Making the shift to sustainable products

My dad took me grocery shopping a few weeks ago and that’s when the lightbulb turned on.

After weeks of arguing about unnecessary garbage and his use of single-use plastics, it became apparent that it was not his lack of awareness about the issues at hand that was reducing his ability to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Instead, I realized it was a huge gap in information about how and where to access environmentally sustainable resources. So, I’m here to make the transition to more sustainable living easier!

The Challenges

When we think about sustainability, we also have to think of where our products come from. Products sold at Walmart, Amazon and other big-box stores may be cheap but their system is engineered that way for a reason. Someone always pays the price further up the supply chain, leaving the immense profits in the hands of very few. Carbon emissions are astronomical from retailers like Amazon and Walmart, not to mention the serious social consequences (mainly affecting their low-wage labour forces) that result from the manufacturing and sale of their low-cost products. With all of this said, if you are like the majority of Canadians who are willing to pay more for local and sustainable products, there are always options. Local eco stores can be found in every city, and to find yours, you can simply Google “eco store [city name].” My personal favourite is All Eco Ottawa.

Stores offer curbside pickup and refill appointments, but if travelling is not an option for you, sites like Etsy give you the opportunity to filter based on location and offer carbon offsets delivery. A lot of these products are more expensive upfront however quality sustainable products are more durable, which saves you money in the long run. 

I live my life based on the mantra that anything you want or need has a sustainable alternative and that if you can afford it, you should make the switch. Here are my favourite sustainable products that I use every day… 

Bathroom Essentials 

Self-care, sustainably!

  • Safety razors – Safety razors come with low-waste blade refills and are made of metal, which last longer than their plastic counterparts and create less waste. Safety razors can cost up to $60 however it is a long-term investment. 
  • Shampoo/conditioner bars – I make sure I buy ones with no packaging or alternatively, compostable packaging. Confusion around recycling means many bottles are unnecessarily sent to landfills, so this is a great way to just avoid plastic entirely. Brands like Saponaria are my go-to for anything that can come in bar-form. For me, they’re perfect because they’re produced in neighbouring Gatineau! Artisan soap and bars are easy to find locally, wherever you may be located. 
  • Secondhand furniture and decor – consider taking a look at secondhand options for things like mirrors, shower curtains and storage. 
  • Reusable cotton swabs – this is #1 on the list of products I never knew existed and now no longer can live without. 1.5 million disposable swabs are produced every day, destined for the landfill, but 6% actually end up in the ocean. This insane amount of waste can be remedied by a durable, reusable product that can be cleaned with soap and reused again and again. 
  • Bamboo toothbrushes – another simple and cheap swap to make, bamboo toothbrushes are an environmentally-friendly alternative to the 111,000,000 toothbrushes that Canadians toss annually, which take around 1,000 years to decompose. Bamboo toothbrushes range between $5 – $20 and to dispose, you simply cut off the bristles and compost! 
  • Menstrual cups – pads and tampons are made up of 90% plastic and, over a lifetime, creates, on average, 400 pounds of packaging waste per person. While the problem is unavoidable for many of us, there are some sustainable solutions to reduce the environmental impact (be sure to check with your gynecologist prior to use). Menstrual, or Diva Cups, can hold more blood than disposable sanitary products and can be used for longer, plus they can be cleaned, reused and bought at any local pharmacy. 

Kitchen Gadgets

I miss when everyone was busy making focaccia bread and lattes at the beginning of quarantine. Ah, simpler times. Here are some kitchen gadgets to help with the (sustainable) creation of more fun food experiments. 

  • Reusable paper towels – these absolutely life changing cloths have made me never want to go back to the single-use version ever again. Big-box retailers in Canada will sell single-use paper towels for less than $20 for a large pack, and while reusable towels can cost up to $60, it needs to be remembered that it’s a one-time purchase. 
  • Bamboo products – bamboo cutting boards, cutlery, cooking utensils and cleaning products are some of the most popular sustainable products you can find. They’re cheap and easily accessible. It is important to recognize however that a lot of bamboo products have a big carbon footprint attached to them, as they are shipped from South Asia and Latin America. It is difficult to determine how ethical the supply chain is which is why I recommend shopping local brands, and asking your eco store what they have and from where they sourced it. 
  • Refillable soaps and cleaners – You may recognize Sapadilla – a popular Canadian brand – from many grocery stores you’ve been in. These plant-based and biodegradable products are my favourite for the kitchen and laundry. Local eco stores usually have refillable options that have been adapted for COVID lockdown protocols, so you can still get your hands on them! 
  • Secondhand appliances – I just can’t get enough of secondhand kitchen appliances! If you remember my last blog post on online thrifting, I’ve been fortunate to source a blender, a crockpot, baking trays, an electric kettle and more from a bunch of the platforms I mentioned in that post! My cooking game has seriously improved thanks to these products that I wouldn’t have been able to source elsewhere.
  • Silicone baking tray – you can make the swap to reusable silicone to avoid tinfoil! 
  • Beeswax everything – if you know me, you know I will not shut up about my beeswax products. Forget wasteful cling film when you can instead use reusable, durable beeswax bags and wrap that smell amazing, and also keep your food fresh for longer. 
  • Reusable straws – Single use plastics produce trillions of pounds of waste per year, and they’re completed unnecessary. For those of us who do not need straws (we must also recognize that for some folks of different abilities, single-use plastic products are a necessity to eat and drink), this is one of the easiest substitutions to make. Packets of reusable straws come with cleaning brushes and cases, making them easy to wash and take with you on-the-go.
  • Reusable mugs – these are sold everywhere and there’s no reason to not have one. 
  • Travel cutlery – similarly to reusable straws, cutlery can be stored in portable cases to keep them clean for use when you’re out of the house!
  • Collapsible Tupperware – in the times before COVID-19, when travel and going to work was possible, having one of these was beyond useful. Easy to transport, clean and use, I can’t recommend these enough!

Laundry Hacks

  • Refillable laundry detergent – Sapadilla is at it again! They have refillable options for everything you need to keep your home and belongings clean. 
  • Laundry balls – forget wasteful dryer sheets that create potentially harmful chemical exposure, air pollution, microfibres, and that are an unnecessary element of the laundry cycle. We’re beginning to learn about the relationship between laundry and pollution, looking specifically at microfibres that are released from our clothes, detergent and dryer sheets. To protect our environment and freshwater, felted and wool dryer balls are a sustainable alternative made of organic ingredients and can reduce drying time. Plus, you can put your favourite essential oil on them to make them smell great! 

Shopping Must-Haves

  • Reusable bags – a no brainer these days, reusable bags are easy to source and are sold everywhere. Personally, I never use more than four during a single grocery trip. The amount of waste from grocery stores and retail generally is insane, and this is the easiest way to cut your personal impact on that cycle. 
  • Produce bags – plastic produce bags are just unnecessary. You really need to put apples, clementines, bananas or apples in bags? They come with a skin you can peel off and wash. Produce bags aren’t as popular as reusable bags just yet, but we’re getting there. Get ahead of the game with these reusable and easily stored items, to keep your fruit and veggies safe on your drive or walk home. And then, when you get home, store that food in reusable beeswax bags and wraps to keep them fresh longer!

Now, by no means is this an exhaustive list. There are so many things that can be done to live a more sustainable lifestyle, but this is a good, low-barrier way to start. Welcome to the beginning of your sustainable living journey!

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