10 Tips on living a life with less waste

I feel like my whole world changed when I saw a video about the ‘zero waste home’ family’s journey. So rather than reinvent the wheel, I thought I’d add my two cents on her ten steps for getting started. 
From her post, How to Get Started

It is actually not as as hard as it seems, and it is as simple as following these Five R’s, in order:

  • Refuse what you do not need.
  • Reduce what you do need.
  • Reuse by using reusables.
  • Recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce, or reuse.
  • Rot (compost) the rest.”

1. Fight junk mail. It’s not just a waste of resources, but also of time. 

  • Canada Post has an opt out program for admail, and opting out is as  a simple as putting a note on your mailbox that says “No Unaddressed Mail Please” And it workes!
2. Turn down freebies from conferences, fairs, and parties. Every time you take one, you create a demand to make more. Do you really need another “free” pen?
  • I’ve always been really bad at turning down free things, possibly it’s my Scottish nature. I don’t attend too many conferences or fairs, but have attended a number of events lately where there were party favours. I’m sorry to say that I partook.
3. Declutter your home, and donate to your local thrift shop. You’ll lighten your load and make precious resources available to those looking to buy secondhand.
  • Seeing as I have a fair amount of junk, I created two boxes in my living room. One is for items that are destined for donation, so that I can make one large trip rather than multiple small ones. The other box is for items that I’m not sure about. If they stay in the box for more than 6 months without me going in to get them, they get donated too. I made a big donation just before I left, and I plan to make another one in the beginning of 2014
4. Reduce your shopping trips and keep a shopping list. The less you bring home, the less waste you’ll have to deal with.
  • There are all kinds of apps to help with shopping lists. R and I use Out of Milk since it allows us to share our lists, even though we’re on different platforms. It also lets me keep a list of my pantry items and to-dos, though I don’t really use it for either of those purposes.
  • I’m a firm believer of shopping for fresh produce more often, but keeping a list will make sure you only bring home what you need.

5. Swap disposables for reusables (start using handkerchiefs, refillable bottles, shopping totes, cloth napkins, rags, etc.). You might find that you don’t miss your paper towels, but rather enjoy the savings.

  • I made and started using handkerchiefs. I also have a bunch of my grandma’s old ones, which I love.
  • cotton make-up pads. I have since made some more with microfiber cloths, which I find to be more absorbent and nicer for my face.
  • I have a probably too big collection of microfiber cloths and rags for all my cleaning. Having as many as I do means I can do a whole load of laundry to clean them, rather than just a partial load.
6. Avoid grocery shopping waste: Bring reusable totes, cloth bags (for bulk aisles), and jars (for wet items like cheese and deli foods) to the store and farmers market.
  • I made and use my own drawstring bags at my favourite bulk food store, Dominion Foods at the St. Lawrence Market. One time when I was there a lady commented that she liked the idea so much she was going to try it too!
  • I am usually quite good about bringing my own bags when I go shopping.
  • I have yet to ask for cheese and deli items to be put into glass jars. I have them, but haven’t asked yet.
  • I try to remember to bring my own container to restaurants so that I don’t need to take a Styrofoam container with me.

7. Know your city’s recycling policies and locations—but think of recycling as a last resort. Have you refused, reduced, or reused first? Question the need and life-cycle of your purchases. Shopping is voting.

8. Buy primarily in bulk or secondhand, but if you must buy new, choose glass, metal, or cardboard. Avoid plastic: Much of it gets shipped across the world for recycling and often ends up in the landfill (or worse yet, the ocean).
  • This is an area that I really struggle. I am good at buying pantry items in bulk, but when it comes to everything else, sometimes it’s really nice to have something shiny and new! I do now consider how much plastic is in the items that I buy, and will try to pick items that have less or none.

9. Find a compost system that works for your home and get to know what it will digest (dryer lint, hair, and nails are all compostable).

  • The City of Toronto has a compost program that I participate in. I have a stainless still container in my apartment that I empty into our communal green bin on pick-up days.
10. Turn your home kitchen trash can into one large compost receptacle. The bigger the compost receptacle, the more likely you’ll be to use it freely.
  • My compost, recycling and garbage containers are all about the same size. However, as I noted earlier, I will often go a month or more without taking out my garbage or recycling, where I take the compost out every week. I find if I do it less than that it can get a bit stinky. The beauty of this system is that with the compost removed from the garbage and recycling, it’s all dry waste, and can sit for a long time without smelling.
The key for me with this was putting systems in place so that it was easy for me to reduce my waste. When my nose is runny, I now reach for one of the handkerchiefs I have stashed everywhere. When I spill something in the kitchen, I grab a rag rather than a paper towel. And I don’t miss the old ways, which is the coolest part!

How to make a Foot Scrub from old Coffee Grinds

It felt like every time I went on Pinterest in the last little while there was a link to a coffee scrub. Since my feet were looking the worst for wear, I thought I would give a coffee foot scrub a try. Except rather than using new coffee, which most of the links seemed to use, I just used the grounds that I used to make my coffee in the morning!

Coffee Foot Scrub
freshly brewed coffee grounds

I started with this recipe from the little dutch wife, but made some small changes based on what we had in the kitchen which included only olive oil. While we have cinnamon and nutmeg, I wasn’t really sold on putting them in, although I’m sure they’d add a lovely scent!

Coffee Foot Scrub
olive oil and coffee grounds

I mixed enough olive oil in the coffee grounds to make a paste, and brought it with me to the shower. I did a good scrubbing on my feet, and then rinsed everything really well.  My feet and hands were a little bit yellowy brown after putting the scrub on, but it came off easily with a bit of soap and water.

Coffee Foot Scrub
slightly foggy action shot

When I get home, I’d love to do something like this as described in the recipe with coconut oil!

Revisiting my zero waste hair and face care

Last weekend R and I went to The Hague. I realized that I was going to need another Lush Jungle solid conditioner before I left and I wanted to try their dry shampoo, No Drought, since I left my home-made one at home and read some good reviews about it. I also was looking for some aloe vera for my hair – I put some of the after sun fluorescent green stuff in my hair with pretty decent success, so I was looking to find something a bit more natural to try!

When I first decided to start reducing my waste in 2011, I did a whole bunch of reading about zero waste options for hair care. At the time I opted for the Soap Work’s Shampoo & Conditioner bar followed by an apple cider vinegar rinse, and was generally pretty happy with it – it was cheap and worked well for me. The shampoo bar contains palm oil, unfortunately, and I the more reading I did about it, the less I wanted to use anything that used it as an ingredient.

I decided to start using the Jungle conditioner and the Karma Komba solid shampoo bar that R bought me for my birthday full time, rather than just while I was travelling. The thing I like about Lush is that even though some of the ingredients are listed as moderate hazards on EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database and they put a bit too much fragrance into their products for my taste, they’re completely open about what ingredients they use. Plus, the staff don’t look at me like I’m crazy for bringing in my own containers – often they’re quite excited about it!

I also stopped using soap on my face. I use water and a washcloth now, and my face looks and feels better than before. Full disclosure – I’ve always had pretty good skin, but I find I break out even less now. I use jojoba oil and my homemade microfibre make-up pads to remove any make-up, and a moisturizer from Dr. Hauschka.

The jojoba oil comes in a glass bottle, and when it’s done I will see if I can have it refilled rather than buying a new one. I bought it at Selsi at the St. Lawrence Market and they seem pretty cool, so I am hopeful they’ll be on board. The moisturizer comes in a glass bottle with a plastic pump. I bought the larger bottle so I’m producing a little less waste, but I need to look into another, lower waste, option. When I first bought the moisturizer they sent me a sample of oil for my face from Suki which I really liked.  After making my own hand and body moisturizer was a success, I may try to make something like it on my own!

Going Menstrual

It seems at some point, all female eco-bloggers talk about their periods. Green as a Thistle did it. Eco Yogini did it a few times. So did Cruchy ChickenZero Waste Home touched on it. Even David Suzuki’s Queen of Green did. And I’m sure there are many others. And they’ve all got one thing in common: they’re all crazy about their Diva Cups. And so am I.

I apologize in advance, as we all seem to, that this post may be a bit of an overshare, but I definitely will never, ever, ever go back to using disposable feminine hygiene products.


The DivaCup is a “reusable, bell-shaped menstrual cup that is worn internally and sits low in the vaginal canal, collecting rather than absorbing your menstrual flow.  The DivaCup empowers women to connect with their bodies and menstrual cycles like never before.” I wear my DivaCup for 12 hours without leaks or worry, which means I only ever have to empty it in the comfort of my own bathroom.

Keeping the Diva Cup clean is pretty straightforward. Rather than using the Diva Wash, I wash it with simple glycerine soap that I found in bulk at the St. Lawrence Market. I also boil it for 5 to 10 minutes to sanitize.

I find it much easier to manage and way more comfortable than tampons. On top of that, it’s less expensive. SquakFox‘s mathy math says you can buy a brand new Diva Cup for approximately $40 CAD. Assuming about $10 per month in supplies, this gem pays for itself in 4 months. Diva Cup recommends replacing it every year, but I’m with Crunchy Chicken and EcoYogini on this one – I’m going to keep washing and boiling mine until I hear a more compelling reason for replacing it.

Most importantly for me, though, it reduces all the waste that comes with using disposable feminine hygiene products. As the manufacturers of the Diva Cup point out, “over 7 billion tampons and 13 billion sanitary pads, plus all the associated packaging, ends up in landfills and sewage systems every year in the U.S. alone.”

I had planned to make some type of washable pad, but my Diva Cup is so awesome that I don’t ever worry about it leaking like I did with tampons, and I have no need for pads! Hurray!

Snot Sucks

I got a Neti Pot last Christmas, and I`m so happy to have it!  A neti pot is used to treat sinus problems, colds, allergies and post-nasal drip. You basically pour a saline solution in one nostril, through your nasal passages, and out the other.  It feels really weird the first time, but it becomes normal really quickly.

The neti pot can be a really nice alternative, or augmentation, to cold medications. When I feel a cold coming on, and throughout, I use the neti pot every morning until my nose has stopped running and the cold has passed. Except in extreme conditions, I manage to avoid having to take a any medication at all. That being said, when I get a cold so bad that I can’t breathe when I lie down, I’ll take a NiQuil so I can sleep!

There are plastic neti pots out there, I’ve seen them at the drug store, however my neti pot is ceramic. I like that it can be sanitized with  boiling water and washed in the dishwasher. I buy the salt to make a saline solution in bulk from Selsi Sea Rosks at the St. Lawrence market.

In combination with my homemade handkerchiefs, it’s my zero waste way to deal with a cold.

How to make Cleaning Powder

About 6 months ago my mom decided she was going to make her own cleaning powder. Apparently her cleaning lady requested she buy some Comet, and my mom wanted to find a slightly less toxic version. She made her own, and also mixed me up a small container for me, and I love it! The tiles and counter are clean and don’t smell chemical-y (like my roommate’s Pine Sol which hurts my nose and who knows what else) at all!

The recipe is simple.

Mix equal parts of baking soda, borax and washing soda.

How to make your own non-toxic Powdered Cleaner

That’s it!

I got my baking soda, borax and washing soda in bulk at Grassroots. This is a minimal waste cleaning solution!

Make your own Cleaning Powder

Soap Making Essentials suggested adding liquid soap and essential oil, and since I had some Eucalyptus Essential Oil sitting around from a previous project, I added it as well. It smells lovely, but I don’t expect it will make much of a difference to this concoction’s ability to clean.

How to make your own non-toxic cleaning powder

Bulk Cleaning Products in Toronto!

Back in August when R was here I took him to `Tastes of the Danforth.` In addition to eating some amazing Greek Food, we walked into the Riverdale Grassroots Store, which is where I bought my Diva Cup (more on that to come later). I was so happy to find bulk vinegar, washing soda and so many other cleaning products that I actually gave a little cheer and jumped up and down, to R`s dismay. He is very typically Dutch in liking normalcy, and not standing out!

As we were leaving, the girl at the cash asked me why I was so excited, and I told her. I didn`t have any containers with me at the time, but I knew I would be back for some soon enough.Note: I don`t know this dude. It`s still not second nature to me to take photos of these types of things for my blog – I promise to take a picture next time I go back!

And that time was this weekend! I ran out of cleaner last weekend when I was cleaning (shocking, I know!), so grabbed some jars and went back to Grassroots and got some washing soda, borax, baking soda and cleaning vinegar. I remembered to weigh my jars before I left so they could be tared when they were full with product.

Hurray for Bulk Products!

I`m going to have to label these jars – the baking soda and borax look very, very similar. Thankfully only the baking soda reacts with vinegar, so it was easy to confirm which was which. Another win for science!

Love List 2012 – 3rd Quarter Update

Well, we’re now well into October, and I haven’t updated my love list since the beginning of March. I think a quarterly update is a bit overdue!

Grow a garden on our porch
I started tomatoes, zucchini, peppers and spinach from seed. The tomatoe sprouts were looking great until I left for the Netherlands for a week and my roommate didn’t water them as I requested. The zucchini and peppers fared a bit better, but got snatched by some raccoons before I could harvest them. The spinach never sprouted at all, and the wildflower seeds I planted just looked like weeds. Needless to say, this was a less than successful experiment, but hasn’t deterred me from wanting to try again next year. Although I probably won’t start from seed. And I’ll be in an upper level apartment where there will be fewer pests, but less space and probably less sun.

Read more novels
I think that I’ve done a pretty good job of this. My Aunt has kept me well supplied with books, as she is a voracious reader. My dad also passed along his BlackBerry playbook (since he is now an iSnob), which has the Kobo Reader app on it. Since all books out of copyright seem to be free to download, I started reading Sense and Sensibility. I also have Fifty Shades of Grey to read, only because I have to know for myself just how horrible it is. After reading this review at GoodReads, as suggested by Eco Yogini, I’m strangely intrigued. And scared.

Learn (and practice) to cook well
I have discovered this year that I actually enjoy cooking – I just don’t like deciding what to eat! R and I have already agreed that if we ever live together he’ll decide what we’re eating and I’ll make it. He said it with a sparkle in his eye, though, so I suspect I’m going to have to learn how to cook lots of complicated Dutch meals…

Learn to speak Dutch
I think that self-teaching a language is not very good at all. At the end of my last trip to the Netherlands, however, my Dutch was getting a teeny, tiny bit better. But not much. That being said, my Dutch I class at the U of T started last night! While the first night was a little bit unorganized, it was interesting to hear why the 9 other people in the course were there, and I think it will be very useful to have a designated 2.5 hours to learn, and have homework. I was a bit of a keener in school (not surprising to those who know me!), so the fact that there’s homework to complete, and tests to write, means I’ll spend at least some time doing that outside of class! And R promised he’d help me practice, which is good because there are 2 couples and a father/son combo in the class, who have each other to practice with!

Get rid of the junk in my bedroom and the garage
I spent this past weekend organizing and purging from the garage. I took a trunk load of stuff to the Value Village, have some board games that friends have expressed an interest in taking, and have some eWaste that the City will recycle for me. I now have to figure out how to get my hands on one of the eWaste bags, because the City website is not very helpful. Once I figure it out, I will put up a post!

Simplify my wardrobe
In addition to the trunk full of stuff I took too Value Village from the garage, I also took 3 bags of clothes that don’t fit within my wardrobe anymore. I went thrifting with my cousin Ali this week and got some great basics and a beautiful pencil skirt, but each item fits within the framework I have set-out for my wardrobe.

Finally get my Professional Engineer designation
Fail. Epic fail. Nothing done but refute a whole bunch of nagging by my dad. And my mom. And my sister. And R. And my sister’s boyfriend… You get the idea, I’m putting this off.

Pay off my debt
By the end of this month my MasterCard will be paid off, and never used again! That means that the money I was putting on it can now go to my VISA to get it paid off! I’m very excited to be heading in the right direction. Mint has added some features, so I can now see my debt over time. Look at it go down!

(For some reason one of my accounts isn’t showing up in the summary for January and February – this really is a downward trend)

Track the waste that I produce each week/month
Once again, an Epic Fail. I found it quite difficult to track with a roommate who would likely contaminate my results, not out of spite, but just because she wouldn’t pay attention. I move into my own apartment in December, so the waste tracking will begin again in earnest in January, when I can have a dedicated garbage and recycling container for just me.

With the new year fast approaching, I’m also starting to think about what I’d love to do next year. Being organized is certainly on the list, as is running a half marathon, but I think there will be a lot of repeats from this year.

How to make a (Nearly) Waste Free Toothpaste

As I mentioned in my February Love List update, I started making my own toothpaste. The first attempt wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. I’ve since made another batch and I think I’m ready to share the very simple recipe for (nearly) waste free toothpaste.


4 tablespoons baking soda
2 tablespoons vegetable glycerin
5 drops of organic essential oil in peppermint


It’s as easy as mixing all the ingredients together in a small container! I use the small stainless bowls I got from Lee Valley Tools for Christmas a few years ago. Thankfully my family understands that I like to get useful items as gifts!

I buy my baking soda in bulk at Domino Foods at the St. Lawrence Market. They never make a fuss about meat me using my own reusable bags, and they’re super friendly!

Make your own (nearly) waste free toothpaste

I purchased my vegetable glycerine and peppermint essential oils from New Directions Aromatics. While it`s not completely waste free, since the glycerine came in a plastic bottle and the essential oil in a tiny glass one, it`s still less waste per tube of toothpaste than going to the store to buy a tube.

How to make your own (nearly) waste free toothpaste

How to make your own (nearly) waste free toothpaste

I used too much glycerine in the first batch. It wasn’t runny at first, but it separated over the time I was using it. The second time around I used more baking soda and less glycerine, so I’m hoping it doesn’t separate.

How to make your own (nearly) waste free toothpaste

I put my toothpaste in an extra GoToob that I had from my travels to store my toothpaste. I used a whole bunch of Toobs when I was in Peru, but my recent foray into zero waste means I use significantly fewer bottled products and don’t need all of the Toobs I have anymore. You can bet I’m happy that I’ve found another use for one of them! They’re wonderful for traveling with because they don’t leak, are super easy to fill (unless you’re trying to fill and take a picture which results in a totally blurry photo as evidenced below), and you can mark what’s in the bottle by spinning the top around. Unfortunately, “toothpaste” isn’t one of the options yet.

How to make your own (nearly) waste free Toothpaste


While this toothpaste takes a little bit of getting used to, I especially like it in the morning. I’ve never been much of a morning tooth brusher (sorry if you find that gross), but this toothpaste’s flavour fades quickly, which means that it doesn’t interfere with the taste of my breakfast. RB will be happy! 🙂

How to make your own (nearly) waste free toothpaste

You can find other homemade toothpaste recipes at Zero Waste Home and Say No to Trash.


Love List revisted

Seeing as it’s now the 2nd of February, I figure it’s time to take my first look back at my love list from the beginning of the year.

Read more novels
So far this year I’ve read The Girl who Played with Fire (of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy), Catching Fire (of the Hunger Games trilogy), and Sleeping Naked is Green. I’ve already started The Girl who kicked the Hornets Nest and am in line to read Mocking Jay to finish up my trilogies. My Aunt and I have done some book trading, so I also have three or four novels from her to read.

Learn (and practice) to cook well  

I made my mom’s ‘speckle’ meat loaf, so called because there are lots and lots of carrots in it.  While it was a step in the right direction, I haven’t done much else!

Learn to speak Dutch
I am now on lesson 30, the last one, of Pimsleur’s Dutch. I`ve learned how to say `I love the Netherlands`(Ik hou van Nederland), and I want to stay in the Netherlands (Ik wil blijven in Nederland), neither of which my family will be too happy to hear, I suspect! I also learned `Nee, het is te duur`, which means No, it`s too expensive, an important thing to know in Dutch according to R

Get rid of the junk in my bedroom and the garage
I went through two boxes in my garage, and labelled them as garage sale. My parents are planning on having one in the spring, so I thought i might partake. Anything that doesn’t get sold will go to a reuse store or on freecycle. Nothing I own is nice enough to put on consignment!

Simplify my wardrobe
Rather than reducing my wardrobe in January, I added… But I added thoughtfully and with purpose. I bought two v-neck sweaters whose arms go to my elbows (just like I like them), one black and one purple, and one light blue button down shirt with the same type of arms. If it had been cheaper, I would have bought the light purple one as well. I also got some new underwear to replace some old stuff that needs to be replaced. February will be for eliminating the parts of my wardrobe that I don`t need.

Finally get my Professional Engineer designation
Work has been chaotic, which is why I’ve been a delinquent here, and a delinquent with my PEO application.

Pay off my debt
About a year ago I started tracking my spending with Mint. It’s a pretty easy to use system, and there are cool graphs, like the following:

As you can see, my net income has been in the positive for the past 4 months! Which means, slowly but surely my debt is being paid off. When it gets closer, I`ll share the page of the net worth. It`s too depressing to share at the moment. The giant dip into the red was from when I went to Peru. A trip very much worth it!

Run 10 miles
Seeing as I’m already signed up to do one third (10km) of the Around the Bay Race as part of Team Spatula Runners, I might as well add it to my love list! I’ve been trying to run 3 times a week, and it hasn’t been terrible. I’m going to have to start increasing my distances soon, seeing as the race is in March.

I also signed up to do the Tough Mudder with my Wipeout Canada family in August. I didn’t quite realize what I was getting myself into when I signed up, but needless to say I will have to get my butt in gear to prepare for it. 10 miles?! Yes I can!

Track the waste that I produce each week/month
In January,  I generated 702 g of landfill and 1,202 g of recycling.Weight wise, that’s about as much as a 2L bottle of pop. Volume wise, it’s probably much bigger.

Now I’ve got a target. There’s still lots to do, but I’ve made a lot of changes to help facilitate that. And you’re going to hear all about them, whether you want to or not!

I ended up tired of weighing my waste every day, which is why there`s a giant weigh in at the end of the month. This is how I’m going to operate going forward.

On a related note, I share garbage bins with my roommate and our upstairs neighbours. It drives me bonkers that they seem to fill up 2 ‘medium’ sized bins, while we only use a small kitchen catcher in a two week period. I’m half tempted to label them as ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ to see if anything changes, though it’s probably too passive aggressive. Maybe I’ll suggest to my landlord that he replace one of the ‘medium’ bins with a ‘small’ bin for us!