Plastic-Free Month

Well friends, we’ve been plastic-free for over a month now. It’s been difficult in some ways, but remarkably easy in others. Easier than I would have expected, which tells me that many of the practices my husband and I have employed over the last few weeks should be continued for the rest of our lives.

My home-made almond milk, and my bulk blanched almonds (in a re-used bag)

My home-made almond milk, and my bulk blanched almonds (in a re-used bag)

The biggest change, as I mentioned last time, has been our grocery shopping. At first it was difficult to imagine what foods we would buy, but we’ve found good places to get the things we need without the plastic. It means visiting more, smaller shops rather than a single trip to Superstore, but there is pride and joy in supporting small, local businesses rather than a huge conglomerate.

Some people look at us like we’re crazy when we beg them to wrap the cheese in butcher paper instead of plastic, or scold us for using our own bags in the bulk section (we feign ignorance and carry on). Some people are excited to let us put bread in our own bags, and are interested in our reasons.

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First successful gluten-free bread!

I have also learned to bake my own bread (thanks to the Gluten-Free Goddess)! I have celiac disease (and a dairy allergy), so baking is a bit more of a chore, and much more finicky than usual. And I’ve never been a strong baker. I’ve also made my own almond milk, which is much tastier than I had imagined, and certainly more cost-effective than buying it in tetra-pacs.

The biggest stumbling block has been eating out. I had one great moment of asking my server for a pizza box to take my leftover stir fry home in, which she complied to with remarkable good will. But we’ve also experienced issues like dropping a perfectly nice metal fork, only for it to be replaced by a plastic disposable one at one of our favourite burrito places, or bringing our own cutlery (and mentioning it) only to be ignored and given more plastic spoons. Sometimes things come in disposable plastic that we would not have thought of asking about. Generally, we have to be brave and seem silly asking about it.

Pizza box and wax paper take-out tray.

Pizza box and wax paper take-out tray.

We have not been perfect, but perhaps we never will be. The purpose of this experiment is not to be perfect, but to try. We’ve talked about extending our plastic-fast (perhaps a plastic-free summer?), and I know that our lifestyles have already changed in many ways for good. This experiment has opened our eyes to the ludicrous amount of unnecessary plastic used in our foodstuffs, and provided us with alternative shopping places and friendlier faces than we had experienced before.

Superstore has fallen off our list.

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Plastic-Free Week One

My husband and I have now been fasting from plastic for just over a week. Things have been mostly easy so far, especially since I’ve already been fasting from most forms of consumption for several months. As you can probably imagine, this plastic-free lent has primarily affected our food purchases.

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I thought twist-ties were supposed to be paper.

Going plastic free with food is even more difficult than I thought it would be. We went for our first plastic-free grocery trip yesterday. We left with fruits, vegetables, canned beans, coconut milk and bullion cubes.

A bit less than usual.

Again, unsurprisingly, going plastic-free automatically forces one to make healthier food choices. (It might actually be a good regular practice to avoid any food wrapped in plastic). We couldn’t buy things we would usually buy, such as breakfast cereal, pasta, and the occasional bag of chips. Our health would probably benefit from removing these items on a more regular basis. However, we also couldn’t buy the organic carrots, spinach, yogurt or almond milk, which are probably good things to keep in our diets.

Furthermore, we’ve realized that there is some plastic that manages to find its way home with us despite our best efforts. Celery and kale were tied together with a twist-tie, covered in plastic rather than paper. And all fruits and veggies these days are stickered.

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Stickers for all!

So despite our best efforts, we consumed some plastic this week. Seems inevitable, especially at this time of year. But perhaps we’re just not trying hard enough.

As we continue on this fast, I’ll be making note of good places to shop to avoid plastic packaging. Let me know of any suggestions!

Stay tuned!

(P.S. Superstore is not very good.)

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Plastic Fast

Today is Shrove Tuesday, the day before the beginning of the Christian season of Lent.

For those of you who don’t know, Lent is a religious practice of prayer, fasting, repentance and self-denial that takes place during the six weeks before Easter. The purpose, as far as I understand it, is to prepare oneself for the important season of Easter – the most important part of the Christian tradition (many people often think it’s Christmas, but Easter is traditionally the bigger deal).

Pretty hilarious, really.

Many individuals fast or give up certain luxuries during the six weeks of Lent as a form of penitence, and to emulate the forty-day period of fasting Jesus went through, as described in the Christian gospel. Throughout the years common fasts have been from fats, meat, sugar, etc. – things that were considered a luxury.

Though the Christian denomination I grew up in does not traditionally practice the Lenten season in this way, my family did (my parents not being particularly conventional). I grew up fasting from sweets or (most often) chocolate. The idea was that when I craved such things, I would think about the people around the world who do not have access to the luxuries I have, and be thankful for my situation.

As the years went by, I tried to fast from more and more things. I do not have a particularly addictive personality, and I never found this fasting terribly difficult, mindfulness-inducing or spiritually challenging. So for the past few years I’ve given up on giving things up for Lent.

Until this year.

My husband and I have decided to do something a bit more difficult and (hopefully) more relevant this Lent.

We are giving up plastic.

Don’t get me wrong, plastic is a very useful substance. It’s much better for water pipes than lead (obviously), it’s great for sanitary medical supplies. However, our world is completely overrun with plastic. We have plastic islands floating in our beautiful oceans. We have sea birds dying of plastic consumption. We have sketchy chemicals leeching into our water and our bodies causing cancers and who knows what other problems. We have garbage dumps piled high with the indestructible wonder of plastic. And we just can’t do it anymore.

Death by plastic.

So, as an addition to my consumption sabbatical, my husband and I are fasting from plastic for the next six weeks. Here are the rules:

1) No new plastic may be bought or brought into our home.
2) Plastic we already have in our home may be re-used throughout the weeks (plastic bags for bulk purchases, etc.)
3) Every time we want to purchase something containing plastic, we must reflect on the effect of our consumption of plastic on our planet, and the effects to our fellow human beings. We must ask our earth to forgive us for the damage we’ve caused.
4) Particular roadblocks we come across must be discussed, and shared with you!

It’s a bit excessive, really.

I’m excited and a bit nervous. I know this will be difficult, and enlightening. Some things we “need” only come in plastic (toothpaste, toilet paper)! Some things will stretch my abilities (such as baking bread instead of buying it!) Most of all, our diet will change, as much of the food we purchase comes packaged in some way. Even cucumber (ever notice that? how strange).

So please follow along with us. When you need to buy something with plastic these next six weeks, think about what your life would be like without plastic. Is it possible? What could we use instead? Where can we cut plastic out? How can we advocate for a safer, more earth-friendly packaging while still maintaining the health codes of our foods?

And wish us luck.

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The Dress Saga Continues

I have a Christmas story to share with you. I know it’s a bit late, but you’ll enjoy it anyway.

In the middle of December I was contacted by a man who had gone through a bit of trouble to find me, and who lives all the way on the other side of the country. In the Yukon.

He’s a newspaper man, so at first I thought he wanted an interview or something. But it turned out he wanted something much more dear to me.

He wanted my dress.

Not for himself, mind you. It turns out his daughter is very environmentally conscious, and a big fan of the recycled clothing movement. She loved the story about my One Month Dress and poured over any information she could find about me and my dress (makes me feel very special).

Anilee in my dress!

Anilee in my dress!

This Christmas was looking difficult, as Mr. Newspaper had recently lost his wife to cancer. How could he make Christmas special for his daughter? Why not get his daughter my dress for Christmas? Wouldn’t that be a fun, different and meaningful gift?

Well I agreed. I knew I’d miss the dress, but I thought that the dress would mean more if it was passed on to someone else who values it for what it now stands for, and who is willing to plunge further into the questions of consumption and fashion.

I decided the dress could be received only under certain stipulations. First, the dress must be recognized as a hand-me-down dress (as it was my sister-in-law’s before it was mine), and upon being “done” with the dress, it must be returned to me or passed onto someone else who will value it for what it stands for. Second, my dress friend has to send me a photo of herself in the dress so that I can tell all you folks about this fabulous continuation of the dress saga.

So my new friend Anilee now has my dress! And it looks great on her. And one of these days, maybe she’ll tell you all about her experience with it!

Thanks, Anilee, for carrying on the dress!

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The 6-Month Itch

I’ve been on my sabbatical for just over 6 months now, and I have to say, I’m beginning to really feel it.

Through the months, I’ve been doing fairly well with not even wanting to purchase things. My dear readers will know of the temptations I’ve had, and some possible stumbling along the way. But for the most part I’ve managed to stay pretty happy being and not buying.

Until now.

I probably should have seen it coming. It’s the depths of winter here in Manitoba. Most things are a little less fun. I can’t enjoy the outdoor activities I so thoroughly depend on for my mental well being (die-hards will say I can, but once it gets below -20, I really can’t).

I’m bored. I’m bored with myself and my closet and I’ve been feeling pretty down on myself for the last few weeks.

I’ve never really considered myself a “retail therapy” kind of person, but I suppose I must be, if all I want to do is get new things to make me feel better about myself.

And I know that getting new things will make me feel better about myself for only a short time. But I also know that wherever my dissatisfaction is stemming from, buying some new yoga tights will not find that place and will not make me feel better in the long run.

I want these. (From teeki.com)

But I really want to buy some new yoga tights. And a nice comfy sweater. And a particularly beautiful t-shirt I found on one of my favourite websites. I want new leggings and shirts and underwear and makeup and everything. None of which I can even remotely say I need.

I’ve done my research. I know where I can get great things that are fairly made. Organic co-op grown cotton, well-paying-creating-jobs-in-Canada (or UK or USA)-factories. Even tights made from recycled plastic bottles! (And since I haven’t bought anything for 6 months I have the extra cash available to spend on ethically made clothing).

Ethical consumption is possible. But that’s not the point right now.

The point is that I am insecure and one of my first reactions is to buy something to make me feel better.

That is not being.

So I guess I’ll go to yoga with my old tights. And dig deep to find that being, that essence of myself that is real and true, and doesn’t need shopping to find happiness.

Wish me luck.

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Big Issues Part 2.1: Beyond Bangladesh

As we’ve discussed before, sweatshops are a bit of a problem, and a major reason I’ve embarked on this consumption sabbatical experiment. Sweatshops venture beyond Bangladesh.

Something came up in the news recently that I wanted to touch on. As some of you may know, Cambodian garment workers have had a bit more trouble than usual over the last few days.

Cambodia is a major garment and shoe manufacturing country. The garment industry employs over 500,000 people (many of whom are women), and is the country’s largest export earner. Cambodia’s economy depends heavily on the garment industry. Manufacturers favour Cambodia because of low-wage costs and lax labour laws. However, garment workers frequently strike because of these minimal salaries and poor working conditions. These garment workers recently striked, from December 24th until today, January 6th.

Garment workers have demanded a doubling of the minimum wage. While this sounds absolutely crazy to some of us, we’ve got to recognize that the doubling of wages would mean $160/month. (Asia Floor Wage estimates that a living wage for a Cambodian garment worker should be $283/month – so the asking wage is super reasonable, I’d say). Well, the government offered $100/month (which is pathetic, looking at that living wage).

So people took to the streets! And when you think about it, this is a significant action. Striking puts pressure on the garment workers, because they have to go without pay. It also puts pressure on the government because the country relies so heavily on the industry. The potential for bringing about change is so great when major industries strike! Industry strikes have resulted in major peace movements all over the world!

However, things got a bit rough (burning cars and whatnot), and then security forces came out. Sources say that four people were killed, and twenty-one injured, as the use of “live ammunition was prolonged and no efforts appear to have been made to prevent death and serious injury.”

Yikes. The human rights group LICADHO said that this was “the worst state violence against civilians to hit Cambodia in 15 years.”

After such violence, the protest ended and people have started going back to work today.

Damage has been done. People have died. Workers are not getting the wages they need. Factories are shifting out of Cambodia, and looking for other places to settle.

Instead of protests allowing for space for negotiations and positive change, the violence of the demonstrators and the forceful attack by security has resulted in potentially long-term business loss for the entire country.

All because $160/month was too much to give to hardworking people who feed our fast fashion habits.

The garment industry is more complex every time I take a look. What do we do? I don’t want factories to move out of Cambodia. Hundreds of thousands of people depend on those jobs. I want workers to get a living wage and work in clean, healthy factories. I want the world to be okay with spending more money for clothes so that living wages are easier to supply. I want transparency in this murky industry.

And I want to no longer feel guilty for all the harm I’ve caused by buying into it all.

I want to fix it, and I’m struggling to know how.

(sources: CBC News, BBC News, Al Jazeera)

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You Can Never Go (shopping at) Home Again

Well, I made the trek to my West Coast homeland for a beautiful, green Christmas this year. Much fun was had with my family and friends. Gifts were exchanged, food was eaten, drinks were drunk and games were played.

My home-away-from-home: The Clearbrook MCC Thrift Store.

My home-away-from-home: The Clearbrook MCC Thrift Store.

However, there are a few things I always do when I go home, which I have not done this year. I always go shopping with my very good friend, and I always go shopping at the MCC Thrift Stores I know best (and typically buy more things than I can comfortably fit back into my suitcase). In light of my consumption sabbatical, these festivities I had to do away with this year.

I’ve had to satisfy myself with picking up some necessities at the grocery and drug stores with my friend. And I’ve avoided the thrift store entirely, less I be tempted.

I’ve been on my To Be And Not To Buy journey for almost six months now, and I thought I pretty well had it down pat. I have rarely been tempted, and malls absolutely horrify me now. I’ve been very content being and not buying for months. But for some reason, coming home to the familiar faces and thrift stores has made this sabbatical more difficult now than it has been. Every person I visit with seems to be showing off some great thrift-store finds and I’ve been longing to walk those familiar jam-packed stores and find myself some new-to-me clothes to bring back to Winnipeg.

I guess I have a long way to go before I actually learn to be content with being and not buying! Though frustrating, I think it’s good to be reminded that I am nowhere near the “zen” place, and that this journey is exactly that, a journey. There probably isn’t an end to it, anyway.

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