9 Ways to Reduce Household Waste

I used to think that my menial effort to recycle, and the fact I would never throw garbage out of my car window made me a real tree hugger. I have discovered over this month of January I have a lot of work to do to live more kindly towards the environment. I am by no means an expert now, but here are a few quick changes I have made this month to reduce my ecological footprint.

  1. Be Mindful: This month has been all about self-discovery. My biggest discovery is I am the most wasteful when I am mindlessly going about a task or when I am rushing to complete a task. When I am frantically picking up groceries, or rushing to clean my kitchen, or simply zoning out in the shower I wasted resources, and curiously enough often wasted more time. My best piece of advice for becoming less wasteful is be mindful in your day to day, mundane tasks. 
  2. Shampoo Bars changed my life: 02008Fun fact, I HATE washing my hair. I don’t know why it feels like such a chore but it does. However, I recently discovered something that flipped the script for me (do the kids still say that?). SHAMPOO BARS! I started buying shampoo bars from Lush Cosmetics. I love it for several reasons: they leave my hair shiny and smooth, shorter shower time because I only need to use shampoo no conditioner (which I use to think was sacrilegious but now I’m all about it), it’s vegan, it’s completely waste free, it lasts forever, and it smells like heaven! The secret is to also buy the little metal containers that Lush sells and it helps it last for a long time. Here’s the link to the one I use.
    https://www.lush.ca/en/hair/shampoo-bars/karma-komba/02008.html
  3. Showers: On that note, being more mindful about showers has also been a game changer for me, but I have REALLY had to adjust my mindset about it. I forced myself to remember back to when I lived in Uganda. I remembered that I would NEVER dream of having a 10 minute long cold shower. My showers were 3-4 minutes MAX! With that in mind I had the idea that maybe I should change the temperature of my Canadian showers (not freezing but a little cooler than usual) in an attempt to speed myself up… and it worked. I admit I still have a smokin’ hot shower once a week, but my average shower has become a lot less wasteful. If you’re not convinced, here’s a great article about the benefits of shorter, cooler showers. https://www.bustle.com/articles/152226-how-long-should-you-shower-it-takes-less-time-than-you-think-to-get-clean 
  4. Compost those organics: img_1114After visiting the Surrey Biofuel Plant, I feel so much more empowered to compost my organics. To know that my city has a resource like the Surrey Biofuel Plant and to not utilize it, seems like a waste in itself. But even if you don’t live in the township of Surrey, composting those organics does wonders for the environment. A little trick I learned from a friend of mine is to keep a paper bag in the freezer and put organics in there; reduces the smell in the house, and it’s easy to transfer into the big green bin!
  5. Say “see ya” to those plastic bags: 71p51l7qwdl._sl1500_When I first thought about plastic bags, I thought grocery bags, and then stopped there. The fact of the matter is, we use a TON of plastic bags for so many things. Produce, snacks, clothing shopping etc. A great purchase I made recently was reusable produce bags. They are small enough I can keep them in my purse, I can wash them easily, they save on a lot of plastic, and they’re strong enough not to break like the cheap plastic ones when I’m buying sweet potatoes. Getting in the habit of using them is the hardest part, but once you have, you’ll never go back!  https://www.amazon.ca/Yomitek-Reusable-Washable-Drawstrings-Shopping/dp/B07G2117CJ?keywords=reusable+produce+bags&qid=1547660847&sr=8-1-spons&ref=sr_1_1_sspa&psc=1
  6. The Paper Towel Revolt: A simple change I made to cut down some of our waste was to use cloth rags instead of paper towels. When I was sick this month, I even took it one step further and used a handkerchief instead of Kleenex. I thought the whole idea was disgusting honestly, but my husband pointed out to me how much toilet paper I wasted blowing my nose (and he even got me a nice new hanky) so I had no excuse. 
  7. Learn how to Recycle: This goes along with becoming more mindful. Knowing how and where to recycle makes a big difference for the environment and my household. Here’s a great site for BC residents to help navigate recycling more efficiently: https://www.recyclebc.ca/what-can-i-recycle/   
  8. Ladies Only: A game changer for my time of the month has been Thinx Underwear (or as I affectionately refer to them as: period panties). I use them at the very beginning and the very end of my period when it’s the lightest, and then swap over to tampons when it’s heavier. They are super comfy, and I’m amazed at how clean I feel. They have helped cut down my tampon/liner usage significantly. Next step is to build up my confidence and try the Diva cup; I’ve heard really good things (money saver, kind on the body, kind to the environment, etc.). 
  9. Cut down the Take-Away: My husband and I are pretty good at making home cooked meals, but now that our schedules are reversed I am definitely guilty of leaning towards eating out instead of cooking something just for myself. “It’s only me! Why would I make a big meal! That’s wasteful. This is waste-free January. Sushi here I come!” The obvious problem with this is (other than the waste of money) most “eating out” requires a great deal of packaging. Meal plan, and skip the take-away.

january- pin- waste

Gentle Waste: Mid-Month Update

So far my month of Gentle Waste has been enlightening, but I definitely have work to do to get my household less wasteful! 

My biggest challenge has been cutting down my showers. I timed myself at the beginning of the month and my average shower was about 10 minutes (shorter if it’s a quick “back from the gym” shower, and longer if I wash my hair or shave my legs). I love using my showers to warm me up in the morning, but I have had to consistently remind myself that that is not actually what showers are for. I have, however, found a few practical solutions to help make my showers shorter (and better to be quite honest). I will share some of those solutions in my final post for the month of January. 

Cutting down on my plastic use this month has gone quite smoothly when it comes to my grocery shopping. Where it’s been more challenging? Snacks! I’ve realized how much I use plastic sandwich bags for my snacking items. I know I can use my Tupperware containers but, I confess, I don’t want big bulky Tupperware containers all over the place (which they would be in my car, in my purse, lost at work etc.). 

Has anyone every used those silicone snack bags? I found some on Amazon, they seem pricey… but potentially worth it? These are the ones I have been scoping out:

https://www.amazon.ca/Stasher-Reusable-Silicone-Bag-Clear/dp/B01DZQT9CU/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1547578765&sr=8-7&keywords=silicone+snack+pouch

If you’ve used these ones or something similar, I’d love to hear your thoughts. They look like they could be a potentially helpful solution. 

imageI also had the chance to visit Surrey’s Biofuel Plant where I learned more about how composting my organics positively affects the environment. Surrey’s Biofuel Plant is the first closed-loop waste management system in North America. When I drove up to the facility I was surprised by the fact that I couldn’t smell the organics (I was expecting to be gagging my way through the place). The Biofuel facility processes the city’s organic waste into 100% renewable natural gas which is then used by natural gas powered service vehicles. The most fascinating part of the tour for me was when I ventured into the organics “viewing area” (at least that’s what I’m calling it).img_9334 I was shocked to see how much garbage made its’ way into the organics piles; the most shocking malfeasance was the white plastic lawn chair protruding from the mountain of banana peels and coffee grounds. The facility not only processes organic waste, but also has an education centre where school groups visit and learn more about renewable natural gas and compost. There was something about watching a bunch of 14 year-olds re-learning how and what to recycle that really warmed my heart.

The past 15 days have helped me realize how many things I do mindlessly through out my day. There have been a couple times I have been out, bought a coffee, and then once the dang thing is in my hands I curse the sky remembering my “no coffee without a reusable mug” rule. 

My biggest revelation from this month so far has definitely been: being less wasteful has a lot to do with being more mindful.

January: Rules for the Month

Eco Footprint: I am currently using 20.3 Hectares of land (Average Canadian: 9 Hectares), 2.3 Earths, and my “Overshoot day” is June 10th 

All I Want for Christmas is EVERYTHING

The Christmas season is always a great reminder for me of all the crap I think I need. I am all of a sudden acutely aware of every kitchen gadget that will elevate my cooking, every item of clothing that will make me feel like a Pinterest feature, and of course the new watch that will track my steps, heart rate, and emotions guaranteeing I will be a more balanced, and aware human. 

The truth is I do not really need anything. I can cook just fine with what I have, I have enough clothes to be fully dressed for work each day, and that watch that counts my steps is only going to turn me into a neurotic basket case, marching in my living room at 10:36pm because I haven’t hit my 10,000 step goal for the day. 

Waste Not, Want Not

I have created a bit of a tradition for myself every time I come home from a trip to Uganda. I arrive home with my luggage covered in fresh red dirt, and my head whirling with thoughts about how us “Westerners” live. Before my shoes are even off I am scanning my house looking to give away anything I haven’t used in the past 6 months. 

“Why do I have so many shoes? No human needs this many throw pillows. Am I planning on conducting a seance? Why do I need all these candles?” I mumble to myself as I ferociously toss all the things I don’t need. 

And here in lies the strange tension I hold between Christmas and my most recent trips to Uganda. How do strike a balance? How do I become a conscious consumer in every season of my life? How do I de-clutter but also not waste that which I already have? 

Rules for the Month of “Gentle Waste” January

In the past being “waste free” looked like a giant purge of my home inventory. I was living “simply” if my counters were clean, and my Tupper-ware cupboard wasn’t overflowing. However once I took the Eco footprint quizzes (Eco Foot Print Quiz 1 and Quiz 2 ) a whole new world of (rather simple) changes opened up to me. I was forced to think about the way I consume and waste not just at home, but also when I’m out and about. 

Here are my goals for January: 

  1. Shopping: Reusable bags for groceries and produce, cut down food that has packaging (by at least half). Look into reusable snack bags, and wraps. This is really just a matter of REMEMBERING my bags. I have all the reusable bags I could ever need, but I am constantly forgetting them in my house or in the car. I suppose it’s also a matter of laziness… walk ALL THE WAY back to the car for a bag? Meh, just once will be okay. 
  2. Cook the correct amount & eat leftovers. We are usually pretty good at this, but we could surely get better. Our biggest problem is when we intentionally make big batches of something and then not freezing it in time. 
  3. Coffee Talk: Make coffee at home. If I am stuck, I am only allowed to purchase a coffee if I have my own reusable cup. Same goes for water. My S’well Bottle has definitely helped with my water consumption and cutting down my use of plastic water bottles, but I have yet to hit my stride with coffee. Having the rule that I cannot have coffee without the cup should definitely keep me thinking about it. 
  4. Recycle with more accuracy and Compost ALL food waste. This feels really shameful to admit, but I have been guilty of throwing out entire containers of food if the food is too moldy or gross to deal with. Especially if it’s just those cheap zip-loc containers. I also get really lazy about composting and recycling. I have no idea what all the different recycle numbers mean, and I am sure I recycle the wrong things to the wrong places. 
  5. Water Usage: 3 minute showers- use a timer/ Reduce flushes/ Cut down dishwasher use. This one kind of devastates me. Not only do I love long, hot showers, I also love putting on full blown concerts whilst in the shower. I’m going to need to find somewhere else to perform the entire score of “Wicked.” 
  6. Watch “A Plastic Ocean,”  and “Before the Flood.” I want to educate myself. I hope the more I know, the more I will care. 
  7. Visit the Surrey Bio-Fuel Plant. Surrey’s Bio-Fuel Plant is one of only a few of its’ kind in all of Canada. An understanding of where my compost goes, and how it’s used will hopefully help my buy in. 

There it is, month one! Any great resources you think I need to be aware of? Any giant blind spots in my plan? I’d love to hear from you. Comment below, and follow along on social media @theashleyrhapsody

The Gentle Project

In the past, whenever I have made “big announcements,” they have been really BIG announcements. For example: “SURPRISE I’m moving to Uganda!” Or, “Surprise, I’m married!” So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I announced on Instagram I had a “big” announcement, and everybody over shot. 

No, I’m not moving or winning a Grammy. 

This announcement does have the potential to be life changing though. 

Let me set this up a bit for you. 

Be Careful

I recall as a child being told to “ Be Careful!” an awful lot. Be careful not to break your toys, your bones, your friends toys, or your friend’s bones. As I grew older the list of things I needed to become more “careful” of changed. Be careful where you walk at night, be careful with how you dress, be careful to choose the right friend group, and be careful with what you say and how you say it. An endless list of all that could befall me developed. 

As a result, I have grown to be a rather “careful” person. I would not say that I exhibit very risky behaviour: I have never broken a bone, I’ve never smoked a cigarette, I don’t think I’ve ever been drunk (I got giggly once after my second Bellini, does that count?), and I’ve led a pretty vanilla young-adulthood. 

As careful as I have attempted to be in my life, I had an epiphany over the past year: I am a very careful person, but I am not very gentle. 

Peaches, Pampers, and Baby Animals 

When I hear the word, “gentle” I think of baby ducklings and Dove soap. I think of pastel colours, Jesus holding a lamb, and diaper commercials (which is funny because diapers themselves are quite possibly the complete opposite of gentle). 

To me, being gentle to the earth meant: “The Three ‘R’s.” 

Being gentle to myself meant: don’t get drunk, or high, or obese. 

Being gentle to others meant: treat other’s the way you would like to be treated. 

Being gentle looked a lot like abiding by Sunday School directives, and if you did those things, Congrats! One ticket to heaven! 

I have taken great pride in the illusion of my “gentleness,” but really I am just good at being careful not to appear as if I am a shitty human being. 

An Alarmist 

I think that I need to become more radical about how I treat the earth, others, and myself. The older I get the more I recognize that these things are intrinsically connected; I can no longer merely exist knowing the way I mindlessly shop, eat, clean, spend, and talk affects those around me so deeply. I also think it is hypocritical of me as a “Christian” to say I believe theologically I am meant to be a steward of the earth, and then on a practical level treat the earth like trash. 

I thought a great way to start thinking more deeply about this would be to calculate my ecological footprint. I went to www.footprintcalculator.org and did their quiz to determine what my ecological footprint is, and to calculate my overshoot day. 

Do you know what an overshoot day is? I had no idea. The world’s overshoot day in 2018 was August 1st; that is the day humanity exhausted nature’s budget for the year. To put it in financial terms, August 1st is the day we stop paying cash, and start throwing all our coffee orders on the credit card. 

I did the quiz, and to be honest, I thought my results wouldn’t be too bad. My husband and I carpool to work or use public transit, we recycle, I buy my clothes from consignment, and we make the occasional vegan meal… what more could you ask for Earth? 

I was expecting a hearty pat on the back for all my efforts but instead, I was floored! 

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 1.42.42 PM

2.3 Earths! That’s how many earths we’d need if everyone on this planet lived like me. To make matters worse, my overshoot day was June 10th. To remind you, humanity’s average was August 1st… which still sucks. 

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 1.43.07 PM

After calculating my Ecological Footprint on www.footprintcalculator.org  a teacher-friend of mine shared another more extensive Eco footprint calculator. 

That quiz can be found here if you’re interested: http://www.earthrangers.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/how_big_is_my_ecological_footprint.pdf

I thought surely I would be around the average consumption level, but this quiz gave me an even WORSE score. 

Our earth has approximately 12 billion hectares of biologically productive land and there are about 6.3 billion people on the planet. This means that the average person should use approximately 1.9 hectares of biologically productive land (the “Average Earth Share” number). The average Canadian uses 9 hectares (22 acres). 

Do you want know how many hectares I use? Approximately 20.3 Hectares! That’s right, recycling, no-meat-Monday Ashley is using 20.3 hectares of land. That’s 11.3 more than the average Canadian, and 18.4 more than I should as a human. 

The Gentle Project

It’s time for me to make some changes, and I would love all of you to keep me accountable.

Each month in 2019 I will develop a new way in which I can be gentler to the earth, those around me, and to myself. At the beginning of each month I will share what my “Gentle Project” will be, and how I am planning to stick with it. I will do my best to share what I learn and to be honest about how committed I’ve been. My goal will be to build upon each month, and not ditch what I learned the month before. 

Each month I will also retake the ecological footprint quiz to see if I can move my “overshoot day” (and perhaps also adjust the number of earths I use). 

I am, clearly, not an expert in this area so I could use all the help I can get. Feel free to share your feedback, take the Ecological Footprint Quiz for yourself, let me know how many earths you’re using, and maybe even join in on the fun! 

Changing how I live is a scary thought, but I am excited for the challenge. 

The Gentle Project begins January 1st, 2019!