Spring Awakening

Although it seems like all’s been quiet on The Green Bin front for the last few weeks, there’s actually been so much happening behind the scenes!

Now that I’ve got a couple large commissioned projects finished and happily tucked away in their new homes, I’m ready to officially unveil a new The Green Bin website and logo!

They reflect the direction that The Green Bin has been taking for the past few months: a furniture and home goods upcycling business that blogs about eco related topics.

How did this happen?

Well, The Green Bin began as an eco blog.

At around the same time, I rediscovered my love for refinishing and upcycling furniture. Before long, I was selling pieces and having fun doing it.

It just made sense to combine the two elements under The Green Bin.

Upcycling falls into the green movement as it offers a more conscientious alternative to buying new goods.

Refusing to buy new products reduces our carbon footprint and upcycling keeps items with life left in them out of landfills.

It also helps reuse items no longer wanted or loved, repairs anything that needs attention and extends the life and beauty of furniture and home goods.

Plus, there are so many gorgeous, vintage, unique and custom pieces out there to find!

Welcome to the new and improved The Green Bin.

 

 

No Junk Mail, Please

My hang up with ads, flyers and junk mail is long standing.

They are a misuse of resources.

“But Jill, they’re recyclable,” I’ve heard.

Yes, they certainly are.

What’s better than recycling? Not having to recycle.

The junk that shows up in mailboxes and doorsteps is a waste of resources, plain and simple.

Junk mail is a waste of trees, paper, water, ink, tiny plastic windows in envelops, thick plasticky bands that bind the piles together in distribution centres, gas, exhaust fumes and time spent on getting them out to households.

Ads, flyers and junk mail often contain information on services I don’t want, stores I don’t spend my money at, products I’ll never buy and political faces I don’t want to see in my mailbox.

Living in this technological world means easier access to the products we do want, at stores we frequent and for services we need.

We have apps and websites at our fingerprints that allow us to cherry pick what is of interest to us.

Stopping junk mail distribution is easy.

If you’re getting a pile of flyers on your doorstep at the same time as your free weekly local newspaper, call the distribution department and ask them to stop delivery.

If it’s in your mailbox, put a sign on it (or on the inside of your community box) asking for no unaddressed mail.

Save time. Save resources. Ditch the junk mail.

 

But Sometimes You Need to Buy Things

I’m tired of being told by advertisers and retailers when to shop, what to buy and what I need.

Stores filled with St-Valentine’s hearts in December, St-Patrick’s Day paraphernalia and plastic Easter baskets in mid-February, orange Halloween decorations in the summer, Christmas in September and mega-sales on bonafide holidays have driven me to spend my money elsewhere.

There’s nothing of quality in most the aforementioned holiday stuff. It’s all junk, made overseas, brought here by exhaust producing transport trucks and packaged in plastic. Once broken or used a couple of times, the garbage truck will bring the items to the dump where they won’t decompose or degrade for decades.

That’s a pretty grim reality for most things were buy.

The anti-consumerism movements that have taken off in recent years are amazing. And some are even retailer supported.

Patagonia, the California based outdoor clothing company, is encouraging people who own their clothing to repair and trade amongst themselves rather than buy new. There aren’t many retailers who support and encourage consumers to extend the life of their products.

And the Canadian who started Buy Nothing Day is a prince among thieves, in my opinion.

As a consumer who is aware of my carbon footprint, I buy a lot of pre-loved clothing, toys and wares, I upcycle furniture while maintaining a minimal impact, I don’t buy throw away goods and I reuse as much as I can.

The last few pieces of new clothing I can remember buying were maternity or pre-maternity. Since I only go to playgroups and paint stores now, I’ve mostly gotten away with it.

But when I realized that most of my clothing is ill-fitting, off season or paint stained, I decided it was time to shop for myself. I can’t wear my tight paint stained shorts during a Canadian January.

So we packed up for an outing to the mall today.

And, ouch.

I stood in front of the only retailer that I knew would have a few things that would fit, that I’d like, that would be reasonably price and that would get my kids home in time for lunch: The Gap.

Then I saw the sign: “50% Black Friday Sale”.

Sigh.

I went in anyways because outings with two young children in tow are difficult to manage. I went in because I desperately needed clothing, for myself. I went in because I didn’t go there expecting a sale. I went in because it was the Wednesday before Black Friday.

I bought a few things because I know my track record. I’ll repair them when they rip and the buttons fall off and, once I can’t repair them anymore, I’ll cut them into rags and use them to buff wax from my latest piece of furniture.

Because sometimes we need to buy things.

 

 

 

 

Coffee woes

My favourite beverage is the source of my morning discomfort after a CBC article is blaming convenient packaging, including single use coffee pods, for the increase of curbside garbage in Canada.

Canadians produced 9.6 million tonnes of garbage in 2012. That’s up seven per cent since 2004.

That’s a lot of garbage, Canada!

There’s a way to slow down this rapidly growing issue and it involves reverting to less lazy ways. There, I said it. We’re lazy and wasteful. And it has to stop.

If we started doing things for ourselves again, we’d produce a lot less garbage and waste fewer resources.

Take coffee, for example.

A French press is a brilliant little kitchen tool. It’s the size of your outstretched hand and costs around 10$. For that price, you can have one at home and one at work.

Add two teaspoons of ground coffee and boiling water. Wait a few moments and push the grounds to the bottom of the glass carafe using the handle of the plunger and voila! A delightful cup of coffee totally adjustable to your coffee drinking preferences. Compost the grains and you’re hitting it out of the ballpark.

I know the office world is mildly obsessed with k-cups. Sure they’re convenient but it’s time we redefine convenient. Saving a minute or two a day doesn’t quantify as a significant source of time savings.

Do I really think a French press is our sole solution to excessive garbage production? No.

I think replacing a package of convenience with a sustainable product is a great place to start the long road to shedding our serious dependency on throw away goods.

Start with coffee and the next thing you know, you just might find yourself living a little more mindfully everyday.

The Mystery of Unwanted Clothing

unravel

I think most of us are guilty of not giving a second thought to items we recycle, compost, sell or discard in the trash.

I certainly don’t ponder the fate of cans or boxes after they’re picked up by the recycling truck. I trust that they go off to the recycling plant and are crushed, melted or broken down before being turned into something shiny and useful.

But I am curious about the fate of textiles, particularly clothing. (And mattresses but that’s a topic for another day.)

I have a tendency to keep old ripped clothing that is unfit to be donated. I hope to do something magically crafty with it one day. I think it’s noble but apparently that makes me a bit of a hoarder.

One reason I do this is because I don’t know what else to do with it.

I won’t throw it out because it will sit in a landfill. I won’t donate it because it’s passing along broken junk that will probably get put in a landfill.

So it sits in a box in my basement next to my sewing machine that has had too little use.

I happily donate clothing that is in excellent condition. Those items will surely be sold or re-donated by the pre-loved clothing retailers or community services that receive them.

But what of the donated items that aren’t deemed good enough for that?

The old ripped shirts, sweaters with broken zippers, pants with worn pockets, socks that never found their mates and pajamas that have seen too many nights surely go somewhere.

But where?

Check out Unravel for some answers. It’s an award-winning short film about garment recycling and the workers behind the massive industry so many of us know little about.

It’s fascinating. Whether for good or bad, I’ll never think about donating clothing the same way again.

Happy viewing,

Jill

Crafts With the Power to Defy Earth Day Logic

Happy Earth Day!

It’s a day to celebrate this gorgeous rotating orb we live on and to pledge not to do anymore bad things to it.

In my quest to find a fun and eco-friendly craft for my toddler, I’ve discovered the thick irony of Earth Day crafts for toddlers and young children.

And it’s boldly written in paper and plastic.

I’m not anti-crafts, we do paper crafts at home and at playgroups. They are an easy, creative and inexpensive way for children to develop fine motor skills and develop critical thinking skills while making pretty things.

However, are paper and plastic crafts the best way to celebrate Earth Day?

Er, probably not.

Schools, daycares, nursery schools and homes around the world will be printing colouring pages and buying construction paper to educate children on the importance of Earth Day.

Sigh.

Now that the trees have been chopped down, children will be writing their eco-pledges on pieces of paper that will be glued to construction paper and taped to the wall. Egg cartons will be cut, painted and glued to cardboard in the shape of a tree. Paper plates will be coloured in the green and blue hues of the planet. Paper mâché globes will hang from ceilings.

Oh, how ironic. Paper crafts that teach the importance of conserving resources.

And now for the plastic. I have a really hard time with the plastic.

I gave up plastic bottles and their beverages years ago so you’d be hard pressed to find any in my house. So for us to do to a plastic bottle craft, I would have to get in my vehicle, drive to the store, buy a bottle of soda, sugary juice or (gasp!) water, empty it, wash it and then craft it. A lot of the plastic bottle crafts I’ve seen involve painting, filling with dirt, gluing, shredding or cementing.

Now that doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of Earth Day at all.

Dare I even wonder how many parents, caregivers or nursery schools are going to take the time to clean those bottles and put them in the recycling after Earth Day? Many of these crafts will end up directly in a landfill.

And let’s face it, plastic bottle crafts kind of suck. No one really wants a plastic bottle bird feeder hanging from a tree. Not even grandma will hang onto that for very long.

Let’s not forget how terrible those plastic bottles are. Not only are they often filled with questionable beverages with no nutritional value, the plastic itself is laden with chemicals that can leach into drinks. They’re also a nightmare for the environment.

Now I can’t totally knock plastic drinking bottles. There are places in the world that desperately need clean drinking water and bottled water saves many lives. They are a short-term solution to a very real and pressing issue: 750 million people worldwide lack clean drinking water. That’s simply unacceptable.

Celebrating Earth Day by gluing paper and painting plastic bottles isn’t good enough for our children. How can they possibly learn the value of using less plastic and paper when they’re taught from a very young age that plastic is used to celebrate Earth Day?

There are better, more permanent, ways to commemorate this significant day:

  • Planting trees and vegetable seeds in biodegradable cups
  • Bringing egg cartons to local egg farmers to be reused
  • Turning turn off the tap while brushing teeth and washing hands
  • Involving children in food buying
  • Using a rain barrel to water gardens

We won’t be crafting today, but we will be planting some tomato seeds. Earth Day isn’t just a day. It’s an opportunity to sow a project that will last well beyond April 22.

Happy Earth Day,

Jill

Better Easter Junk…er, gifts

With Easter upon us, I can’t help but reflect on the amount of junk that will fill garbage and recycling bins this weekend.

It seems that the commercial portion of Easter has an excessive amount of plastic, useless toys and really gross treats. (I won’t even comment on the big freaky rabbit.)

I scratch my head at the palm sized bunnies that squeak when you touch their feet or the little ducklings that sit in an egg and peep.

Sure they keep dollar stores open but do they serve any other purpose?

Since spring is finally here, why not consider getting the kids some outdoor activities like sidewalk chalk, skipping ropes or balls instead of candy and chocolate.

Better yet, get them some seeds and gardening gloves. Show them how magical spring really is and how quickly seedlings grow. By the time the plastic ducks and bunnies are in the landfill, the kids will still be watching their little miracles grow!

Happy Easter,

Jill

Oh, lovely Vanilla!

Vanilla-cropfbDid you know that vanilla isn’t a synthetic liquid that lives in a plastic bottle in the baking aisle at the grocery store?

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t pay much attention to vanilla until fairly recently. I’m ashamed because I love baking and I love making things from scratch. I don’t use mixes because of over processed and questionable ingredients, so why did I use commercial vanilla for so long? Hrmph.

There are two types of commercial vanilla: pure and synthetic. Neither of them contain just vanilla pods and alcohol – the only two ingredients needed to make vanilla extract. Corn syrup, vanillin, lignin and/or sugar are among the listed ingredients. I also came across a rumour that beaver anal glands are used in the production of imitation vanilla but it seems to be disproven. Phew.

Meanwhile, vanilla pods, or beans, come from the vanilla orchid plant. Once the orchid’s flower is hand pollinated, it produces a pod. After a few months, the pod is harvested and cured.

The onerous processes of hand pollinating and curing make it the second most expensive spice after saffron. It only grows in Madagascar, Reunion Island, Mexico and Tahiti; each location producing its particular flavour of vanilla.

The recipe for authentic vanilla extract is so simple it hurts:

  1. two vanilla pods, sliced horizontally
  2. one cup (eight ounces) of vodka, rum or bourbon

Combine pods and alcohol of your choice in a glass bottle and place in a cool, dark place for eight weeks. Shake weekly.

Seriously, that’s it.

The end result is so aromatic and flavourful that you’re going to want to get your bake on. It’s well worth the eight week waiting period.

I did a quick cost analysis and it was cheaper for me to make my own than to buy it. I bought two pods for $5 at Bulk Barn and I had the vodka on hand. I left the pods in the bottle after it was (finally!) ready and I topped it up with more vodka after I’d used a few tablespoons. Eventually the pods will lose their potency but until then I’m going to keep adding vodka.

It also get more complex with age, unlike its commercial counterpart which has a shelf life of about two years.

And the next time my husband comes home with a bottle of bourbon, I’ll snatch a cup and experiment with different flavours.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself, it’s March, but I will give out bottles of vanilla extract next Christmas in pretty little bottles. I’m all about removing chemicals and plastic bottles from the cupboards of my loved ones and helping to make their desserts better…one tablespoon of lovely vanilla at a time.

Happy health,

Jill

Going Green(er)

Going green isn’t about achieving a destination: it’s a journey on a path.

That path is sometimes so clearly identified and well trodden that anyone can find their way around. What do I mean?

Well, recycling pops into mind:

  • Rinse the can.
  • Drop it in the blue bin.
  • Put the bin at the road.
  • Pick up by recycling truck.
  • Put empty bin in garage.
  • Repeat.

I’ve got that down pat.

Other times, the path breaks off into so many other overgrown paths that the options become muddled. What do I mean?

Well, composting pops into mind:

  • Buy expensive compost bags for the city run program.
  • Use bags (for a number of years).
  • Put allowed items in the bags.
  • Put bags in green bin.
  • Put bin at road.
  • Feel good about effort.
  • Refuse pick up by compost truck.
  • Call the city.
  • Explain to the city that we’ve been using same bags for years.
  • Discover that local stores sell compostable bags that the city doesn’t accept.
  • Feel ashamed that effort has been in vain.
  • Listen patiently as city says only option is to remove all compostable bags from bin.
  • Remove two week old compost from the bags in the bin.
  • Return bin to the road, sans compostable bags.
  • Return of compost truck.
  • Pick up by compost truck.
  • Put empty bin to garage.
  • Vow to never buy compostable bags again.
  • Look into home composting.
  • Become overwhelmed by options: location, bins, worms, winter composting.
  • Scratch head.
  • Buy compost bags sanctioned by the city until another solution is found.
  • Feel somewhat good about effort put in.
  • Wait until spring for new solution.

True story.

What I find interesting about going green, other than watching husband’s face as he rifles through two week old compost bins, are the endless options available.

Back to my example.

There are levels of composting: you can use the city run program or go totally hardcore and start a worm colony. I’m not sure where we’ll end up on the spectrum, probably somewhere in between. I’m not a particular fan of worms.

Nothing is black and white. It’s….well….green. And there are many shades of green.

Although I’ve been treading on a light green path for a number of years, having children made me really reconsider how much more I can do.

Being green(er) is thinking about and putting effort into waste reduction, eliminating household toxins, buying local, gardening, rearing green babies, becoming energy efficient, cooking, re-using, enjoying a conscious way of living and being more natural.

This blog is about my effort, no, my vow, to be more naturally green.

Happy health,

Jill