BOOK REVIEW: Minimal by Laurie Barrette and Stéphanie Mandrea

Laurie Barrette and Stéphanie Mandrea are two childhood friends and the owners of the Quebec brand Dans le SacWhich primarily sells reusable fabric bags. I attended a virtual interview that Indigo (a Canadian Bookstore) did with the authors. They seem quite nice. The few things I really remember about their talk (I lost the page I wrote my notes on) was their idea of Zero Waste, which isn’t trying to having all your trash for the year fit in a mason jar. But more the 5 Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot.

Photo Source

The book is a pretty short read at about 220 pages, Libby said that I finished the book in about 2 hours. Overall, I enjoyed it. There’s a lot of lists and DIY projects for different areas of the home and life, such as cleaning products, skincare and baby bum sprays.

I enjoyed the first couple chapters the most and got the most information out of them. They might be a bit basic, but cover the ideal of minimalism, the impact of humans on the environments and the idea of making ones on products to have more control of what is entering ones personal environment.

From the cleaning chapter onwards, they started to loose me a bit. Barrette and Mandrea really love essential oils! I have a below average sense of smell, so I don’t care about aromatherapy or essential oils. Also there’s a few really large multi-level marketing companies that sell oils. And that sales/company structure isn’t something I believe is ethical. To be clear, they weren’t pushing a certain brand or anything like that, just my prior knowledge of essential oils going into this book make me have a generally negative option about them.

I truly disagree with one point they had in there book. That was that essential oils are good for the planet. They mention that oils “triggered their green journey”. Kinda ironic given how material intensive the process can be (like 10,000 lbs of roses for one 1lbs of rose oil).

Also they encouraged putting essential oils on babies, they did have a disclaimer that it’s “controversial” to put these types of oils on babies but their didn’t have any issues with their kids. John Hopkins has an article with recommended amounts/usage. But I personally don’t think it’s a great idea. I’ve used tea tree oil on my skin before, and found it burnt a lot so I can’t imagine how a baby would feel.

I don’t have children but I did enjoy the chapter about raising minimalist kids that are environmentally conscious. A lot of it just leading by example but they have this list of environmentally friendly family actives that I just found really charming. Examples, like making salt dough, building bird houses, and growing veggies. That list is without a doubt my favorite part of the book.

At the end of the day it’s a pretty easy read, with really lovely photos, and with content you can find mostly on their website or if you spent enough time on Pinterest. I did read an interview with them that has a quote, that I think captures their intent with this book: “Packed with DIY project ideas, practical tips for reducing waste, and utterly drool-worthy photos, Minimal is a must read whether you’re motivated by love of the planet, the ‘gram, or both.”

Photo Source

To conclude, I would have enjoyed less essential oil talk, but others may not find it as annoying. If you see this book at a book store or the library I would say give it a quick flip through and read the kid friendly activity list but I don’t recommend spending money on it.

Plastic Free Update #2

You can read my two previous posts about Plastic Free July below:

I’m Gonna Try ‘Plastic Free July’

Plastic Free Update #1

As mentioned in my previous update, it was harder than expected. Now that it’s late-August, I can confidently say I didn’t do a great Plastic Free July. Below is an overview of the second half of the month:

July 19: McDonalds drink and fries

July 21: McDonalds coffee

July 22: Brough my own bags to the farmers market, but not enough, so I had to use some of theirs. I also got a container of microgreens and bread in a plastic.

Farmers Market Haul

July 23: I got plastic bag and plastic fork that came with my lunch order.

Later that day I dropped off my pile of black plastic take out containers I’ve been hording. There’s a take back program in Toronto, Case Reuse, that sanities and redistributes them to restaurants. So I brought my pile over to them.

July 25: Plastic clingwrap on some veggies that I received in my Too Good to Go order. It’s an app that partners with bakeries, grocers, restaurants to sell food that’s about to spoil at discounts in a sort of goodie bag. So the things I received would have gone to garbage anyways, so at least I was able to divert some of that waste.

July 26: Harvey’s drink with my post work snack of a veggie burger.

July 27: Did groceries and brought my reusable bags, but forgot the bags for my veggies.

July 28: Ordered Freshii for lunch on site, a compostable bowl but plastic lid. Strange…

July 29: A plastic bag came with my Mr.Sub order for lunch on site.

So ended up using single use plastic for more than 50% of the days. Beyond what was listed in the two updates, I’m pretty confident I forgot stuff so the reality could be worst.

Me after looking over my notes and seeing how bad I goofed the challenge. Photo by Ric Rodrigues on Pexels.com

I am proud of some of the things I’ve done. Like I finally got rid of the weird pile of plastic I was hiding from my roommate (although I might have to start a new one, since I saw some ramen bowls in our recycling again).

That’s pretty much the only goal that I achieved. Which is disappointing since I was really confident that I could do better. That why in my original post I added stretch goals, I was really sure that Plastic Free July would challenging but doable.

I could give a bunch of excuses to why I broke my own rules, as well as a challenges. But I can really summaries it as lack of planning and lack of fortitude.

The lack of planning one I’m hoping to fix, for a variety of reasons that aren’t only related to my plastic usage.

But my lack of fortitude is a bit harder. That can’t be solved that with a planner and a To Do list (although it might help). As I suspected in my first post, a lot of the plastic waste is coming from eating take-out. Some of that is due to the nature of my job, which involves a lot of site work and driving. But that doesn’t explain the takeout coffees and after work fries and pop. Those were just me wanting them now instead of waiting until I was at the office or home for a drink and snack.

So although I don’t think I did that well, I do think this is a interesting baseline measurement. Either for future Plastic Free Julys but also for other months. I might track it September and see how it compares. If I was a massive data nerd, I could track it for the next year and make some cool graphs with what type of plastic I’m using and where I put it at end of use. I would love to tell you I’m that kind of person, but I far too forgetful. So don’t look for that in the future.

So what now?

If you are new to Plastic Free July, their website has a lot of decent swaps for reducing plastic waste in the home.

But for the most part just planning a head so you don’t do what I do and impulse buy takeout. That’s better for the environment and ones wallet. I’m too nervous to even look at my bank statements to see how much money I spend this month on take out (minus the reimbursable stuff from work).

In my first post, I mentioned that I wanted to look in to the City of Toronto’s recycling program to learn more about it and maybe lobby for it to include black plastic. I haven’t done that. I still fully intend looking into that and Toronto’s composting program. May I update this post, or write a separate one when I’ve gotten the time to do the research. 

To wrap up, still a bit disappointed in how I did but I think that this was good eye opener that despite thinking I know a lot about waste reduction and plastic alternatives, I don’t fully practise what I preach and can improve.

Did you do Plastic Free July? How was it for you? I would love to read about it in the comments.

Plastic Free Update #1

This is an update to my last post (I’m Gonna Try ‘Plastic Free July’) you can read it here.

Not off to a strong start…

Below is a summary of the days were I failed (and, like, two times passed) at Plastic Free July and how:

July 1st: I was sitting in a park with my partner and we both wanted some coffee…

We thought that the café nearby was doing outdoor dining and we could use their mugs. Unfortunately, it was doing take-out only. Knowing this, we still both got an ice coffee and a popsicle.

So in the quest for caffeine, we created two take-out coffee cups and two popsicle plastic bags worth of waste. Also this was place was friggin expensive. We probably should have planned a bit better and brought coffee on the road with us before hanging out.

July 2: Went for a walk after dinner around my neighborhood and stopped by the grocery store. Got toilet paper because we ran out. As well, a pint of strawberries since they are on hella sale. Both items were wrapped in plastic.

July 6: Doing a bit better, I haven’t brought new plastic. I’ve mostly been eating in. I even stopped myself from just getting take-out because I was out of the house running errands.

I’ve used plastic products tho. I’ve finished two dips that were in plastic packaging, which I washed and recycled.

As well, I did have to throw out a bread bag since that isn’t accepted in our recycling system.

July 8: Upside: Got my coffee in my reusable mug. Downside: Second Cup has not fully brought back their Lug-a-Mug program. So my barista had to pour my coffee into a paper cup and pour it into my travel mug.

So the waste was generated even if I didn’t have to throw it out.

After my barista finished pouring my coffee, he showed pictures of the steak with basil chimichurri sauce he made the night before. It looked nice (unfortunately I couldn’t include the pic here).

Later than day, I ordered a donut and pizza for takeout. Both packaged in cardboard. Although the pizza box is too oily to be recycled. Not plastic, but I did break my own rules of not ordering out cause I’m weak willed and hungry.

July 9: I got a coffee from Timmies on my way back from a site for work. I took the drive-through so I couldn’t ask if they would fill my mug.

I will fully admit this plastic waste could have been avoided if I was less lazy and waited till I got home for coffee.

July 10: Went to a small grocer near my house. I brought my own plastic bags from previous trips and used them again. The cashier didn’t noticed.

July 13: Broke down and:

  • got an iced coffee.
  • used plastic bags since I forgot to bring down all my reusable ones from my apartment into my car before I left for the store.
  • bought mushrooms wrapped in plastic since they were on sale, instead of the loose option.

Overall not a good day…

July 14: Got two To-Go containers of Timmies coffee for the client and construction crew I was working with. And I helped myself to a coffee that was in a paper cup, since I forgot my own travel mug.

July 15: Honestly the photo captures how the month is going. But, like, in a bad way…

Changing lives by destroying future generations…

Also it seems that Tim Hortons’ now gives paper straws with orders. This is a very small and somewhat performative step from one of Canada’s larger sources of litter.

So that’s where I am at the halfway mark of Plastic Free July. It turned out to be harder than expected. Mostly due to my own lack of planning. I want to say that it gets better in the second half of the month. But that would be a lie.

Are you doing Plastic Free July? Or do you know of ways that I can stop forgetting my travel mug every time I leave the house? Love to hear about it in the comments below.

I’m Gonna Try ‘Plastic Free July’

I heard about Plastic Free July, last year through Instagram. As the name suggests, the idea is to reduce (ideally eliminate) the use of plastic for the month of July. From there you, hopefully, have developed some habits that you will stick with to reduce your overall plastic consumption long term.

As mentioned in my most recent post, I feel my largest waste generator comes from food waste. I think my largest plastic waste comes from take-out containers. I don’t have the best habits around take-out. They aren’t the worst, but there’s massive room for improvement. I consider take-out a rare treat, but I’m not treating it as such. Particularly this past year, where I justified take-out as supporting small businesses. But also order my meals on delivery apps that take around 30% fees from the restaurants. So how much was I really supporting?

Also, I get my groceries delivered sometimes and plastic bags are an unavoidable part of the process.

Anyway, my plan for Plastic Free July is to reduce my waste by doing the following:

  • No take out. There are more restaurants that are switching to cardboard packaging. But for the month, lets assume that all restaurants are using plastic;
  • As little plastic wrapping in the food I buy. I do live in a city with bulk foods stores, and its farmers market season. Two that are walking distance from my house. So this should be relatively achievable if I do some planning;
  • Donate the black plastic I’m hoarding. I don’t think my roommate knows that I sometimes take her black plastic take-out contains out of our recycling bins and add them to a hidden pile of take-out containers I plan on donating. The City of Toronto doesn’t accept black plastic in its recycling system and I don’t want her wishcycling. There are a non-profits that reusing them, as well as programs that specifically will redistribute black plastic take-out containers to restaurants in the City. So my plan is to get my weird little pile of take-out contains out of the house and somewhere, where ideally, they will be reused again before becoming trash. I also will bring my plastic bags to one of the groceries stores near my house that has a recycling/takeback program.
  • Write to the City of Toronto and ask to improve the recycling system to accept Black plastic (I understand their sorting machines cant see it, but I could be wrong) and other types of plastic waste. Or put a By-Law in place that bands the sale of black plastic take-out contains to restaurants in Toronto’s. Or something like that. I know that second idea would never happen, since it’s impossible to enforce. But maybe more education to restaurant owners about plastic and Styrofoam containers. And encourage them to order other biodegradable materials. I don’t really know. I need to some research before I write to my City Councilor.

My stretch goal, if I have time. Go out on a walk and pick up garbage. I see people on the internet that do it and I admire them. But I also think its kinda gross, and bad for my back.

I’m also making excuses. So I want to give it a try at least once. If I hate the process, I have a valid reason not to do it again. If it’s not bad or if I have fun, maybe it will be something I incorporate into my regular routine.

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Looking at this list, it feels really reasonable. Almost like stuff I should be doing already as someone that claims to care about the environment. I’ve got the next four weeks to find out if it’s as easy as I think it will be.

The thing that will ensure that this month is successful is planning, which is something I’m terrible at in my personal life. My professional life involves a lot of planning, so I feels like I use up that energy that by the time I clock out at the end of the day. But for July, I will take the ten minutes to plan my meals for the week, so I don’t break down and order take-out. From there we’ll be golden! Or at least I hope so.

This month may also lead me to discover that I generate waste in other areas of my life. As listed above, I am working on the assumption that most of my plastic waste is generated around food. So this will be interesting to see if that is actually the case or not.

Have you heard of Plastic Free July before? Is it something that you want to try this month? The website does have an challenge with tips and guides if you are looking for ways to reduce your plastic waste. I signed up and might share some of their tips in update posts. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.