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eXXpedition North Pacific in the Salish Sea

EXXpedition Round-up: The Science, The Sailing and The Sights

I’m back from eXXpedition! We’re still waiting on all of the samples to be confirmed by the scientists we took them for so while I can’t share any confirmed data just yet I can start sharing what we saw and did on this microplastic research voyage. 

I will update this post once the data has been confirmed.

Everyone keeps asking me how eXXpedition was. Which is a completely normal and appreciated question but one I’ve struggled to answer adequately. Of course it was amazing, I mean, 8 days of sailing the west coast of British Columbia and Washington is a dream. Especially when you’re in the company of 13 inspiring, funny and downright lovely women. Having said that, it was also really hard at times. The physical and mental challenges were easy to take in stride (unless you suffered from seasickness) but the emotional tax of collecting microplastics out of the ocean was draining. We did our best to stay positive, morale matters when you’re living on top of each other.

Manta Trawler on eXXpedition North Pacific

The sampling was a stark reminder that BC’s wilderness is not pristine. Most of our modern lifestyles degrade our coast and rainforests everyday. The microplastic issue goes from conceptual to real, quickly, when you’re picking plastic particles out of zooplankton. Emily Penn, co-founder of eXXpedition, knows the power of this and that’s what inspired her to start the voyages in the first place. She recognized taking a group of women with a diverse skill set and placing them on a boat together to confront this issue, analyze it and problem solve could be life changing. It is.

The Sailing

Our route in the end was Vancouver – Prevost Island (Xwes’ hwum) – Benson Island (C’isaa), Broken Islands Group – Victoria – Seattle.

We sailed through half of the nights in order to cover the distance in 8 days. As a night owl it should’ve come as no surprise that night watch ended up my favourite duty. A warm cup of tea hooked off the helm, fog, bioluminescent swells, stars and cold salty wind in your face – that’s when I felt truly at sea. Not to mention I thoroughly enjoyed the both silly and deep conversations that come with trying to keep each other awake and entertained.  

Moon rise on eXXpedition North Pacific

Our last night sail was unplanned, we’d lost time fixing a snapped steering cable so sailing through the night was the only way to make it to our final destination on schedule. I was on watch as we sailed into Seattle under the rising blood moon. Successfully throwing the thick, heavy dock line across the 3 meter gap felt like a pivotal moment for me. I’d done it, I felt at home on this boat and would be walking away with new skills, confidence and friendships. I wished we could do it all over again. 

I can’t wait for the next opportunity to get back out there. 

The Science

We performed 5 different types of sample collection on board:

Manta Trawler

The manta trawler looks like a manta ray with wings out to the side and a very fine mesh collection net that trails behind. For each sample we put it in the water for 30 minutes while travelling 5-7 knots, it skims approximately a half meter wide area of surface water. When the 30 minutes is up we hoist it out of the water and unscrew the net to filter the contents through a sieve with 3 separate screens to filter particles by size. We then pluck anything we think may be plastic out of the sieve and put it into a vial using tweezers. When in harbour we could then examine the samples under a microscope and separate anything organic out and tally the microplastics. This was all done following the 5 Gyres Protocol. Further analysis of the samples will be able to confirm the amount of microplastics and what grade of plastic they are. While we wait for that I can share an example estimate based on the sample taken in the Strait of Georgia.

10 particles per 1.28 cubic km = approximately 20 million* surface microplastics in the Strait of Georgia.

*Due to current variables and this being an unconfirmed sample I want to stress this is a rough estimate calculated only to give you an idea of the scale of the issue.

What is interesting to note about the Strait of Georgia sample is it contained the most synthetic (plastic) microfibers due to the proximity to major cities.

Manta Trawler on eXXpedition North Pacific

Microplastic samples on exxpedition North Pacific

Microplastic sample from exxpedition North Pacific

The Ocean Indicator

We referred to this contraption as the mini manta trawler because it essentially does the same thing on a smaller scale. It can also tell us about the ocean health based on density and colour of algae. Our lead scientist, Imogen Napper, is examining the results of these samples back in her lab.

Nanoplastic Samples

Nanoplastics are too small to see with the naked eye so to take samples we lowered and raised a bucket to collect sea water. From there we filled up jars and labelled them with the sample number, longitude and latitude. It will be really interesting to find out the results from these.

Nanoplastic water sampling on exxpedition North Pacific

Sediment Samples

We know 8 million tonnes of plastic is going into the ocean every year but what we’re finding on the surface isn’t accounting for it all. Scientist are trying to figure out if plastic is sinking by testing different levels of the water column and the ocean floor. We performed two sediment samples with a claw like contraption, one in Vancouver and one in Victoria.

Sediment sampliing for microplastics in Vancouver on exxpedition North Pacific

Air Samples

The scientist who requested this sample method wanted the collection unit to be placed at the front of the boat but we couldn’t do so without interfering with our ability to sail.  We had to secure it to the back of the boat which means all of us crew could have been contaminating the samples. However, we did our best to wear non-shedding or organic material clothing (thanks Finisterre, Gill and Sitka!). The concern is that there are nano and microplastics in our air that we breath in daily. I’m looking forward to hearing what the scientist comes back with on this one.

Mercury Test

Laura, the on-board Marine Biologist, cut a small clump of hair from each of us to send off for mercury testing. This will tell us what our individual mercury levels are. Emily warned us this test takes the longest so we probably won’t have the results until 2019.

The eXXpeditioners

If I begin to try and tell you about these amazing women, we’ll be here all day. They made the trip for me and I feel so fortunate to have met them all. I’ll be sharing how this diverse group of sailors, scientists, filmmakers, media professionals, anthropologists, administrators and more fight for solutions in their own ways on my Instagram series #womenofexxpedition. You can also find out more about them through the crew profiles on the eXXpedition blog.

The Sights

Hands down, our collective favourite area was the Broken Island Group. As we sailed into view Sarah started playing the Jurassic Park theme song, that is how unreal it felt. We did a marine debris clean up on the west shore of Benson Island (C’issa) and the landscape felt like another planet. Hank and Aaron from the Tseshaht Nation Beach Keepers explained to us that the mounds of Benson Island (C’isaa) had been built up from thousands of years of discarded sea shells. The history, geology and scenery make this place one that will stick with you for a lifetime.

On our way south from the Broken Island Group to Victoria we finally saw orcas somewhere around Sooke. I’d assured the girls we’d 100% see orcas so by day 6 with no sign of them I was starting to get some questions! We’d been in the fog most of the way down and up the west coast so to be honest, we could’ve been side by side the whales and had no idea. But on that morning we broke through the fog and someone spotted far off dorsal fins. Chaos erupted as everyone scrambled for the right photography / videography / gear and rushed up on deck. Picture the front row of a boy band concert and that was us. We stopped the boat and to our surprise the pod decided to swim over and investigate us. The baby of the group playfully breached and tail slapped it’s way along. One of the adults swam parallel to the boat to float there with one eye out of the water, staring at us. She repeated this a couple times and you could feel that it was an intelligent being starting back at you.

Killer Whales off of Vancouver Island

All of our confirmed whale sightings we recorded for the BC Cetacean Sighting Network and you should to! The results help monitor populations and make a case for environmental protection as needed.

On this morning we’d gotten the news about the southern resident killer whale J-35 Tahlequah carrying her dead calf. Seeing these whales really drove home what we were doing out there. Like us, orcas are effected by endocrine disruption from ingesting and being exposed to plastic. Endocrine disruption can lead to problems with fertility, birth defects and more. On top of that these toxics are also passed from the mom to the calf in utero and during birth. While we can’t say for sure that these factors contributed to the death of this calf in particular it is certainly a concern for this endangered population.

The Future

I’m not done with microplastics! I’ve been pitching ocean and outdoor publications to get this story out there and increase public awareness/care. Being the photographer for this voyage really sparked my passion for documenting environmental issues and I hope to pursue more of this. I’ll also continue to volunteer with eXXpedition on their social media team and for other efforts as needed.

My other goals include finding like-minded businesses to work with, continuing to help people make plastic-free lifestyle swaps and conducting solution workshops with businesses and community groups. This month I get to take part in National Geographic Explorer and Fellow, Joe Gabrowski’s school education program Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants. I love the idea of learning not being limited to location and I’m looking forward to chatting with classrooms across the country about our voyage.

I also want to help you get involved! If you’re passionate about this issue but don’t know how you can help (beyond lifestyle changes) email me! I’ll help you figure out how your unique skill set and experience can be put to use. Email: nikkeydawn[at]

A huge, massive thank you to all of my personal donors and sponsors (more on them coming soon) and our voyage partners and sponsors. You made this important research possible!

Whew, that was a long one, thank-you for making it all the way down here!

5 Plastic Free Personal Care Swaps

This post is part of an on-going series about going plastic free one area of your life at a time. See the other posts here and sign-up for Nikkey’s newsletter to recieve new plastic free challenges as they come out. This challenge is inspired by her work with eXXpedition on a microplastic research voyage through the Pacific Ocean. 

As Nikkey sails the Pacific Ocean I want us to talk about consumer guilt. Everyone has had it at one point. Maybe from the clothes we buy, plastic packaging we see or for the purpose of today’s topic…. Plastic in personal health care products.

This was an area I’ve wanted to make changes in for some time. I tried desperately to use cloth diapers for our son. Turns out he has the most sensitive unicorn skin known to man. No washing/cream/liner combo was going to prevent terrible diaper rash. I had to give up. But waste not, want not – all the cloth diapers have been regifted as swimsuits to replace disposable swim diapers.

Seeing how we talked diapers, lets get real and talk periods. That’s right, let’s talk about feminine hygiene products – AKA pads and tampons. When I started to think about the fragrances, chemicals and plastics used in traditional pads it was a no-brainer to switch. I had best intentions of making my own, but life is busy and I soon came to my senses and ordered some online. I’ve seen a few options in natural health stores but I purchased mine from HannahPad. They are organic, ethically made, work amazing and wash really easily. I purchased the probiotic soap as well which also worked wonders on the sweat stains of my husbands baseball hats.

Toothbrush & Toothpaste
I’ll admit to this one. I haven’t switched over my toothbrush. I have terrible teeth and I’m addicted to my electric toothbrush. But if you are ready to ditch the plastic and electricity there are loads of options available either online or in most natural health stores. Your options range from bamboo to charcoal. I’ve even recently seen eco-dental floss. About time! I have used a natural toothpaste but said terrible teeth need the chemical stuff or they are super sensitive….Starting to realize where Logan gets all his sensitivities from? If you use a regular toothpaste like I do there are places that do recycle the packaging such as Terracycle.

This spring my husband asked for a safety razor for his birthday. He was obsessed with the entire process. He only saves once a month so he liked the idea of making it more of a ritual with the brush, lather, oil, razor and moisturizer. After nervously watching him a few times I realized this was a great option for ladies too! Why should I have to use plastic razors and shaving cream in an areosole can? Especially when I get so annoyed that I have to look for a sales person to unlock the cabinet to buy replacement blades. I just buy another razor resulting in more plastic waste. This weekend I took the plunge. I shaved my legs with the safety razor and it was kind of fun. Only cut myself once and didn’t even feel it. Damn, that blade was sharp! It can’t be done in our shower so definitely takes more time but it was worth it knowing I was using environmentally friendlier products.

Every Christmas our Grandma gives every woman in our family the plastic shower puff things meant to lather soap. Super well intended, but super bad for the environment. I can say with certainty those things will never ever break down in a landfill. Luffa sponges and the like are a much more sustainable option and they do a better job of exfoliating the skin. Instead use a 100% cotton washcloth to lather soap.

Facial & Body Scrubs
This is the biggie. The one that has received the most media attention in recent years. The little wee plastic balls that some genius (sarcasm) thought was necessary to add to hand sanitizer and soap. As if this was going to help get our hands cleaner? Stop the spread of flu viruses? While most of these plastic compounds are now or soon-to-be banned in Canada and US you can still make an impact with your purchasing habits. There are certain stores and product lines I will no longer shop at or purchase because I don’t agree that these plastic compounds are necessary ingredients in cosmetics, soaps, sanitizers and body scrubs. Spend five minutes on Pinterest and you’ll be inundated with recipes on how to make your own facial and body scrubs using sugar, salt, coconut oil and some essential oils for fragrance. Takes a few minutes and BAM, eco friendly beauty products. Also makes a great gift in a mason jar with a twine bow.

Have a plastic free health care swap to share? Don’t forget to follow Nikkey on Instagram for updates on her voyage @nikkeydawn @exxpedition

Main Beach Byron Bay

How to Use Less Plastic in Your Travel + Beach Bag

This post is part of an on-going series about going plastic free one area of your life at a time. See the other posts here and sign-up for Nikkey’s newsletter to recieve new plastic free challenges as they come out. This challenge is inspired by her work with eXXpedition on a microplastic research voyage through the Pacific Ocean. 

Summer is finally here!

I’m less than two weeks away from my microplastic research sailing voyage with eXXpedition which has me thinking about packing all things travel sized and sun related. I’m guessing you’ve got a trip or two coming up in your summer plans too. Whether you’re going on vacation or spending a day at the beach, you can stay safe from the sun and enjoy it all without using plastic! How great is that? Here are my suggested swaps for the essentials in your bag:

Sunscreen in Plastic Bottles > Sunscreen in Tins, Tubes or Glass Jars

Plastic sunscreen bottles and tubes are rarely recycled because of the labour involved to clean them and non-recyclable components.

Where to find alternatives:
Make your own! (DIY from Roberta coming soon.) Or shop online from brands like Shade (tin container) and Avasol (stick form in cardboard). Check natural food stores, re-fill apothecaries and surf shops for in-person shopping alternatives.

Cost association:
DIY method will cost you more up front for initial ingredients but less over time. Zero waste packaging brands average $2-$4 more.

Extra mile:
Make sure your sunscreen is ocean safe and won’t harm any of the fish, coral or you! Here’s a list of ingredients to check for.

Plastic Water Bottle > Reusable Water Bottle

Globally, 1 million plastic water bottles are bought every minute – yep you read that right. The lifespan is as long as it takes to drink the water and the majority of bottles are not recycled. It’s not safe to re-use these plastic water bottles either as the plastic is meant to be single use and will release harmful chemicals like BPA faster.

Where to find alternatives:
Almost any grocery, camping, sports store or coffee shops and of course, online.

Cost association:
This one will save you money. A reusable water bottle will cost you $10-$20 upfront but you’ll never have to buy water again. Fill up at water fountains, coffee shops, restaurants- basically anywhere the water is drinkable. In my experience, servers and baristas are always happy to help you out.

If you must:
There are times where plastic water bottles may be necessary; emergency kits, camping in places without water, travelling in countries without drinkable water etc. In that case my advice is to buy the biggest jug/bottle you can find and refill you reusable water bottle up from that. It will reduce the amount of plastic you use overall.

Sitka Water Bottle

Plastic Straws > Stainless Steel Straw

Straws are a single use, non-recyclable plastic. Over 500 million of these unnecessary items are used daily around the world making them a major contributor to the plastic problem.

Where to find alternatives:
Online and in natural food stores with kitchen sections. You can even find ones that fold or retract down to travel size.

Cost association:
Anywhere from $2-$15 depending on how many you’re purchasing and where from. The pack of 6 I bought off of Amazon came to $8.

Lip Balm + Deodorant in Plastic > Tin or Cardboard Container

These are two items everyday items we all use but rarely recycle the containers of.

Where to find alternatives:
Natural food stores, apothecaries, farmers’ markets and re-fill stores. I love my lip balm from Boreal Folk. If you’re in the UK Plastic Freedom is a great website to shop from.

Cost association:
On average $1-$5 more per item. I suspect the cost difference is due to the higher quality ingredients rather than the packaging difference.

Plastic Phone Case > Biodegradable Phone Case

Phone cases are another one of those items we treat as disposable and are rarely recyclable or reusable due to the ever changing phone model dimensions.

Where to find alternatives:
Pela Case is one I recently discovered, their products are made of flax shive and you can purchase them online. They even have a made-in-Canada collection! Bamboo cases are another option which you can always find online and sometimes in electronic stores.

Cost association:
None. I could not find any difference in average price between plastic free or plastic phone cases (of somewhat good quality).

If you need a heavy duty or water proof case due to your job / hobbies I’d say switch your phone out of that case into a plastic free one when you’re not doing the activity that requires it. Hopefully that will extend the lifespan of the plastic one. I was personally surprised how fast my Lifeproof case broke down and will be trying this from now on.

Fast Fashion Bathing Suit > Bathing Suit from Ocean Plastic

It helps get plastic out of the ocean! These are also generally higher quality bathing suits and stop the cycle of fast fashion. This is another one of those “when you’re ready to replace” suggestions as quality bathing suits are usually an investment.

Where to find alternatives:
I feel like I see more and more swimwear companies using recycled ocean plastic in their fabric all the time. I’ve yet to see any in-store but you can find lots of brands online like Abyss, MONA and BATOKO. My personal favourite (and sponsor for eXXpedition) is BATOKO, their prints are super fun, you can be active in them and the company is awesome.  

Cost association:
You’ll be spending more upfront if you usually by cheap swimsuits that don’t last but I couldn’t find a cost difference between bathing suits of the same quality.


Trucker Hats > Cotton or Straw Hat

I know, I know, they’re breathable! But they usually have a plastic back. This is also another item that usually falls into the fast fashion category.

Where to find alternatives:
Any hat store or online, look for material like straw, hemp or cotton. I have a waxed cotton (good in the rain) panel hat from Sitka that is my go to.

Cost association:
Minimal difference, if any.

Plastic Sunglasses > Wood, Metal or Composite Sunglasses

Cheap plastic sunglasses are treated like disposables items, we lose and break them at an alarming speed and unconsciously add to our plastic footprint. 

Where to find alternatives:
There are a ton of conscious eyewear lines out there now, a couple that I like are Blue Planet Sunglasses and Proof Eyewear. I just purchased a polarized pair from Proof for the sailing trip, I’ll let you know how they go! You can also shop second hand for vintage, timeless styles.

Cost association:
Moderate upfront, minimal long-term.

Plastic Flip Flops > Natural Material Sandals

Flip flops wear through fast, are often lost and are notorious for polluting beaches. So much so many highly visited destinations now have beach sculptures made of them to raise visitor awareness.

Where to find alternatives:
Almost any shoe store, Birkenstocks are a tried and true brand and have lots of new modern styles. Sanuk is another well known brand with plenty of options and retailers. There are also plenty of smaller brands out there for you to discover online or at artisan markets.

Cost association:
More up front but less in the long run as you won’t have to replace them at the same frequency.

Main Beach Byron Bay

If this feels like a lot to you just take on one item at a time as you run out of the plastic version. These changes are meant to be sustainable for your lifestyle. Now, go pack your bags and enjoy your next adventure!

Did I miss anything? Let me know your suggestions in the comments below!

Our next challenge will be in two weeks, sign-up here to be notified by newsletter.

Clothing Hanging on a rod

How to Use Less Plastic in Your Wardrobe

This post is part of an on-going series about going plastic free one area of your life at a time. See the other posts here and sign-up for Nikkey’s newsletter to recieve new plastic free challenges as they come out. This challenge is inspired by her work with eXXpedition on a microplastic research voyage through the Pacific Ocean. 

Your wardrobe may have more plastic than you know.

This wasn’t something I’d thought a lot about until I started to learn about microplastics. It turns out one of the ways we all, likely unknowingly, contribute to the problem is through our laundry. When any synthetic fabrics (think fleece, nylon, polyester etc.) go through the wash tiny plastic microfibres break off and disappearing into our waste water systems. These systems are unable to filter out these particles and they ultimately end up in the ocean. It’s estimated between 200,000 – 1,000,000 pieces can break off a single item of clothing each wash. These microfibres act as sponges and carriers, binding to all sorts of harmful chemicals like DDTs and PCBs along the way. Once in the ocean they’re mistaken for plankton and eat by fish, entering the food chain.

That is just one example of how our warddrove effects the envinroment. As you may remember in Shanna’s fast fashion post, many clothing industry practices are troublesome.

So how can we keep plastic our of closets and the ocean? Check out the swaps below.

Synthetic Fabrics > Natural and Organic Fabrics

See above for environmental impacts. Another thing to consider is that synthetic fabrics are made up of and treated with chemicals that can be toxic and absorbed through you skin. 

Where to find alternatives:
Any conscious clothing lines. Sitka, Ten Tree and Patagonia are all transparent about their materials, environmental impacts and offer alternatives. 

Cost association:
Moderate upfront, minimal long-term. Clothing made of organic materials will cost more but last longer.

Important to note:
There are a few tips for washing synthetic clothing to reduce the amount of shedding in the video below. You can also use something like a Guppy Bag to reduce the amount that ends up in your waste water. 

Plastic Zippers + Buttons > Cork, Coconut, Metal Etc.

Plastic fasteners will outlive the garmet (and you).

Where to find alternatives:
Eco-conscious clothing companies like the ones mentioned above, Ten Tree and Sitka both offer fastener alternatives made out of materials like cork, wood, leather, coconut and more. 

Cost association:
Moderate upfront, minimal long-term. Clothing companies using alternatives are likely higher priced higher because they have higher quality materials (and ethical labour) than fast fashion items but again, they will last you longer.

Hiking in Sitka Clothing

Nikkey wearing Sitka.

Fast Fashion Chains > Capsule Collections + Thrift Stores

The fast fashion industry produces cheap garments not made to last but the impacts of the synthetic materials and industry pollution will. 

Where to find alternatives:
Eco-concious clothing companies and fashion lines that offer capsule collections with pieces created to be timeless and versatile. One of my favourites is VETTA. Or shop at second hand stores, especially for technical clothing items like ski jackets that need to use plastic and synthetic materials to perform.

Cost association:
None to moderate. If shopping second hand you’ll be saving money. If purchasing high quality timeless pieces you’ll spend more upfront but save in the long run. 

Cotton on spool

Plastic Sunglasses > Wood, Metal or Composite Sunglasses

Cheap plastic sunglasses are treated like disposables items, we lose and break them at an alarming speed and unconsciously add to our plastic footprint. 

Where to find alternatives:
There are a ton of conscious eyewear lines out there now, a couple that I like are Blue Planet Sunglasses and Proof Eyewear. You can also shop second hand for vintage, timeless styles.

Cost association:
Moderate upfront, minimal long-term.

Plastic Clothes Hangers > Wood or Wire Clothes Hangers

Billions are produced every year, they’re rarely recyclable and treated as a disposable item

Where to find alternatives:
Department stores, thrift stores and online.

Cost association:
None to minimal. If you’re swapping for wire or second hand the cost difference from plastic will likely be nonexistent. If you’re swapping for wood they will cost more upfront but you’re more likely to keep them and move them place to place with you over time. 


None of these swap tips should have you running to dump out your closet but rather they’re there for you to keep in mind when making future purchases. Swapping items in your closet is a much longer term process than making changes in your bathroom or kitchen. It will take time, effort and research but I promise you it’ll be worth it!

Have any questions or other tips and tricks? We’d love to hear them in the comments!

Our next challenge will be in two weeks, sign-up here to be notified by newsletter.

Plastic Free Lifestyle

The Real Challenges of Going Plastic Free

The real challenge of going plastic free isn’t plastic itself, it’s the systems that have made us dependant on it in the first place.

We’re two challenges into the Plastic Free Challenge and there’s probably similar things coming up for all of us. I wanted to address some of these this week to let you know you’re not alone and offer a little encouragement for challenging scenarios such as these:


Okay, let’s talk about the cost of going plastic free. This can be a very valid inhibitor, not all of us are in a financial place to make every change and that is okay. Some of the plastic swaps cost more up-front but save you money in the long run, some are cheaper and others are just plain more expensive. To help you navigate through this I’ll be doing a comparison costs with the swaps from here on out.  


Maybe you live with a roommate or partner who is not supportive of these changes, maybe they  fear change or are hung up on an aspect of how it will effect them. I don’t know. But I do know, the only behaviour you can change is your own. Focus on the personal items for now and hopefully in time they’ll become more open to communal changes.


As a society we’re busier than ever and have less time and energy to do things from scratch. On top of your own commitments you may have kids who need to ferrying around to their commitments. So we order-in, grab take-out, buy pre-packaged products and then it’s oh-crap-now-there’s-a-huge-pile-of-plastic.

My first suggestion would be to look at your time balance, and ask the tough questions like what matters to you or your family most? Does signing your kid up for that extra sport really serve them better than looking after the environment? Does living out of alignment with your values negatively affect you? If you really can’t make space, try turning social or family time into DIY sessions for things like homemade soap and natural cleaning mixes.

Consumer Society

Our current economy is linear based on the cycle of make – use – dispose. We take the short life cycles of most products as normal because it’s become ingrained in us to have to repurchase. The good news is, I do believe we are moving towards a more circular economy. But for the time being it’s up to us to check our impulses and be mindful. These initial plastic free swaps take work but often save you from having to rebuy disposable items in the long run.


The level of stress about the environment is rising faster than the seas. It can feel overwhelming to make changes and like you’re not doing enough but here’s what I want you to remember: your guilt and stress do not serve the environment. You doing your best does– no matter what that looks like. The harder on yourself you are the more likely you are to give up. That’s why we’re taking this challenge piecemeal so that the changes are worked into your lifestyle over time making them more likely to stick. Here’s a little mantra (credit: Abiola Akanni) for when you need it:

“I’ve done my best, I let go of the rest”


Did I miss anything? Let me know what you find hardest in the comments below.

This post is part of an on-going series about going plastic free one area of your life at a time. See the other posts here and sign-up for Nikkey’s newsletter to recieve new plastic free challenges as they come out. This challenge is inspired by her work with eXXpedition on a microplastic research voyage through the Pacific Ocean. 

How To Use Less Plastic in the Bathroom

This post is part of an on-going series about going plastic free one area of your life at a time. See the other posts here and sign-up for Nikkey’s newsletter to recieve new plastic free challenges as they come out. This challenge is inspired by her work with eXXpedition on a microplastic research voyage through the Pacific Ocean. 

The bathroom is probably the sneakiest wasteful area in your home. Think about it, most of us don’t have recycling bins in there so we often end up throwing things out that are perfectly recyclable or compostable. Then, there are all the products and toiletries that come in plastic packaging and small tight tubes or containers that are tough to clean out well enough for recycling! The good news is with a few simple swaps we can drastically cut back on plastic:

Disposable Razors > Stainless Steel Razors

Technically disposable razors can be recycled in some areas but with a lot of effort, I’m guessing if you’re using a disposable item you don’t want to go through all the work of preparing it properly for recycling. Not only will a stainless steel razor save you money in the long run but it will cut down big time on your plastic waste. 

Where to find alternatives:
They’ve become more popular in recent years and now many models are available that are far less intimidating than a straight razor. You can buy them online or in specialty zero waste or apothecary stores. 

Bodywash + Pump Hand Soap > Handmade Soap

Bodywash comes in single use plastic containers. Handmade soap is often less expensive, lasts longer and feels more luxurious with beautiful designs and swoonful scents. Plus you can put it in a super cute ceramic soap dish. 

Where to find alternatives:
Farmers’ markets, craft/maker fairs, apothecary and re-fill stores, Wholefoods and any grocery store with a natural beauty section or you can make it yourself!

Plastic Cotton Swabs > Paper Cotton Swabs

Plastic cotton swabs are not recyclable and end up right in the landfill, or worse – our waterways. You might recall this viral photo of a seahorse swimming with one. 

Where to find alternatives:
This is perhaps the easiest swap on here. Paper cotton swabs are compostable and found at pretty much every drug store or grocery store with a beauty section. 

One step further:
Try a natural DIY remedy like ear candling or olive oil for less waste all together. 

Shampoo + Conditioner in Single Use Bottles >
Shampoo + Condition in Refillable Bottles

The average person will go through hundreds of these single use plastic bottles in their lifetime, you can cut that back to 2.

Where to find alternatives:
At an apothecary or re-fill store. If you’re not the most organized person in the world (speaking from personal experience!) I would suggest getting 2 sets of bottles so that you can re-fill while you’re getting low rather than waiting until you fully run out and having to re-fill immediately.

Plastic Toothbrush > Bamboo or Electric Toothbrush

Over 4.7 billion of these plastic disposable items are produced every year worldwide and go straight in the garbage when we’re done with them. 
Bamboo is a fast growing sustainable resource and depending on the bristles of the toothbrush they can be biodegradable. Electric toothbrushes are still made of plastic but are for long-term use so you’d still be reducing your plastic consumption. 

Where to find alternatives:
Online and in apothecaries and natural food stores with toiletries sections. I have not personally tried this company but they seem to have a lot of options including biodegradable toothbrush refills- The Goodwell Company

Plastic Flossers > Biodegradable Floss or Flossers


More single use items destined for the landfill or ocean. Even most string floss is made of nylon which is a polymer (a plastic). But biodegradable floss does exist!

Where to find alternatives:
Online and in apothecaries and natural food stores with toiletries sections. Again, The Goodwell Company seems to have some great options.

Toothpaste Tubes > Toothpaste in Glass Jars


Toothpaste tubes are incredible hard to clean out for recycling. Even the most committed of us don’t necessarily have the patience or time to cut those suckers open and scrape them out.

Where to find alternatives:
Online, in apothecaries and natural food stores with toiletries sections or make your own at home. Toothpaste clays are becoming more popular and often seen in jars but I would check with your dentist before switching as they can be abrasive.

There you go, the bathroom no longer has to be wasteful! If you have the room, try throwing a small recycling container in there too so that when you do have recyclables they don’t end up in the trash for convenience sake.

Have any questions or other tips and tricks? We’d love to hear them in the comments!

Our next challenge will be in two weeks, sign-up here to be notified by newsletter.

Kitchen glassware

How To Use Less Plastic in the Kitchen

This post is part of an on-going series about going plastic free one area of your life at a time. See the other posts here and sign-up for Nikkey’s newsletter to recieve new plastic free challenges as they come out. This challenge is inspired by her work with eXXpedition on a microplastic research voyage through the Pacific Ocean. 

Over 8 millions tons over plastics ends up in the ocean every year, it’s time we change that. Welcome to our first no plastic challenge!  

With Easter weekend here we thought it was fitting to start in the kitchen. There’s going to be food to buy, people to feed and leftovers to save. So here we go, for the next two weeks we challenge you to these swaps:

Grocery Shopping

Plastic bags > Reusable bags (including produce and bulk food)

Most are not recycled. With their lightweight nature even when disposed of plastic bags can easily be blown into waterway and end up in the ocean to be eaten by turtles and whales mistaking them as jellyfish.

Where to find alternatives:
Most grocery stores carry reusable bags for purchase, keep a few in your car so you’re never without when you go to the store. If you have scrap fabric hanging around you can make your own bags, check out Boomerang Bags for inspiration. You can find reusable produce bags in most health food stores, online or ditch them all together. For bulk food if your store doesn’t carry paper bags in the bulk area you can usually find them in the produce section by the mushrooms. Or bring your own – just make sure they’re food safe.

One step further:
Watch how much packaging goes in your cart, if there’s an option for two of the same item opt for the one with less plastic packaging. Or shop at a zero waste grocery store if there’s one in your area!

Food Storage

Plastic Cling Wrap > Beeswax Wraps or Fabric Covers

Plastic wrap can not be recycled and can contain harmful chemicals.

Where to find alternatives:
You can make both of these if you like DIYs or find them at most health food stores and online.

Plastic Tupperware > Glass Containers

Glass is more sustainable, the plastic in your tupperware will outlive you and eventually breakdown into microplastics. Many brands contain harmful chemicals that can leach into your food over time.

Where to find alternatives:
Most kitchen stores and online.

Advisory: Never use left over plastic containers from things such as yogurt or butter – these containers are single use and not meant to be used over time. They’re more likely to contain chemicals like BPA that will leach into your food faster.


Plastic Straws > Steel Straws (or skip straws all together)

Straws are a single use, non-recyclable plastic. Over 500 million of these unnecessary items are used daily around the world making them a major contributor to the plastic problem.

Where to find alternatives:
Most kitchen stores and online.


Plastic Cutlery > Rented, Borrowed or Biodegradable Cutlery

Single-use, non recyclable plastics. These contain harmful chemicals that you’re probably using on hot food which can speed up the leaching process.

Where to find alternatives:
If you are feeding more guests than you have cutlery for ask to borrow extras from family or friends or rent from a catering company (we do this at Christmas). If you absolutely must use something disposable for some reason then go for a biodegradable brand (I’ve never seen these in store but you can purchase online).

Cooking Utensils

Plastic Utensils > Bamboo Utensils

Plastic utensils can melt or flake off while you’re cooking transferring harmful chemicals into your food. Bamboo is a fast growing renewable resource.

Where to find alternatives:
Most kitchen stores or online.


There’s your challenge readers! Comment below to let us know how it goes for you! Let us know if you have any question or more suggestions for alternatives.

Our next challenge will be in two weeks, sign-up here to be notified by newsletter.

The Sea Dragon Yacht from Above

Why I’m Sailing the PNW Coast for Microplastic Research

This July I’ll be sailing from Vancouver to Seattle, by way of Vancouver Island, with eXXpedition to sample the ocean for microplastics.

We’re a diverse group of women with backgrounds in science, conservation, exploration and the arts. There’s a lot to learn from one another and I feel so inspired by these women already. We all believe in eXXpedition’s mission of making the unseen seen and we’ve signed up to do just that!

Going through microplastic samples

Photo courtesy of eXXpedition

Microplastics are an ever growing problem we’re only really starting to understand the long term impacts of. These little pieces of plastic not only affect marine life but our own health as well. They are known to be carriers for toxins as well as leach them as they break down. This includes endocrine disruptors like BPA, PCBs and DEHP to name a few. These chemicals are being linked to a whole host of health issues such as cancer, endometriosis and autoimmune disorders.

In my family alone more of these health issues have been occurring more frequently over the generations. While we’ll never know the causes for sure, it does leave you wondering- we are far more exposed to them now than previous generations. This has definitely been a part of my motivation to sign up for this research project. Onboard we’ll also have the mercury levels in our bodies tested which I’m both interested and frightened to see the results of.

For us and marine animals alike one way these toxins get into our bodies is through the food chain. Microplastics enter the food chain at a zooplankton level, small fish feed on them then a bigger fish comes along and eats a bunch of the small fish ingesting all of the toxins and indigestible plastics every small fish has in it’s system. This is called biological magnification. It is why top of the food chain marine species such as orcas, dolphins and sharks suffer the worst.

Microplastic Samples

Photo courtesy of eXXpedition

This is my biggest motivation for taking on this issue, I hate that we are causing suffering through our mindless consumption. In my years freediving in BC I’ve seen all manners of trash and objects (furniture, hot water tanks- you name it) at the bottom of the ocean having been tossed there by careless people. I want our communities to understand the damage we’re causing and feel empowered to change. I think it’s a whole lot easier to do when you can understand the data and relate your actions to the harm being done.

The data we collect will helps all of us crew members bring awareness to the issue and call for change in our own communities around the world. It will also be fed into partner organization’s databases so it can be accessed by scientist who are researching and reporting on the issue and tech companies working on clean-up solutions.

Launching the Manta Trawl off the Sea Dragon

Photo courtesy of eXXpedition

The biggest thing each of us can do to prevent this issue from getting bigger is stop plastics from entering our waterways in the first place. I realize this is much easier said than done, our lives have become dependant on the convenience plastic provides. I also recognize plastics will always be necessary for institutions like hospitals but we can drastically cut back on our personal use and call for most businesses to do the same.

If you want to challenge yourself to reduce your plastic use sign-up for my newsletter below, you’ll receive a bi-weekly challenge with prompts and tips. We’re taking on one area of related items at a time so you don’t feel overwhelmed by a major lifestyle overhaul.

You can also support our work by heading over to my fundraiser, every painting sold goes to covering the cost of the trip! 

Newsletter Sign-up76 Orcas Art Fundraiser

I would love to hear your thoughts, what do you struggle with the most when trying to cut out plastics?

Bear Aware Safety Measures and Tips

How to be Bear Aware in Urban Areas

Bear sightings in the Pacific North West are on the rise. Recently, BC Conservation Officers announced they’ve had to destroy a record number of habituated bears. The main contributing factor to this is we have built our homes where they roam, feed, and slumber.

Anyone who knows me (or has seen our son’s nursery) knows I have a love of all things bear. Logan’s room is filled with bears, I have a tattoo of a Panda, and I often dream about them. Is that weird?

A typical black bear will have a home range of roughly 100km. The neighbourhood my family and I live in is 30 years old. Our local black bears are habituated to people. This means they have learned how to grab a quick snack from unsecured compost and garbage bins or raid our gardens and bird feeders. Later this summer we will be moving to a newly developed area that boarders a research forest and provincial park. These local bears will not be as acclimated to the presence of humans…yet. It is vital that homeowners in new subdivisons manage their waste, recycling and gardens responsibly so those bears don’t become habituated as well.

Bear breaking into garbage

Photos by Roberta, taken on a job site (using zoom)

Below are a few bear aware tips for city dwellers that I’ve learned throughout my education, work and life experience. Most of them will be common sense, or a friendly reminder. However, they bear (see what I did there) repeating because every summer/fall the same issues rise.

  • Don’t feed the bears. It’s a saying for a reason.
  • Keep away 30 metres at all times (3 school buses).
  • Don’t stop on side of road to take photos, you’ll cause a what’s known as a Bear Jam. These can be very dangerous for humans and bears.
  • Be aware of your surroundings to avoid being caught between a mama and her cub(s).
  • Don’t turn your back or run from a bear. If you see one make yourself big by putting arms in the air, speak loud and slow then back away slowly without making direct eye contact.
  • Lock all outdoor garbage and compost bins or follow garbage bylaws for your municipality. In most places bylaw officers will issue tickets if garbage is outdoors before allowed time on garbage days.
  • Be aware of fruit tree bylaws in your area and be responsible about picking ripe fruit.
  • When in the backcountry or camping keep all food locked in car or in provided wildlife proof bins. Take ALL garbage and food home with you. (More bear aware practices for camping/hiking coming soon in a future post!)

As mentioned most of those tips are common sense but when faced with a bear instinct and our awe can take over. Habituated bears typically don’t directly interact with people and rarely attack. They are usually just passing through an area or trail looking for vegetation to eat or a cool place to nap. If you see a bear in your neighbourhood or local parks keep an eye on it and give them space. Call a Conservation Officer only if bear appears to be aggressive or is causing problems. In BC bears have a three-strike policy meaning they are relocated three times. This is denoted by tags in their ears. Three tags and the poor bear gets destroyed. Because bears have such as strong homing instinct they often find their way back to the neighbourhood within a matter of days.

For the most part bears are harmless. If you are lucky enough to come across one this summer remember to keep a cool head, give space and only snap photos if it is safe to do so. You’ll have a great story to tell.

Do you have any more tips to add to the list? Share with us in the comments!

Green Cloth Diapers

Raising an Eco-Conscious Baby

On Christmas Day my husband and I welcomed our son Logan into the world. While we were overjoyed (and a little surprised as he was 10 weeks early) to be parents, I couldn’t shake the thoughts of how wasteful the baby industry is.

The diapers, endless amounts of plastic items, clothes that fit for five minutes and all the gear you’re made to think you need but don’t. It’s easy to get caught up in the madness without recognizing the impact on our wallets or landfills. I’ll share a few things we did to minimize our footprint.


We use cloth diapers instead of disposable. In my close group of friends there will be six babies born within the next year. Recently I took the time to do the math on how many disposable diapers that would be in just my small circle of friends. A newborn goes through 8-12 diapers a day, older babies 7-9, in our group that is 336-504 diapers per week and approximately 17,742 diapers a year! That was a staggering amount. Now imagine all the babies, in all the world, wearing disposable diapers right now. Yikes! The choice became clear after that.

Cloth diapers have come a long way in the last twenty years. Gone are the plain white sheets you fold a specific way then pin together. Now they come in various styles and shapes with all kinds of fun patterns and inserts depending on your needs. The ins and outs of using cloth diapers can take up an entire post so I’ll save for another day. If you’re thinking of using cloth and just can’t wait to get started Fluff Love University is a great online resource.

You may be thinking, “Isn’t using cloth more expensive?” The start-up cost can be for sure, but it all depends on the quantity and quality of brands you purchase. We bought 12 new and 24 used for $300. You can spend that in just eight weeks on disposable diapers. Facebook and other buy sell sites are a great way to get new and used diapers at huge savings. There isn’t an additional cost for products like diaper cream and wipes. You need those anyway. Now there are even reusable cloth bags to put in the diaper pail (I highly recommend this) and make your own wipes (another future post).

My final note on cloth diapers without getting into specifics is please, please, please don’t use the disposable diaper inserts then flush them. First, they aren’t truly flushable and they wreak havoc on local waste systems. Second, doesn’t an insert you throw in the garbage or flush defeat the whole purpose of using cloth in the first place? However, for those of you using disposable diapers there are great green alternatives now available. Unfortunately, they will cost you slightly more than the mainstream brands, but completely worth it.

Cloth Diapers

Baby Accessories

Babies come with a lot of stuff. There is no way around it. I don’t mean shoes and bows, but believe me you could spend a small fortune on those too. By accessories I mean strollers, high chairs, toys, car seats, swings and the list goes on and on. Most of these items are made of plastic and are only used for the first year, if that. It makes me cringe to think of what happens to all these “necessities” once they are no longer needed in twelve months.

Once again buying second hand saves the day. The only items we have purchased are the crib/mattress set, dresser and stroller/car seat system (not for lack of trying, our second hand one failed the hospital car seat test). Almost everything else has been second hand or gifts, even the diapers as mentioned. It can be easy to get sucked into wanting the latest and greatest of everything. I was almost lured down that dark path by the most amazing stroller…. But I digress. Most second hand items hardly show any wear because they are used for such a short period. Thrift stores are a good option as well. A little bleach and baking soda makes everything like new. I turned the bath water brown cleaning a play pen, but buying it used saved me $150 and prevented it from being tossed away.

Baby Clothes

Babies grow fast. This isn’t some sort of revelation, but one of our biggest struggles is trying to clothe an eco-conscious baby. They wear clothes for five minutes but the items are still expensive. Is it harder to manufacture tiny clothes? Certainly, less fabric is used. Where does this cost come from? This is where fast fashion brands come to the unfortunate financial rescue and thus enters my internal debate. Obviously, I would rather purchase from a local maker but with their clothing (usually) at a higher cost it’s difficult to purchase over and over again for each growth period.

Thankfully, there are lots of other ways to get baby clothes. Half of what my son wears are free hand-me-downs from friends. All items are gently used and it’s a great way to lessen the impacts of fast fashion brands. Like with diapers, Facebook has some awesome buy/sell groups that you can get anything from clothes, toys, shoes and even nursing and maternity items. Half my maternity wardrobe was bought second hand. Maternity clothes cost a fortune and you wear them for six months if that. Then if you have another baby, but are pregnant at a different time of year you’re stuck needed different seasons of clothes. Sharing or rotating clothing (and even toys) between friends is another great option.

Baby wearing eco-friendly diapers

I also have a few crafty ideas on how to recycle his clothes into a memory quilt once he has outgrown them. Pinterest is loaded with ideas on how to reuse baby clothes. I’m very excited to get this project started. The items I don’t recycle I’ll pass on to someone else.

Baby Shower

Even if you are super careful and try to take the minimalist approach people will still buy you things. So many things, they can’t help it. It’s the nature of having people in your life who care and are excited for your new arrival.

Alternatives to the more traditional gifts are things like Registered Education Saving Plan (RESP’s), classic novels for story time, handmade items, frozen meals, or even a meal service. Our family pooled together to give us credit for a meal delivery service that catered to my allergies. It was a huge relief to know we had complete and healthy meals five nights a week when juggling a newborn. Another great idea is a tree or shrub the parents can plant in their yard so they can watch it grow along with their child. Mom doesn’t know this yet, but I want to plant a tree in her garden for Logan.

In the end preparing for and raising an eco-conscious family is mostly common sense and implementing the classic Reduce, Reuse, Recycle principals. It’s very straight forward if you’re disciplined or give yourself a budget. Realistically there will always be a carbon footprint of some kind during this time but there’s always that one small change you can do to make a difference. No one change is insignificant.

Are you a parent? Let us know how you’ve minimized the impact of raising babies.