Double-duty packaging

October 23, 2009

bird house wine boxReduce, I support. Recycle, I support. But, reuse, I love!

Check out this great ‘green’ package. It’s a wine gift box that is also a hummingbird house! So clever.

As we proceed into the holiday dinner and cocktail party season, many people will pick up gifts, flowers or bottles of cheer to take to their hosts. What other smart double-duty packages can be used to carry a gift and then be used for something else? Gift bags don’t count – I want you to dig deeper today, dear readers.

PS: Here are instructions on how to make a wine bottle birdhouse.


Waste reduction

July 10, 2009

greens in paperAlthough I should be thinking about ‘waist’ reduction as well as ‘waste’ reduction, I’m going to leave the topic of my burgeoning girth for another day and instead focus on reducing grocery waste.

I technically live in the suburbs of Toronto where we still have weekly garbage collection, but it’s difficult not to be affected by the garbage strike that’s been dragging on just a few miles from my front door. In fact, the strike has made me very aware of how much Styrofoam packaging and plastic comes with my groceries – especially the produce.

I took the picture of this paper-bagged lettuce at the Brickworks Farmers’ Market last Saturday because it’s such a great example of how retailers can make simple changes to help all of us reduce the amount of non-biodegradable waste we produce each week.

I’m heartened to see that some of the bigger food companies are making their packaging more earth-friendly, too. For instance, Frito Lay Sun Chips in the US and Canada’s Natrel bagged milk now come in bags made from biodegradable materials. I like it!

What smart packaging have you seen recently? Or, better yet, what great ideas do you have for reducing cooking and grocery-related waste?


Hydrotherapy: stylish recycling

April 6, 2009

bistrowatercarafesLike many people, I used to buy bottled water frequently. My main motivation was convenience although I have to admit that I wasn’t smart enough not to buy into the notion that imported water was better than the stuff out of my tap. (Yes, I was a victim of marketing, it’s true!). As my awareness of the carbon footprint I was enlarging by trucking water around the globe grew, I reevaluated my habits.

Now I use my Sigg water bottle when I’m on the go. And at home, when I want to take water to the table to share, I fill up these old Tavel wine bottles. The look is fun and the bottles are easier to pour from than a heavy pitcher.

Besides making these small changes in your own behaviour that will help the planet, you can help the almost 890 million earthlings who still must use unsafe drinking water sources. It’s as easy as making a small donation to the TAP Project which collects funds for UNICEF’s water, sanitation, and hygiene programs in developing countries.

I know we are knee deep in a sea of recessionary tears, but if we all skip buying bottled water at lunch time or the gym a couple of times this week and donate that money instead, we can make a significant impact.

Have your drinking water habits changed in the last two years? If so, how?


Christmas gift idea for coffee drinkers: Bentwood cuff

December 10, 2008

lg-cuff9Every once in a while I find myself delighted with a new product that I can imagine myself truly using. Such is the case with this clever device that can be worn as jewelry when you aren’t drinking coffee or used to replace the environmentally wasteful sleeves that insulate your hand while you hold a paper coffee cup.  Style, function and sustainability: A design trifecta!

How much would you pay for a product like this one?  If I told you it was about $70 would you see the value or deem it an over-priced novelty?


Stop wasting food!

June 9, 2008

In the 70’s when I was a kid, I used to think my grandmothers were crazy. After raising large families during the Great Depression, these women were living embodiments of the ‘waste not, want not’ axiom. From washing out milk bags to use as wrappers for leftovers to saving every bone and bit of meat to make soup broth, they were experts at avoiding waste of all kinds. We loved to eat the homemade food they created but we also made fun of their frugal habits.

Now 30 years later, the planet finds itself in a shameful place that we may have been able to avoid if we had listened to these wise women. While riots and strife are common in countries where food is scarce, Westerners are wasting more food (and money as a result of their waste) than ever before.

It’s easy to say ‘not me’ when you read articles like this one in the New York Times. But we have to face the truth when stats from our own hometown hit the press. This article in the Toronto Star asserts that:

• Toronto households waste 210 million kilograms of food each year.
• One-quarter to one-third of the food we waste is unopened or whole or untouched.
• Single-family households each produce about 275 kilograms of food waste each year.
• Food waste is one of the main sources of greenhouse gases, particularly methane, which is more dangerous to the environment and traps more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
• 38 per cent of Canada’s methane emissions come from landfills.

Reading these facts encouraged me to examine my own food waste habits. The results were sobering. I have to admit that I often buy more produce than I need and end up with slimy herbs and blackened lettuce to throw out at the end of the week. Likewise, I occasionally buy meat that I intend to cook but don’t use because our dinner plans change or we choose to eat something different. I also routinely throw out half of each loaf of sliced bread I buy for making school lunches. When you only have one child to make a lunch for, it’s difficult to use a loaf before it stales.

Although I made fun of freegans on this blog only a few weeks ago, I do give them credit for trying to be part of the solution. I just hope that we can find ways to avoid the problems outlined in the articles above so that such extreme solutions don’t have to be explored.

To that end I’m going to try to be a better earthling by separating my loaves of sliced bread and freezing what won’t be used within a day or two. By doing this I should be able to divide my sliced bread expenditures by at least half, saving about $75 a year and reducing the amount I put in the green bin by approximately 18 pounds (8 kg) a year.

I’ve sent the $75 I plan to save to the World Food Programme’s Silent Tsunami Fund which hopes to ‘reach the millions of people who, six months ago, were not even considered ‘hungry’ but, today, are fast becoming the new face of hunger.’

What do you waste that could be saved or diverted to another use?


Are package designers smarter than fifth and sixth graders?

May 21, 2008

The tetra pack is a handy invention that can be branded beautifully while still being functional, too. Just look at this great looking pesto package that was featured at the SIAL grocery industry trade show that Sabrina Falone visited in Montreal two weeks ago. It’s darn pretty but is the size and shape an efficient use of materials? I’m not sure but I bet my son Oliver, a grade six student, could tell us.

You see, last week over dinner, Oliver told me that the standard juice box style tetra pack is unnecessarily over filling our garbage dumps. It took Oliver and his grade five/six class only one math period to calculate that the same volume of juice could be contained in a cube shaped package, reducing the surface area of the package substantially.

“Less surface area means they need to use less material. That means less garbage and less money for packaging,” pointed out Oliver.

He and his classmates wrote a letter to the private label juice brand who sold the juice box they measured to point out their findings and to ask the retailer to consider changing their packages from rectangles to cubes. I hope they get a response.

I expect that even if they don’t hear from the company that retailers will be pressuring manufacturers and designers to create more packages that have a minimal impact on the environment; a widely publicized 2007 study by Information Resources Inc. surveyed 22,000 Americans and discovered that about half of respondents consider at least one sustainability factor when selecting purchases. I think this is great news and hope that smart young people and older consumers with money to spend continue to press for change.

Have you made purchase decisions influenced by sustainability concerns? If so, tell us about it.


Liquid thinking: choosing the tap over the bottle

April 3, 2008

Bottled waterBack in the early nineties, I worked at a posh spa that had a Water Bar where dozens of different kinds of bottled water were available for guests to drink. These bottles came from all over the world and had been chosen by a water sommelier who assured us that they were each as distinctive as wine from various locations.

In the last two decades, bottled water has become more than just a convenient way to offer people a drink; it’s a revenue stream (pun intended) for soft drink companies as well as for restaurants who sell bottles of ubiquitous filtered water for $5 to $10 and, in some cases, premium waters such as Bling H2O (it’s considered premium ‘cause the bottle is fancy!) for more than $40 a bottle.

More than a year ago the aptly named Alice Waters, culinary icon and owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, California, quit offering bottled water in her restaurant in favour of purified tap water. What started as a choice rooted in her own opinion about conservation and reducing the size of the carbon footprint created when bottled water is shipped across the globe has started a valuable debate in not just the restaurant industry but other communities as well.

After all, why do we need to buy bottled water for home or the office when a filtration system can be added to any tap to make the water taste as clean and fresh as it would if it came all the way from a Tasmanian spring?