Category Archives: Environment

Zero-Waste Challenge Recap

Plastic Waste

Here is all the single-use plastic waste we generated in April after our zero-waste challenge – enough to fill two plastic bags. I’m not sure if that’s a success or a failure. It’s a lot less than the average family but I thought we could do better.

A third of it was recyclable – hard plastics and tetra-paks. A third was soft plastic that London Drugs will take for recycling – although I’m skeptical of what they actually do with it. A third, sadly, went straight into the garbage.

We were pretty good at not buying new products with plastic packaging, but that didn’t stop us from using what we already had in the fridge and cupboards. Most of the plastic waste we generated was from food products we bought back in March.

Everytime we generated plastic waste, we tried hard to find a replacement that didn’t have plastic packaging. Some things we managed to find plastic-free alternatives for, but it was shocking how much of the grocery store is covered in plastic. If it wasn’t for Nada, we would have generated a lot more plastic waste.

The hardest plastic packaging to avoid:

  • Anything medical, like Astrid’s medications
  • Vitamin containers
  • Cereal – we can get bulk granola but not cereal flakes
  • Garden seedlings, fertilizers, and soil
  • Tetra paks from juice and plant-based milks
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Convenience foods, like perogies and sausages

The only plastic that was easier than expected to avoid was take-out containers. A lot of food carts and restaurants in Vancouver use compostable packaging, and all of them will once the styrofoam ban comes into effect in April 2020.

I’m happy to see more cities jumping on the zero-waste bandwagon and banning plastic and styrofoam: Montreal ‘going to war’ against single-use plastic and styrofoam food containers.

But the biggest change has to come from grocery stores. They are the only ones with the power to influence suppliers. If some of the big chains in Canada (like Loblaws, Sobeys, or Overwaitea) made a concerted effort to cut down on plastic packaging, it would make a huge difference.

Now that our challenge is over, there are a few habits we picked up last month that we will continue with.

  1. Being conscious of plastic packaging and choosing products without plastic where possible.
  2. Doing more shopping at the zero-waste stores in Vancouver.
  3. Buying fresh vegetables that aren’t in plastic (like field cucumbers)
  4. Making our own pizza dough instead of buying it.
  5. Making own own hemp milk (see recipe below) instead of buying plant-based milks in tetra paks.
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Zero waste Challenge – No Single-Use Plastic

India - Cochin

For the month of April, we’re taking a zero waste challenge and trying to avoid all single-use plastics.

That means no plastic take-out containers, no straws, no bags of cereal, no plastic-wrapped english cucumbers, and the list goes on.

Plastic Wrapped Carrots

That might sound impossible, but we’re lucky to have some good resources to help. In addition to bulk bins at conventional grocery stores, Vancouver has 2 amazing zero-waste shopping options Nada and the Soap Dispensary, where we can fill reusable containers with food and other household products.

Nada Shopping

To kick off the month, I purchased a nice safety razor to replace the standard 5-blade Gillette and Schick ones I’ve used in the past (inspired by this AOC tweet). Safety razors are a little trickier to use, but have zero plastic and are cheaper to buy blades for.

We also had a successful zero-plastic pizza dinner on Sunday night. The biggest challenges were the crust and cheese. Normally we buy pizza crusts and Daiya cheese in plastic packaging. But we found Daiya cheese at Nada and made the crust from scratch, which was surprisingly easy and fun even if a bit more time consuming.

Our hope is that by being conscious of our plastic use this month, and striving for zero, we will learn new ways of reducing it once the challenge is over (like making pizza dough from scratch). It also gets us ready for a future when single-use plastics are no longer commonplace. There’s a growing movement worldwide to reduce our use of throwaway plastics. Here are some examples:

  • Europe has agreed to ban single-use plastics by 2021.
  • The NDP has promised to get rid of single-use plastics in Canada by 2022 if elected.
  • Vancouver’s straw ban goes into effect on June 1, 2019, with other single-use plastics targeted in coming years.
  • California, New York, and Hawaii are leading the charge in the USA with state-wide plastic bag and straw bans.

Nada – Early Sneak Peek Review

Nada Grocery Soft Launch
Vancouver’s zero waste grocery store, Nada, officially opens on Wednesday June 20. As an early supporter and crowd-funder, I got to do some shopping and help test out their systems at a soft launch yesterday.

The store is roomy with a clean, modern aesthetic. It speaks a lot to the philosophy of the company that they were conscious during construction to minimize their footprint, which you can read all about in their blog series Building A Low-Impact Grocery Store.

I’m really impressed and can’t wait to do more shopping at Nada.

How does it work?

Nada is a packaging-free grocery store. You bring your own containers and pay for everything by weight. When you enter the store, you go to a self-serve weigh station to tag your jars and containers. It’s really simple. They have these fancy NFC stickers (dishwasher safe) that you stick to the bottom of your containers and it remembers the empty weight of the container. You then wander around the store, filling your containers with food, and pay at the front. When you pay, they scan the NFC stickers, weigh your stuff, and automatically subtract the weight of the empty container so you only pay for what you bought. The bins all have numbers on them, but you don’t have to write them down. They figure that out on checkout. Read more here.

Nada

Seconds after paying for your order, you’ll get an email with the receipt. A lot of stores do this now, which I appreciate. But I was really amused to read the product descriptions that Nada has included in theirs, like: “Hummus is where the heart is, but these versatile beans are good for a falafel lot more” and “Don’t like legumes? You’ve now bean blacklisted.”

Nada Receipt

I recommend bringing a bunch of wide mouthed jars (Adams peanut butter and Vega protein powder are my favourites) plus some bags (cloth or plastic) to do your shopping with. The jars can be tagged with NFC stickers the first time you buy something and then reused on future shopping trips. With the bags you can weigh them if you want, but the weight is often so negligible it doesn’t make a difference.

Seeds

What do they carry?

They didn’t have everything setup on Saturday, but they already had a good selection of nuts, beans, grains, dried fruit, baking supplies, loose-leaf teas, and granola available. Brianne showed me a stack of labels 6 inches thick of products that still need to be put out, so expect a lot more. They also had liquid containers with oils and vinegars, plus liquid soaps. The fridges will have produce and the freezers will have frozen fruit, perogies, and other frozen products they can source without packaging.

Loose Leaf Teas

It’s worth noting that although there are a lot of gluten-free products in the store, nothing is labelled as such because they can’t guarantee a customer hasn’t contaminated it, even though every bin has its own scoop.

This sounds like the Soap Dispensary

Nada is a lot like the Soap Dispensary, one of my favourite shops on Main Street. While the Soap Dispensary focuses on cleaning and beauty products, but also has food in their recently expanded store, Nada will focus on food with some cleaning products. The other big difference is the Soap Dispensary does all the filling for you where Nada is self-serve. Hopefully this will eliminate the long waits that seem to plague the Soap Dispensary every time I visit. There also seems to be a some slight difference in philosophy between the two stores. Both stores do a great job reducing waste by helping consumers refill containers, but it seems like Nada is taking a harder line against plastic with nothing plastic for sale in the store.

Hours and Location

Nada is located on Broadway at Fraser Street, right next to a B-line stop. There aren’t any bike racks in front of the store, but there are two big racks just around the corner on Fraser Street.

Starting on Wednesday June 20, they’ll be open 7-days a week from 10am – 7pm.

Happy zero-waste shopping everyone.

Wayne Easter and Meat Politics

cow

As evidence continues to mount that eating meat and dairy is not only detrimental to the planet but also to human health, politicians in Canada are stubbornly committed to supporting the animal agriculture industry.

Take the recent tweets of Wayne Easter, MP for Malpeque, PEI & member of Liberal Government of Canada, who proudly tweeted about his meeting with cattle lobbyists.

When he was questioned about the environmental and health impacts of animal agriculture, he responded with: “have a T-bone steak. It will make you feel better”.

https://twitter.com/WayneEaster/status/758744760068648960

Which offended many people and as the outrage mounted he tried the “I’m not racist, I have black friends” defence.

Before claiming that it was hard working farmers and their families that were being attacked, which is ridiculous as all of the replies to his tweets were respectful and focussed on public policy.

Unfortunately the questions that Canadians were asking still remain unanswered. I wonder if anyone in the Liberal Government can explain:

  • Why we subsidize animal agriculture when it is increasingly obvious it is not healthy for humans or the planet?
  • Why does the Canada food guide still have sections “Milk and Alternatives” and “Meat and Alternatives”. If it was based on the best science, it would look like the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate, which has a section for “Healthy Protein” and it recommends limiting milk consumption.
  • How will Canada meet its climate change commitments made in Paris (to limit global warming to 1.5 C) without reducing the amount of animal products that Canada produces and consumes?

harvard_healthy_plate

Vancouver’s Zero Waste Market

Zero Waste Market

Here’s a new business that I’m really excited about – Vancouver’s Zero Waste Market. The idea is a grocery store that completely avoids packaging. You have to bring your own containers and fill them from their bulk bins.

They don’t have a store front yet (they said they’re considering locations in Kitsilano, Olympic Village, and Main). In the meantime, they’ve been operating monthly pop-up shops in the Patagonia store on 4th Avenue and advertising on it Facebook.

I didn’t know what to expect, so I grabbed a bunch of empty jars from our cupboards and a few cloth bags.
Empty Jars

I was able to fill them with quinoa, dried mango, dried pineapple, walnuts, chocolate, cranberries, hemp seeds, mushrooms, and a red onion.
Zero Waste Market Purchases

Most of the waste we generate at home is food packaging. If we were able to eliminate that, we would be close to a zero-waste family.

Great Climate Race

Great Climate Race
I’m all set for the Great Climate Race. I’ll be running 10km around Stanley Park this morning. The event is the perfect merger of two of my passions – running and environmental activism.

The money raised by the race will go to fund new solar installations around BC. You can donate here

I’m not in the best of shape, but I’m hoping to go under 43 minutes.

–Update–
Official Results: 41:36
Strava: 41:45

EnerNOC Vancouver Great Climate Race Team

Vancouver's fastest and most climate conscious employer. Good job Team Enernoc! Really impressed with all the PBs today, and the well organized race. #greatclimaterace #run #runvan

Team Enernoc – representing the fastest and most environmentally conscious employer in Vancouver. I was really impressed with all the PB’s today.

More pictures:
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