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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.

Pads
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.

Razors
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.

Luffas
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

Why:
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

Why:
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

Why:
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

Why:
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

Why:
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).

Tip:
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

Why:
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

Why:
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

Why:
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

Why:
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

Why:
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.

Why:
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

Why:
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

Why:
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

Why:
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:

Cost

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.  

Relationships

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.

Lifestyle

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

Why:
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

Why:
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

Why:
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

Why:
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

Why:
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

Why:

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

Why:

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)

Why:
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

Why:
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

Why:
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.


Straws

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

Why:
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.


Cutlery

Plastic Cutlery > Rented, Borrowed or Biodegradable Cutlery

Why:
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

Why:
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.

Diapers

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.

Tapping for Maple Syrup

Hobby Farm Inspiration: Tapping Maples and Hunting for Truffles

I’ve achieved my adult goal of owning a farm. Now comes the fun part of deciding what to do with five acres of potential.

I recently attended the Pacific Agriculture Show. I was so excited and inspired I lost count of the texts I was firing off to Shanna and Nikkey. They must have thought I had gone off the deep end. Suddenly I was going to hunt for truffles, tap Big Leaf Maples for syrup and grow amazing garlic! For a mere $90.00 I had access to three days of the tradeshow and as many of the 100 seminars as I wanted. By the end of the weekend I had to really to rein myself in. I only have five acres. There is no way I am ever going to live long enough to do it all the things, never mind be physically capable!!!

Pacific Agriculture Show

Now as I relax by the fire with a warm cup of tea I would love to share with you some of the highlights of what I learned in this first of a two-part series. I hope I can inspire you to try something different this year in your garden.

Tapping Big Leaf Maples

I love these native trees. I love their strength; majestic growth and the way they form protective canopies in the forest. The heavily ridged bark and beautiful big leaves make our Pacific Northwest forests more beautiful, and now I found out they’re more than just a pretty face.

During the months from November to February, with January usually being the best, Big Leaf Maples can be tapped for syrup just the same way that the Sugar Maples in Ontario and Quebec are tapped. Big Leaf Maples will not make the same high quality table syrup of the Sugar Maples, but the harvested syrup can be used for many other purposes such as craft beer, of which I’m a big fan.

The right time to tap the Maples is when the days are warmer and the nights are below freezing, or when we have a weather pattern change. This is when the sap flow is at its peak.

Supplies needed

  • Covered bucket or other large plastic container with a hole for the hose to go in
  • Spiles
  • Clear 3/16 tubing
  • Drill and drill bit
  • Hammer

Now you are ready to venture out there and tap your maple tree. Maples that are growing in sun or an area where they are getting lots of light exposure and enough moisture will yield more syrup. Avoid maples that are very close to cedar trees as the cedars can influence the taste and quality of the syrup. If you can find some maples on a slope this will allow for a better flow. If multiple Maples are available in same area you may even be able to set up a “pipeline”. Ranger Rosemary, AKA Shanna, would like to remind you not to tap a Big Leaf Maple in parks, but stick to those on residential or non-park municipal property.

Drill your holes a smidge smaller than the spile on a slightly upward angle to a depth of about 2”. This may vary depending on the size of the trunk. Once the hole is drilled, immediately hammer in the spile and attach your tubing. You’ll need at least 4-5 spiles per tree to create enough vacuum and on at least a 5% slope. You can space your spiles about 4” apart on the trunk and have one piece of tubing going around the trunk. Connect he tubing from each spile into the run which loops around the trunk then into the collection bucket.

Process your harvested syrup as soon as possible. You could freeze the syrup then process it later if more convenient. We have decided to plant some Big Leaf Maples for syrup on the back slope of our property. These trees should grow for at least five years before they’re ready, but when they are we’ll implement the pipeline method. This is my type of pipeline!!

Duck Toller Hunting for Truffles

Truffles

I first became interested in truffles about five years ago when I heard about truffles being grown commercially in our area. I love cooking and wondered what kind of delicacies I could create if I just had some fresh truffles.

To grow truffles as a crop you must purchase inoculated trees then plant them. Most of the trees being used in this area are hazelnuts inoculated with the Perigord Truffle. The second most expensive Truffle on the market. After a minimum of seven to ten years your truffles will be ready to harvest.

Most producers of truffles use dogs to find the them because they grow 4” under the soil. The dogs will find the truffles and indicate to their owner “Hey, there’s a truffle here!” The owner will then dig and uncover the truffle. One commercial grower who is now harvesting BC’s first commercial truffle crop is using pigs. The odour given off by truffles is very close to a pigs sex hormone so they are natural truffle hunters while the dogs must be trained.

We do have native truffles here in the Pacific Northwest. The two native varieties are the Oregon White and the Oregon Black. They will grow in wooded areas usually under Douglas firs which are 20-60 years old.  Of course, you would need a trained dog to find these truffles. There is a ton of work involved in training dogs for this specialized task, but it can be a very rewarding hobby.

There is no way that I have enough land or patience to grow truffles. Sadly, they are now totally off the table of interest for me to grow as a commercial crop. However, with my trusty sidekick, Duck Toller Retriever Penny, we are going to learn how to hunt wild truffles. Penny and I will be heading off to the forest soon for some lessons on truffle hunting.

Have experience tapping maples or hunting truffles? We’d love to hear from you

Feature photo credit: Putneypics via VisualHunt