How to Reduce Waste (But Not the Fun) for Halloween

waste free halloween

waste free halloween

I enjoy Halloween, and even dress up to hand out candy, but for some reason it always sneaks up on me. We’re always the last ones on our street to get a pumpkin, and by the time I get around to figuring out what to hand out it’s so late in the game that I grab whatever box of treats are available. Completely un-green of me, I am aware. On the flip-side, the kids have only worn used or home-made costumes, and we save the costumes I make for myself in our costume bin for later use. This year, I was reminded early about preparing for the big day so I want to do things better. But how on earth can you have a greener Halloween without worrying about getting your house egged?

Let me help you out. Here are ways you can have a waste-free (or at least less-waste) Halloween, and still have fun.

Costumes

This is an easy one, but often over-looked. Ask your local children’s consignment store when costumes are being put out. Then go on that day for the greatest chance of getting something you want. If your child is older, ask what they want to be and then look through their existing clothes to see if there’s a way to build on what they already have. If you have to purchase accessories or a wig, for example, look for something that can be reused. Make sure you avoid costume jewelry and dollar store trinkets though, as alarming levels of toxic heavy metals or hazardous chemicals have been found in these products.

Decorations

I do love a well-decorated house. If you want to go all out on the decorations, keep them in good repair and store them properly during the off-season to prolong their life. Even things like fake cob-webs can be kept and reused for a few years at least, if stored properly.

One of my favourite parts about Halloween is pigging out on roasted pumpkin seeds for the week after. Save the seeds when you scoop out the pumpkin and rinse all the pulp off. Leave them to dry on a cookie sheet, patting them with a tea towel to get them started if you like. I wait overnight, and then toss them in salt (seasoned or sea) and olive oil and bake at 350ºF for about 15mins or until golden brown (keep an eye on them because they burn quickly!). You can get way more creative with flavours but this is a simple way to get started.

Treats

OK, so here’s the kicker. And what I struggle the most with. There are a few reasons to reconsider the treats you offer:

  • Allergies (the Teal Pumpkin Project focuses on this),
  • Health (there is obviously nothing healthy about chips and chocolate bars),
  • Waste (candy wrappers cannot be recycled in most municipal systems, if any).

I’m going to focus on the waste aspect here. The way our society works these days essentially requires food distributed by strangers to be wrapped in single-serving containers. I don’t know about you, but if my kids came home with a homemade collection of stuff, and I didn’t know all the houses they went to, I’d err on the side of caution. So I’m not convinced that homemade treats are going to solve the waste issue (food waste is still waste).

One way is to limit the number of houses they go trick-or-treating to. This is definitely easier for little kids, but it’s an option none-the-less. Nobody needs (or even wants, really) as much candy as kids are getting. So let’s stop the madness, help your neighbours save a few bucks by having to buy less candy, and just visit fewer houses.

If you’re handing out treats, consider opting for cardboard wrapping instead of foil wrappers, since cardboard can at least be recycled. TerraCycle does offer candy wrapper recycling at a cost, and GoJava will collect wrappers from snack products purchased from them. You could consider going together as a neighbourhood or parent council to purchase a TerraCycle recycling bin and share the cost to make it less of a barrier.

You can also go the non-food route and offer things that kids will use and might actually have purchased (or had purchased for them) otherwise. Things like notepads, stickers, pencils and erasers, crayons, tattoos, bookmarks, etc. These aren’t zero-waste, but they are a step up from candy wrappers. I would avoid small-sized packaged items like playdough as those create excess plastic waste (even if it is recyclable). One mom in a local Facebook group suggested packets of wildflower seeds, which I think would be super-fun to do with the kiddos in the spring.

 

Do you have a trick to reduce your treat waste? Let us know in the comments!

5 Tips to Pack a Litterless Lunch… Like a Boss.

how to pack a litterless lunch

how to pack a litterless lunch

If you’ve got school-aged kids and you’re anything like me, you’re in denial about having to start packing lunches on Tuesday. I got used to the lunch-making routine the last few years with our previous daycare but I have to admit: having a summer off (both for the kids and me since I now work from home) was really nice. But all good things must come to and end, and so begins the lunch routine. I have to remind myself that is really doesn’t have to be that bad, so I thought I’d share my tips for making litter-less lunch packing a breeze.

Don’t use Pinterest.

Seriously. This is my number one tip because I think it’s enough to make anybody want to throw a Lunchables and a yogurt tube in the lunch bag and call it a day. Unless you really get kicks from making your kids’ lunch a serious work of art, don’t search for visual inspiration. Save your energy and focus on packing healthy food and just hope your kid will eat at least some of it.

Use a bento box.

I used to use individual containers, but when I wanted to switch from plastic I invested in a couple metal bento boxes. One of the benefits is that you just have one dish to wash instead of 4 separate ones which saves time and/or dishwasher space. We use LunchBots, but I’ve also heard great things about PlanetBox, which has some fully sealed options.

If you’re not going to make everything at home (because not many of us are about to make our own crackers), the least you can do is avoid the extra wrapping. A bento box with separate compartments also makes it easy to pack things like crackers, cookies, and snacks without buying individually-wrapped portions.

Have small leak-proof containers on hand.

For kids who like yogurt, hummus, apple sauce, soups, etc., have some leak-proof containers on-hand. It takes all of 5 seconds to pour from a larger container rather than using single serving packages. For grown-ups, this is a great way to reuse mason jars. Since glass isn’t the best option especially for little kids, I use a combination of various containers. If you have those little Baby Bullet containers (and don’t mind using plastic), they work great for hummus and dips. You can also find small insulated containers for soups and stews.

Give them cutlery and a cloth napkin.

Avoid using the plastic and paper napkins by putting cutlery and cloth right in their lunch bag. I send baby cutlery with my kindergartener – the handles are easy to put a name on, and it’s no be deal if they don’t come home. Get them their own napkins as well, either cute printed cloth, or even cloth baby wipes, and remind them to use them instead of paper towel.

Pack leftovers.

Save time by reusing what you’re having for dinner (my kids don’t think there’s anything strange about cold left-overs). You can either pack straight leftovers, or cut up some extra fruit and veg as you’re prepping to go into lunch. You can also pre-cut many veggies and some fruits (like melon) at the start of each week. This will help you save time while packing a healthier lunch and avoiding those single-serve packages. Packing lunch the night before will also help save you time in the morning, when you’re more likely to reach for ‘convenience’ foods with more waste.

 

If you go into the lunch packing process with a positive attitude and a commitment to avoid Ziploc bags and single-serve packages, you’ll soon find that packing lunches doesn’t have to be stressful. Be prepared with the right set up, and you’ll get into a groove in no time. Don’t make it more complicated than you want it to be so you don’t slide into old habits – I’ve been known to successfully pack a lunch in less than 5 minutes and if you have a dishwasher, the additional dishes aren’t even noticeable.

If you’re ready to give yourself a kick-in-the-pants to actually start making your home greener and healthier, I invite you to check out my new and improved website – with free resources, awesome services, and special promotions! I wish you all the best for the start of a new school year!

Is Borax Toxic?

Homemade natural cleaners

Borax has been lining DIYer’s shelves for decades. It’s been a green cleaner staple and is even used to make kids’ crafts. But that is about to change. This month, Health Canada released its “Draft Screening Assessment for Boric Acid, its Salts and its Precursers”. It includes recommendations to avoid products like homemade slime and household pesticides that contain borax (a salt of boric acid). What interested me most was how this news impacted my homemade cleaning recipes, which include borax. And so, because diving into the details is what I do, I read (OK, some parts I skimmed) the Health Canada Assessment to get to the bottom of it. And I am happy to share what I learned with you can spend your time doing what you do!

What is Borax

Borax is a naturally-occurring mineral, a boron compound, and a salt of boric acid. Most of the borax used in Canada comes from mines in the US. It is a white powder that is used in a variety of products including cleaners, cosmetics, food packaging, insulation, ceramics, pesticides, adhesives, fertilizers, flame retardants, and swimming pool chemicals. Boron in its various forms is also found in effluent from oil sands, pulp and paper manufacturing, and coal plants.

Borax vs Boric Acid

In 2010, boric acid was added to the EU’s Substance of Very High Concern list as a reproductive toxin. In 2011, the Environmental Working Group advised against using borax in household cleaners due to its potential health impacts, specifically with respect to reproductive concerns. The internet is ripe with confusion around whether borax has the same toxicity as boric acid.

According to the Health Canada report, borax is considered to be equivalent to boric acid in terms of toxicity. It wasn’t very well explained, but from what I can tell it’s because there are a bunch of different boron-containing compounds that have the potential to convert to boric acid given the right conditions.

In summary: Borax is not boric acid. Borax may turn into boric acid in certain conditions.

The Bottom Line

While not conclusive, enough study results suggest that boric acid adversely affects fertility, reproduction and development.

The people most impacted by the health effects of borax are employees in manufacture/processing – they are exposed to significantly higher concentrations than consumers. This was enough for me to take pause: should my “green” laundry detergent cause someone else to get sick?

Health Canada’s recommendation to avoid crafts and pesticides is based on the idea that direct exposure (i.e. potential to eat it) is high, especially for children. And while the amount of boric acid that may enter your body from household use is low, since boric acid is found in our food, water, and air, Health Canada advises that we reduce our exposure wherever possible.

My Next Steps

In my homemade cleaners workshops to-date, I made it clear that the jury was out on borax. It’s important to avoid inhaling the dust and always keep out of reach of children. Given the information provided by Health Canada, I believe the advice to minimize household use is conservative and precautionary – I wish they would take this approach with more harmful ingredients in everyday products.

While Health Canada mostly advises against crafts and pesticides with borax, I am going to try borax-free cleaner recipes to take further steps to create a healthy home. I’ve already started testing a borax-free laundry detergent recipe and will remove it from my all-purpose cleaner. If I find borax really is the magic ingredient, then I will continue to use it with caution until I can find something less toxic yet still effective.

11 Non-Toxic Ways to Kill Weeds

non-toxic weed control

 

Weeds: the bane of a gardener’s existence. If you want a beautiful lawn, healthy vegetables or flourishing fruit, you need weeds to stop taking up valuable space. Chemical weed killers may be effective, but they can be toxic to the environment. Luckily, you’ve got options to get rid of weeds in eco-friendly ways.

1. Form a Blockade

 Covering a garden bed with mulch stops weeds from growing because it blocks sunlight. Use bark and decorative mulch from a gardening or home care store. If you’re interested in recycling, use dried leaves, newspaper or cardboard.

2. Go Down a One-Way Street

Landscape fabric lets water and air through but stops weeds from growing. For best results, cover the fabric with mulch.

3. Fire It Up

Use landscape flamers to burn individual weeds that crop up between pavers, through sidewalks and along edging.

4. Fish and Chips and…

 Plain old vinegar kills weeds. If you’re resourceful, you can even recycle pickle juice — just pour it directly onto weeds.

5. Make It a Competition

Competition is an important part of nature. If a lot of organisms vie for the same space, some won’t survive. All plants need sunlight, water and nutrients. If you’re raising copious amounts of grass, ground cover, flowers, vegetables or fruits, there are fewer resources for weeds. They’ll get crowded out.

Have your soil tested, and make adjustments necessary for whatever you want to grow. Weeds can flourish in almost anything, but you’ll at least give your favored plants a better chance.

6. Wall ‘Em Out

Barriers keep weeds from spreading from bed to bed. Surround your garden completely with stone or wood walls or lawn edging.

7. Season Them

 Rock salt or plain table salt kills plants. Remember the old stories of “salting the earth” and destroying cities so nothing will ever grow again? That ancient curse really works. Don’t put salt anywhere you want to raise plants, though, because nothing’s sprouting there for a long time. Sprinkle salt carefully — you don’t want to destroy healthy plants. Salt also breaks down concrete in sidewalks or driveways, so save it for edges and garden paths.

8. Make Lasagna

This method doesn’t involve pasta. Lasagna gardening uses layers that promote plant growth but discourage weeds. The bottom layer is dampened corrugated cardboard or sheets of newspaper. This kills plants, including weeds. Leaves or shredded paper — the brown layer — goes next, followed by a layer of vegetable scraps or lawn clippings — the green layer. Repeat these layers until you reach about two feet. Green sections should be about half the depth of the brown tiers.

After a few weeks, your plot has composted, and you can plant as usual. Dig right down into the dirt, breaking through the cardboard if necessary. Mulch the bed when you’re done. From then on, treat your lasagna garden as you would a traditional garden.

9. Boil Them

This method isn’t very precise, so it might be best used in spots that have only weeds, such as next to walkways or between sidewalk cracks. Pour boiling water on weeds. That’s it. They’ll soon die.

10. Yank ‘Em Out

Pulling weeds isn’t complicated, but it’s lots of work if you have lots of weeds. If you’re lucky enough to have a limited invasion, taking them out by hand is simple and earth-friendly. To make the process even easier, do it after it rains or pour water on the dirt. Use a knife or screwdriver to loosen the weed down deep. If you don’t get to the roots, the weed may return. Dandelions are typically the first flower out at the start of the season and are great support for bees. If you do yank them, wait until they’re about to go to seed in the spring at least until other flowers are around for the bees.

11. Enjoy Them

This requires some work, but it both kills weeds and makes good use of them. Some weeds are edible and actually quite tasty. For instance:

  • The entire dandelion is edible. Add leaves to salads or soups, steam or stir-fry them. The flowers are good raw or cooked, but they’re best known as the essential ingredient in dandelion wine. Use the roots in any recipe for root vegetables.
  • Whether ordinary three-leaf or lucky four-leaf, mix clover leaves and flowers into raw salads. Dried, the flowers make flavorful tea.
  • Lamb’s quarters, or goosefoot, makes a great substitute for spinach in raw or cooked recipes.

 

Whichever method you use to kill weeds, it’s best to start as soon as you see them rearing their pesky little heads. Once weeds are established, it’s a lot harder to get rid of them. Get a few, and you can do battle. Get a lot, and it becomes a war. But it’s winnable if you’re precise, dedicated and patient. Now choose your weapons.

 

bobbi peterson

 

Bobbi Peterson loves writing and regularly posts on her blog Living Life Green. She’s also a freelance writer, green living advocate and environmentalist. You can find more from Bobbi on Twitter.

3 Ways to Grow Food in a Small Space

small herb garden
small herb garden
Image source: http://blackeiffel.blogspot.com/2010/05/planting-herbs.html

You may not think you have the right geography or amount of space to start a functional garden, but the truth is that virtually anyone can grow their own herbs and vegetables at home. To show you how easy it can be, guest blogger Bobbi Peterson of Living Life Green is sharing her tips!

Indoor gardens are some of the easiest gardens to maintain due to their low upkeep and minor space requirements. Here’s what you will need:

  • A sunny windowsill — You will want to use a window that gets around eight hours of sunshine each day. If that’s not possible, you can place a lamp (any compact fluorescent lightbulb should work) facing your plants so that you can increase the hours of light they receive each day.
  • Plant containers — This can be anything from old teacups to ceramic planting pots and growing boxes. Read the instructions on the packet of seeds you buy to see the plant’s water requirements. Some plants prefer dry roots and some prefer to have wet roots. You will need to poke or drill holes at the bottom of your containers according to your plant’s water requirements.
  • Soil — The type depends on how hardcore you want to be: This can be as simple as a scoop of dirt from the public park nearby, or as complex as a bag of potting soil.
  • Fertilizer — This can be purchased from large grocery or hardware stores. You can also make your own fertilizer from compost.
  • Watering device — It is important to use a gentle trickle of water when watering delicate plants (like most herbs), because you risk damaging them with a stream from a cup. You can take an empty pop can and carefully poke some holes in the bottom using a nail. Place it in a bowl, fill it with water and use the can to water your plants. You could also buy specialized versions that look a little nicer, or a simple watering pail.
  • Weed prevention routine — This can be as simple as checking the leaves of your plants every day to make sure that there are no pests harassing them. There are many ways to keep your plants safe and healthy using integrated pest management techniques instead of harmful chemicals (that is a whole topic on its own – maybe another blog post to come!).

The key to creating a functional garden in a small space is to tailor your garden setup and maintenance regiment to the type of plant you want to grow.

  1. Herbs

Imagine what you could do with an endless supply of fresh herbs — dill pickles, herbed cream cheeses, perfectly seasoned steaks or adventurous salad dressings. Starting an herb garden in your windowsill (or any other space with some light) is a wonderful way to have delicious herbs year-round.

Most herbs are great candidates to grow indoors. Basil, parsley, oregano, cilantro and rosemary are all good choices to start out with because they grow fast and are some of the most versatile to cook with. You’ll get results quickly, and you’ll hopefully want to take your gardening to the next level!

  1. Vegetables

What better way could there be to give your family’s nutrition a boost than with delicious, home-grown vegetables?

Carrots are easy to grow from seeds and do well in window boxes. You could also grow garlic greens by literally just planting a bulb of garlic that you purchase at the grocery store. You won’t be able to eat the bulbs, but you will have plenty of chive-like goodness to use in future recipes.

You could also try kale, Swiss chard and other salad greens. These can be pricey at a grocery store, and fresh greens are sometimes difficult to eat on time before they turn to mush. Growing them at home is an easy way to improve your nutrition without breaking the bank or creating too much waste.

  1. Flowers and Tea

Growing flowers and tea plants indoors will make your home smell amazing and can also give your health and cooking a big boost.

You can use mint leaves to make a delicious tea in hot water. Mint also grows like a weed and is one of the quickest and low-maintenance plants to grow indoors. Jasmine is another plant that grows well indoors. It smells wonderful and its dried leaves, bark and flowers can be used to make a caffeine-free tea.

Lavender is also a wonderful candidate for a home garden, but you’ll have to check that the variety you purchase is suited for indoor growing. French lavender grows well indoors. It is a little trickier to grow because it requires a lot of light, but you can add light easily with a grow lamp.

You don’t need wide open spaces or a tractor to grow your own food at home! With a little work and know-how, you will be producing fresh herbs, organic vegetables or even homemade teas — all from your windowsill.

 

Bobbi Peterson

 

Bobbi Peterson loves writing and regularly posts on her blog Living Life Green. She’s also a freelance writer, green living advocate and environmentalist. You can find more from Bobbi on Twitter.

Why you should try natural deodorant (and which ones really work)

natural deodorant

natural deodorant

Summer can be a scary time to think about testing a new deodorant. Especially a deodorant branded “natural”. But there are a few good reasons to ditch your conventional anti-perspirant and opt for a deodorant with fewer chemicals. The best part is, you don’t have to sacrifice personal hygiene to do it! Here’s why natural deodorants are the way to go, and what brands actually work.

Read moreWhy you should try natural deodorant (and which ones really work)

What’s in Fragrance and Parfum

what's in fragrance parfum

HINT: Mountain air and meadow flowers are not actually used in your air freshener.

We’ve been sold on the idea of a clean smell. So we use air fresheners, room sprays, plug-ins, candles and dryer sheets to add fragrance to our home. But the ingredients used to create those “Mountain Fresh”, “Spring Meadow”, and “Lavender Vanilla” scents are not as natural as their names imply. Instead, conventional fragrances are created with synthetic chemicals, some of which are known or suspected carcinogens, hormone disrupters, and asthma or allergy-inducing chemicals.

Commercials even suggest that we can leave a month’s worth of take-out containers and old gym bags in a car – but it’s OK, because there’s a product that can cover up the smell. How did we get to a place where this sounds reasonable?!

Read moreWhat’s in Fragrance and Parfum

How to Manage Christmas Waste

How to Reduce Christmas Waste Even if you successfully reduced your Christmas waste by choosing reduced packaging and wrapping with old newspaper or Furoshiki, you may have family or guests who haven’t jumped on your green wagon yet. Or maybe, like me, you still have wrapping paper and new tissue paper kicking around from your “pre-green” days. Either way, chances are you’re going to have more waste than usual on December 25th. Make a quick plan before the big day on how to manage it to avoid landfilling wherever possible. Here are some tips to help you reduce your Christmas waste.

Read moreHow to Manage Christmas Waste