastic pizza), to name just a couple.

Soap nuts are my own choice for laundry detergent


So, to sum up, there are lots of things you, as a single person, can do to make small changes. And once you start to make a few, you will start to realize it’s not so hard, and we can all create a wave of more sustainable lifestyles!

Using my own containers

What I learned about blogging today: If I’m going to be any good at it, I’m going to have to get a lot better at being up to date on news stories. I have a bad habit of letting my news intake fall behind a day or two.. always knowing that I will be able to catch up (somewhat) through podcasts and backlogged Twitter posts.

So today, my friend and social media mentor, @erin_braincandy, pointed out this Vancouver Sun article about MacDonald’s, and the fact that some customers had been refused when trying to use their travel mugs for coffee, citing company policy.

I have many opinions about MacDonald’s, most of which lead me to never step in their doors if I can help it. But that aside, they are obviously a scapegoat for what is a common problem. Sure, most places will happily pour your hot beverage of choice into your travel mug. But, as is pointed out in the article, more than once (notably at Tim Horton’s), I have been astonished to see that they take my mug, and still use a paper cup to measure out the amount. This absolutely floors me. Do they think I’m using my own mug because I like the colour? If they were concerned about the size, they could have brought this up with me. I would have paid for an extra large tea just to be sure that they wouldn’t use a paper cup to measure. Or told them that I know for a fact that my mug is exactly the size of a medium (proven by the last time someone filled it to the brim after measuring with a paper cup).

But there is more than the mug at stake. I am the type of person who refuses to eat out if I know there is going to be a take out container (especially a styrofoam one!) involved. If there will be a possibility, I take my own containers with me. My partner and I sit at any restaurant and pack our leftovers into our own containers. If we don’t have any with us (and if we knew we were going out for dinner, that wouldn’t happen), then we order much less food. That’s just the way we work. But I have been in take out places that refuse to put the food in the container. And my response is simply that I won’t eat there. Funnily enough, usually the vendor next door will happily put the food in my container!

Health concerns be damned. If I use my own container, I take my own risks. The minor risk of contamination you might think I risk by not washing my container to the industry standards are much better than the risk that all of those non-biodegradable, toxic styrofoam and dyed paper containers are posing to our land and oceans.

I would like to credit Plastic Manners with giving me a hyper-awareness of the small plastics that come with ordering the simplest things – the stirring stick, the cream containers, the plastic grass with the sushi. Once you start to look carefully, you realize that bringing your own mug is only the tip of the iceberg.

Where styrofoam goes to live forever. *

What is something you always bring out with you? Your own fork or chopsticks? Grocery bag? Is there something you always kick yourself for forgetting?

*Photo credit: SamuelBenoit, Flickr Creative Commons