Friday, February 23rd, 2018
I’m currently flipping back and forth between The Year of Less by Cait Flanders, and the oldie but goodie, 1984 by George Orwell.
My copy of The Year of Less by @caitflanders finally made it in the mail! Rather than mindlessly reading stuff on the internet at lunch, I decided to read her book instead. I just finished the introduction, and it has totally sucked me in. I don't want to put it down! This is going to be a loooooooong afternoon at work; I just want to read! 📚🐛
I was discussing plastic recycling with some of my coworkers today. These guys are really smart, so it caught me completely off guard when they didn’t know that the little three arrow logo on plastic products doesn’t actually mean it can be recycled!
A three arrow triangle with nothing inside is an indication something can be recycled. The same arrowed triangle with a number inside is a resin identification code that indicates the type of plastic the item is made out of, and does not necessarily indicate the item is recyclable. Because that wasn’t misleading…
Another one of my coworkers thought plastic could be melted down and repeatedly recycled like you can with an aluminum can. It’s not true! It depends on the type of plastic whether or not it can be recycled, and for that matter what it will be recycled into. This recycling page from New Zealand was a decent info source.
If you live in Edmonton, you’re able to recycle plastic with resin ID codes 1, 2, 4 & 5.
If you’re interested in architecture, odds are you’re familiar with the Passivhaus (Passive House) concept. My husband and I have been discussing it for years, and fully intend to incorporate a lot of the principles in our own house when we eventually build. It’s more technical than this, but you could roughly boil the concept down to heavy insulation, and energy efficiency. It requires very little energy to operate these homes, and if you add your own energy generation you can reach Net Zero with a little effort.
The Powerhouse on the other hand? This is a whole new freaking ball game! The Powerhouse not only generates enough renewable energy to operate, it also produces enough to offset the energy used to create the building materials, transportation of the materials to the site, and eventual demolition and disposal of the building.
It’s like the world was busy yelling “It’s impossible! It can’t be done!” at a bar, and the Norwegians said “Hold my beer, I got this.”
I’m know I’m not the only one looking into more plant based eating lately. Apparently even my brother in law is getting into it. Colour me flabbergasted!
I find as I get further down the youtube rabbit hole it just becomes more of a positive feedback loop, and I only watch information that confirms what I’m already thinking. I’m aware it’s happening though, and that’s why I found this TEDx video on what the best diet for humans so fascinating. It was open minded, and the result of a fairly large scientific study:
Her blog is little over a month and a half old, but so far she’s written about her experience as a female academic in a STEM field, bike commuting, her wardrobe, shopping, knitting, long distance relationships, and a PSA for making sure you have your headlights on when driving (oof!). Swing by A Thinking Animal and show her some love!
What have you guys been reading lately?
Thursday, February 8th, 2018
This is an unpaid, unsponsored product review of a product I purchased with my own money. It was something I had thought about for several years, but never pulled the plug on. It was expensive! This past October however I bit the bullet and bought a Tria hair removal laser.
I’ll be honest, this post is a bit of catharsis for me as well. It’s not an easy subject, but I know I’m not alone in this.
In the year before getting pregnant, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). It’s surprisingly common, and it can present itself in multiple ways. For myself, it presented as ovarian cysts, mid-cycle spotting, cystic acne, difficulties getting pregnant, and most embarassingly, facial hair. The last one is clinically referred to as hirsutism.
I had previously sought out laser hair removal when I was younger. In 2010 I was receiving professional laser hair removal every 6 weeks from a dermatologist’s office. I was also struggling with cystic acne at the time, but the dermatologist himself had an extensive waitlist for skin care, even though there was no waitlist for laser treatments. After a handful of treatments the technician asked me about the extensive cysts I was struggling with, and bypassed the waitlist to make me an appointment.
She was a skin saver, as was the dermatologist I saw. The day of my initial appointment, I took in a foolscap sheet of paper with a bullet point list of things I had tried that had failed. After reading through the list and asking a few questions, he honed in that I had a hormone imbalance, and prescribed a medication that would block specific hormone receptors in my skin. It worked! It didn’t address the underlying hormonal issue, but it gave my skin a fighting chance at overcoming the disfiguring cysts that were taking over my face. I don’t say that lightly, as the cysts did leave permanent scars.
One of the other benefits to this particular medication, and its hormone blocking benefits, was that it decreased hair production. As hirsutism is triggered by excess androgens (a group of hormones), this makes sense. In the years that followed, as my skin recovered to the extent it could, the excess hair I struggled with decreased.
After a couple years on the drug, I tapered off it and have managed to mostly maintain the acne to this day. For a few years, the same story was true for the hair. I got married, got pregnant, and had my son. All was good.
Fast forward another year, and I weaned my son off breastfeeding when I went back to work. Any mom who had done this can tell you that there can be a huge hormonal swing that follows as your body tries to balance itself back out again. Well, mine didn’t balance. The facial hair came back with full force.
I had been diligently plucking the strays for years. Every couple days I would get rid of one or two. Suddenly it was a dozen a day. When you consider most hair follicles have a growth cycle of ~6 weeks, and I was plucking daily, you realize how much of an issue this was becoming.
Late last summer I gave up on the tweezers, and started shaving the hair. As soon as I began doing that, I started looking into permanent hair removal options again. After considering the cost of treatments, and the inconvenience of making it to regular appointments, I decided to try an at home option.
I purchased the Tria Hair Removal Laser 4X in Graphite:
It retails for $515 Canadian, unless you catch a (small) sale. I seem to recall mine being on sale, but it wasn’t a massive discount. It came packaged with a bunch of skincare samples that I didn’t request, and to be honest didn’t try. I just donated them.
The device needs to be charged before use, but I don’t recall this taking very long. A couple hours, tops. Four and a half months later, I still have a full battery from that initial charge.
Operation is straightforward. To turn it on you hold down the button on top of the device until it lights up and beeps at you.
At this point it’s turned on, but you can’t actually use it yet. As you can see on the screen above, it’s locked. In order to unlock it, you have to place the sensor on the bottom of the device on your bare skin:
This is a safety mechanism. Lasers like this are recommended for people with light skin and dark hair, because the laser targets pigment. If your skin has a lot of pigment the laser will damage your skin, so if you’re too dark the machine won’t turn on. That includes if you have a tan.
When I was having professional treatments way back when, the technician told me about a woman who had eaten a bagel prior to coming in for her appointment. She had a poppyseed stuck in her teeth, and ended up getting burned as a result. Word to the wise.
Once it unlocks, you’ll have the option of adjusting the intensity by pressing the top button again. I tried my first session at a 2, my second session at a 4, and every session since has been at full strength.
From this point, you use the laser by pressing the tip against the skin you want to treat. When the machine detects that the entire tip is against your skin, it will emit a pulse from the laser and beep. If you can’t get complete coverage on the tip (say you’re working on something like your jaw or ankle bone), you may have to pull your skin over a little so it can sit flat.
Once it beeps, you can reposition the laser in an adjacent, non-overlapping position. It’s a small tip, so if you want to cover a large area it could take a while.
The pain will vary depending not only on your personal tolerance, but on the hair you’re treating. The darker the hair, the more it hurts. The thicker the hair, the more it hurts. The more densely clustered the hair, the more it hurts…. you get the idea.
Did it work?
To a degree, yes.
I used it every two weeks for a three month period. For the first two treatments, I didn’t notice an appreciable difference in hair growth. No massive hair fall out, no reduction of the hair growing in, nothing.
After three treatments, shortly before the fourth, I noticed a slight difference. When shaving the hair one morning, I noticed that one of the hairs pulled out with the blade rather than being cut off. Almost a month and a half in, and I finally saw something!
I noticed at this point that the density of the hair growing in had decreased somewhat. Not entirely, but it had decreased.
I noticed a couple other hairs pull out after subsequent treatments, but nothing systemic like I had seen other people write about.
At the end of a three month period, I would say that my hair density dropped by over half. I went from having the urge to shave twice a day to make sure no one saw it, to shaving twice a week and plucking the occasional tenacious hairs once every two weeks.
Would I recommend this product? That’s a tough question.
If you can say yes to the questions above, then sure. It’s more convenient than booking appointments, and you can do it from the privacy of your own home. It does work in my experience.
If you have light hair, or dark skin, do not buy this unit. It will not work if you have light hair, and the unit won’t turn on if you have a darker skin tone.
If the cost of the unit is prohibitive, you don’t have healthy savings already, or it will take you an excessively long time to save for it, don’t do it. It is an expensive unit for sure, but it is not so life changing that it is worth going into debt or compromising your financial well being over. Very few things are.
If you are treating hormonally induced hair growth… it may or may not work. Hormonal surges may stimulate the hair follicles. I used mine every two weeks for a three month period, as instructed by the product guide. It did not completely alleviate it, though it did help. I will do top up treatments in the future, as the product guide instructs is safe to do so. I cannot guarantee with any degree of certainty that it will work for you, though based on my experience it might.
I plan to try this unit again on my ankles. It’s not an area that is traditionally triggered by excess androgens, so it may respond better than facial hair. If it does, and I see the massive hair fall out the way I see others write about, I’ll report back. Until that happens, I’ll consider this post my fair and accurate review of this product from my standpoint.
Have you every tried a unit like this? What do you use for embarrassing hair removal? What do you use for day to day hair removal?
Monday, February 5th, 2018
My employer goes through a lot of paper towel. A LOT. For scale, I work at a large facility with several hundred people, and we work close to around the clock. To say we go through a lot of paper towel would be an understatement.
A couple months ago I took a step back and looked at our washroom facilities. Every day, the garbage can at my closest washroom would be filled to the brim with paper towel. Unless you were to bring your own towel, or wipe your hands on your clothes, there was no other option for drying your hands.
I wrote up a short, two sentence e-mail pitch to the facilities manager. Basically, reducing our paper towel consumption would reduce our waste removal costs, and installing hand dryers would reduce our recurring consumables cost from ordering the paper towel. I half expected it to be rejected, but hey you never know, right?
A couple weeks later I ran into the facilities manager in the hallway after a meeting. He said they ran some numbers, and they determined there would be a cost benefit to installing air dryers in some of the washrooms. They’d install them in the highest traffic washrooms first, and install them in the lower traffic washrooms later on when it made sense to do so budget-wise. Fast forward another 6 weeks to this morning, and two brand new air dryers have been installed in the washroom I use.
Air dryers aren’t perfect, obviously. They are energy consumers after all. That being said, I find when balancing the pros and cons between using a paper towel (resource used) and using a dryer (energy used), I often forget about the energy required to generate the paper towel itself. It isn’t inconsequential. Adding in the fact that my employer has mulled the idea of adding solar power to offset the company’s energy consumption in the future, it just makes sense.
Just a quick reminder that sometimes small suggestions do make a difference.
Wednesday, January 31st, 2018
Holy crow, I actually bought something!
Actually, I had to laugh when I saw Sherry went on a bit of a spending spree at Icebreaker. I’ve been waiting for a sale to hit there for months, and one finally happened! I’ve had my eye on these Vertex half-zip shirts since well before Christmas:
Icebreaker Vertex Long Sleeved Half-Zip Flurry in Black and Blizzard Heather – $124.95 ea (reg $178.50ea)
Now 30% off isn’t great, but it’s certainly better than paying full price. I thought about waiting for a better discount, but the sizes were starting to sell out. I picked mine up on Saturday, and as of yesterday the Blizzard Heather is already sold out in my size. They do shrink a little, but that is to be expected with Merino wool. That’s why I bought mine slightly larger. I washed it in cold water, hung it to dry, and wore the black one to work with a pair of jeans yesterday. If you don’t want to pay top dollar for quality cashmere, these Merino tops are the definition of cold weather luxury. They’re fantastic.
The same day I bought the tops, I picked up a second pair of bootcut jeans. They’re the same style as a bought back in October. I didn’t get quite the sale I did in October, but it was alright. I paid $177.45, down from the regular price of $302.40.
In the three and a half months I’d owned that pair, I’d gotten the price per wear down to ~$2.25. Bringing the cost per wear down that far in that short a time span told me it was worth picking up a second pair, especially considering I wear my jeans for years at a time. As I mentioned in October, I’ve noticed a pattern in my denim preferences. In the summer, when I wear ballet flats near daily, I wear skinny jeans that are hemmed for flats. In the winter, when I opt for boots, I wear bootcut jeans. Knowing this about my preferences allows me to look at my existing closet and prepare for potential purchases. For example, I know I will likely need another pair of skinny jeans come summer, so I should keep my eye out for a major sale. Looking into that now allows me to sit patiently and wait. It also allows me to explore the idea of a capsule wardrobe more realistically, because I have data backing up what I actually wear at different times of the year.
Unless I find a massive sale on an appropriate pair of skinny jeans, I don’t see myself purchasing anything else in the next few months. I don’t have my eye on anything, and to be honest I don’t plan on trying to covet anything either. We’re still looking for a new home, so I’m focused on that at the moment.
Did you purchase anything this month? Have you noticed any patterns in your clothing choices from season to season?
Monday, January 22nd, 2018
I read something on the Zero Waste Chef‘s blog recently that I thought was important to share:
“But don’t beat yourself up if you fall short and bring home contraband. I see lots of confessions on social media from zero-wasters feeling terribly guilty when they slip up (and have posted them myself). You can only do your best. Just keep trying. Changing your lifestyle is a challenge. However, cutting your waste is easier than most people realize.” – Zero Waste Chef
The pursuit of perfection is the enemy of good. Unless you’re coming from a place of trauma, appreciable long term change can take a very long time and dwelling on every little failure is a great way to discourage yourself. We bring home “contraband”. Yes, I do beat myself up for it. It’s probably not healthy that I beat myself up for it, but I tend to tunnel vision when working towards a goal. That’s not an excuse for the behaviour, it’s just honesty. Failure is not a sign we need to quit. It is what it is, and tomorrow we just need to try again.
The nice thing about switching your cleaning and hygiene products to zero waste is that it’s a low mental energy swap. It’s not like going to a coffee shop where you have to remember to bring your mug everyday. Once you know where to find the products and make the swap, you’re good for weeks (if not months). Every zero waste blog I’ve ever read suggests bringing your own bag, napkin, cutlery and coffee mug as being the first changes you should make. If you don’t eat out much, I’d argue you should try swapping your cleaning and hygiene products first. It’s a great set it and forget it swap.
Back to the goods! Some of these changes I started implementing last spring. I actually had to remind myself of how many changes we’ve made up to this point, because they’ve just become integrated into our day to day life. Buying cleaning and hygiene products zero waste is actually extremely easy once you track down sources for it. I’ll let you know where these stores are in Edmonton, but I’ll also link to the companies that produce the bulk items as well. If you contact the manufactures they’ll probably be able to tell you where their products are available for sale closer to your own homes.
First up, good old fashioned bar soap:
I never noticed before, but unpackaged soap is all over the place. Sometimes it’s from larger companies, and other times they’re small batch local artisans. The picture of the display above was taken at Carbon Environmental in High Street, but I’ve also seen unpackaged soap at Bulk Barn, Earth’s Organic General Store, and the Sherwood Park Mall Safeway. This swap alone removes numerous shower gel and hand soap bottles. If you’re okay with shampoo bars, that’s another set of bottles gone as well.
If you’re not okay using bar soap, Carbon also carries liquid hand soap along with their dishwashing liquid and other bulk products:
Scented Castile soap, dish soap, dishwasher powder, fabric softener, laundry detergent:
Glass cleaner, all purpose disinfectant, dish soap:
I picked up a few things here last spring. In mason jars I picked up dishwasher powder and liquid dish soap, while in a couple repurposed 4L milk jugs I purchased unscented laundry detergent. The laundry detergent and dish soap work beautifully, but we’re kinda underwhelmed by the dishwasher detergent. It leaves a film, even when adding vinegar to the rinse cycle. I don’t remember which brand made it 🙁
When filling containers here, you ask an employee to measure the tare weight of the jar, and then select the product you want to fill it with. Given the mess potential, the employees fill your containers for you here. You just tell them what you want and how much you want of it.
In case you’re wondering, using milk jugs for laundry detergent was a good call. The handle and smaller opening make putting soap in the washer quite easy.
One thing Carbon didn’t carry (last I checked) was shampoo and body wash. Earth’s General Store has that covered though. They carry Carina Organics in everything from shampoo for extra volume to baby bubble bath, along with a handful of DIY ingredients (baking soda, washing soda, borax):
Both scented and unscented Castile soap, multiple Carina conditioners:
Essential oils, hand soap, dish soap, dishwasher soap, laundry detergent, citric acid powder, all purpose cleaner:
As with Carbon, Earth’s General Store measures the tare weight of your container for you, and then fills it with whichever product you want. We picked up a citrus scented shampoo in an old Kirkland pump-top shampoo bottle.
We went shopping for these items before I went back to work, and that was over 7 months ago. We haven’t run out of anything yet. If you’re not close to a bulk location, try picking up more in a single trip. You can easily purchase a year’s worth of product at a time. Make the change easy on yourself!
If you don’t live in the Edmonton area, these are the companies that make the products we’re able to purchase in bulk:
If you contact them they should be able to tell you where their products are sold, and you can start from there.
Have you tried shopping for any of these types of products package free? Do know of any other companies that make bulk products? Any leads on dishwasher detergent that works in hard water?
Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018
Let me preface this by saying that our household is not zero waste. What we are, is lower waste than what we were previously, which was your average North American household (I’m guessing).
I don’t intend to stop at this point, as I do want to lower our waste further, but I’m game to show some of the steps we’re taking currently. This is our middle: an honest look at the changes and compromises we’ve made up to this point.
One thing I can’t get rid of yet are milk containers. Munchkin is under 2, so he drinks homogenized milk daily. I have tried to locate dairy in glass bottles that can be returned, but I haven’t been successful. I contacted Alberta Milk to try and source it, but it looks like I’m out of luck for the time being. Avalon is a BC dairy that produces milk in glass bottles, and I used to be able to get it here, but it looks like they’re not shipping to Edmonton anymore.
That leaves me with plastic jugs, or cardboard cartons. The jugs are made of high density polyethylene, and the cartons are coated internally with low density polyethylene. So, plastic either way. Both are accepted by our local recycling program, but from what I gather so far the plastic removed from the cardboard cartons ends up in going to landfill. So, I have been buying his milk in 4L jugs to reduce plastic to milk volume ratio, reuse the jugs as much as I can (emergency water storage, laundry detergent, etc…), and recycle the ones I can’t. He goes through a jug a week.
The other item I haven’t been able to source waste free is gluten free bread. I have tried some of the local options, and I have experimented with making my own, but up to this point I’m bag bound. It’s turning into more of a treat than a regular occurrence.
On to the better stuff.
When the grocery stores started charging for bags I picked up a half dozen of these shopping bags on a trip to IKEA. They’re polyester, which isn’t preferable, but they’re surprisingly durable. They have a little pocket that they crumple up into when you’re not using them, and they end up being slightly smaller than a softball. I store them in a cotton tote bag by the front door. During the week I’ll throw one or two into my bag so I have them on hand, and on the weekend I’ll grab the whole tote to bring them with me to the store. I also store my smaller produce bags in the same tote, so they’re all ready to go at a moment’s notice.
I reorganized my pantry with a bunch of clear containers last March. They’re plastic, which I understand makes some people squeamish, but it also makes them very light. I keep our dry staples in here. When we run out of something I clean out the container and put it in a shopping bag for grocery day. I usually keep a larger stock of dry goods, so at most I’m only bringing 2 or 3 of these containers with me at a time. This week I ran out of cereal, sugar and wild rice, so these ones are coming to the store.
If we need smaller quantities of something, say nuts or dried fruit, I’ll bring a couple canning jars with me. Same story with peanut and almond butters, but currently we have enough of those. The empty Bonne Maman jar in the picture is for graham cookies as a treat for my son, and I’ll probably grab my husband some trail mix with the canning jar.
When I’m refilling containers I usually shop at Bulk Barn. They have a location close to me, so it’s convenient. I bring the empty containers to the cashier, they weigh them for the tare weight, and then I fill them with whatever I need. I realize not everyone has easy access to this type of store, but they’re convenient even for the occasional trip. I told my mom about their reusable container program, and she now brings her pantry jars with her whenever she makes the 3 hour trek to Kelowna.
If I’m picking up meat or deli items, I’ll bring one of our glasslock containers from home. This week I’m picking up a rotisserie chicken, which fits conveniently in the largest size container I have. The grocery store closest to me is fairly accommodating, though the employees have variable understanding on how to weigh and fill containers. I don’t mind working with them on it though, because they’re working with me. Other grocery stores have needed a little more encouragement, but I’ve never been outright refused.
The meat department at the grocery store doesn’t usually have what I’m looking for in the fresh case (it’s usually pre-seasoned), so I don’t fill my containers there. If I’m picking up meat in my containers, I’ll go to a smaller butcher. I’ve gone to Acme Meats in Ritchie Market several times. They don’t even bat an eye when I hand them my container, so I know I’m not the only one doing it. I’ve picked up fresh sausage, ground beef, ground pork, and steak this way. It’s not a convenient location for me though, so I’m trying to reduce our meat consumption.
Produce is hit or miss, depending on what I’m looking for. You don’t realize how much is wrapped in plastic until you start looking for it! I’m less concerned about produce stickers and twist ties than I am about overwrap and bags. One of the frustrating things about shopping at the grocery store, is that the organic produce is more heavily packaged than the conventional produce. It forces me to pick a priority if you know what I mean, so sometimes I make trade offs.
If organic isn’t a priority, there should potentially be lots of options. English cucumbers are wrapped in plastic, but field cucumbers are waxed, so we buy the field ones. Instead of buying bags or containers of salad leaves, we buy heads of romaine, leaf lettuce and kale. Potatoes, yams, onions, garlic, carrots, broccoli, brussels sprouts, parsnips, celery, bell peppers, apples, bananas, oranges, tomatoes, avocados, and other seasonal produce are all readily available unpackaged. If you cook based on what is available, rather than trying to make what is available fit what you want to cook, you’ll have a much easier time.
If I’m picking up 2 or 3 of an item, I’ll just leave them loose in the cart. If I’m picking up more than that, I’ll put them in cotton drawstring bags I made at home. There’s plenty available online if you don’t feel handy. In the photo above I was actually using one of my nut milk bags, because most of the cotton ones were in the wash and I wanted to use the small one I had with me for lentils.
One thing to remember is that if a product is priced per item, you have to buy the whole thing. If a bundle of parsley is $1, you have to buy the whole bundle. If a product is priced by weight, say with a bag of grapes, you’re not obligated to take the whole bag! We don’t go through grapes fast enough to buy the whole bag. Instead of buying a bag and wasting half the grapes, I’ll pull a stem off and put it in my own bag. I realize that means I’m supporting a company that uses plastic wrapping, but my other option is to not eat them at all. This is my happy medium.
If I don’t buy my dry goods at Bulk Barn, I’ll just use a bag in the store and snap a picture of the bin number. I could get a tare weight for the bag, but to be honest it doesn’t weigh very much. Most of the grocery store scales I’ve seen are accurate to 5 grams, and my bags weigh in between 5-10 grams. I didn’t worry about the 5 cents it cost me, though I can understand why others might. If you need to economize, and you can’t/the cashier won’t give you a tare weight, buy as much of the product as you can in one shot. That way you’re paying for the tare weight less frequently. In my experience, the cost savings that come through shopping this way aren’t because buying bulk is cheaper (that’s hit or miss), it’s through the reduction of food waste and the refusal of pre-made, pre-packaged food type products.
The only other thing I picked up was eggs. I buy free range eggs in cardboard containers so I can either recycle them, or put them in our compost bin.
It was a small shopping trip this weekend, and this post is already getting too long, so I’ll stop here for now. Next post I’ll cover household and pantry staples like oils, vinegars, and cleaning/hygiene products.
Where do you do your weekly shopping?