Zero Waste Tea: Journey and How to

My First Zero Waste Tea Shopping: David’s Tea and Bulk Barn

I love tea. I drink several (minimum five) cups a day. I have always drank loose leaf tea but it’s only recently that I have completely switched to loose leaf. The only time I don’t drink loose leaf is when I’m at my grandpas house and he makes us a pot of tea after dinner. I find that I don’t really like black teas in loose leaf. Maybe I’m just not used to anything but Tetley’s orange pekoe, but I just can’t do orange pekoe, earl grey or really any black tea in loose leaf. I will do the odd chai tea though.

My favourite tea is green tea. This I will happily drink in loose leaf or matcha form. I also like herbal teas. Lucky for me these are easy to get in zero waste form.

Even if loose leaf tea comes in a non-zero waste container it is still producing much less waste than individual tea bags. Some people say you can compost tea bags and others say no, but if you don’t have a compost (I’ll be getting one this summer) than it’s best to skip the bag anyways.  I’ve talked about this a bit before in my kitchen swaps article, but I wanted to touch on it more now.

I’ve recently bought zero waste loose leaf tea from the Bulk Barn and David’s Tea. Bulk Barn is only in Canada, but similar bulk stores exist in most places. David’s Tea is available widely in Canada and some locations in the United States. To see more about Bulk Barn check out my last post.

The tea I choose from Bulk Barn is fair trade Chinese green tea. I bought .25 pounds of tea (or so the jar says, I don’t remember what the scale said). I am sad because their tea selection has shrunk over the years. They had many green teas, some black teas, and a few herbal teas. The green was the only one I was interested in. I sadly had to choose between a fair trade tea and an organic tea. They didn’t have any green teas that were both. I like the tea I choose. It was around $10 and will last me quite a long time. I use less than one tablespoon (maybe even less than half) for each cup of tea so such a large jar will last a long time and save me money compared to tea bags and cafes.

David’s Tea is one of my favourite places to buy tea (for any Americans reading this it’s similar to  Teavana which has many more US locations than David’s tea). They have a wide variety of tea. You can buy it in packaging or you can buy it in metal tins (with labels and sometimes plastic lids), but you are always allowed to bring them in (no matter how small) and have them refilled. I used two containers from a chia tea kit I got as a birthday gift years ago for my tea today. I love that they have lots of organic teas. They also organize everything by colour (all the herbal teas are in a yellow container). So it’s very easy to find a tea you like in store.

When you look online they have a filter for  kosher, organic and fair trade so you can see all the teas that fit which ever category(ies) you choose. I haven’t ordered tea online so I don’t know if you can get zero-waste friendly packaging. I use the online to decide what kind of tea I want because it takes me forever for me to make decisions.

davids-tea
I really love the filter. It lets you pick the tea that fits your taste and values.

Once I’ve decided what I want I bring my containers with me to the store. They have a membership card so you can earn free drinks. They make tea for you (with no bag) and you can bring your own mug. I ended up getting organic chamomile, and organic serenity now. I find that both (especially chamomile) are strong so I don’t use too much for a cup. I bought $5 of each tea and it should last me ages. I only drink these kinds of tea in the evening, and not every evening.

I think the quality of tea I buy has improved since going (mostly) zero waste. I take more time to decide on what tea I want, and why, than I used to. This ends up in more ethical and environmental choices.

Let me know where you get your loose leaf from, and what your favourite tea is below.

 

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Natural and Organic Labeling

organicFinding food, make-up or clothing that is organic and all natural can be tricky. Some brands use words like natural to trick people into buying their products. Dirt is natural, oil is natural, but you don’t want these on your face, or in your stomach. So how do you figure out what you should be buying?

First learning how to read labels is a good start. There is no regulation of the use “natural” or “100% natural”. Some companies take it seriously and others use it as a marketing technique. If a product says it’s natural than it’s best to do some research on the brand before you buy.

When looking at certified organic products from the USDA or Canadian Organic there are different rules depending on the percentage of organic ingredients.  If a product says it is “made with organic ingredients” than it must have at least 70% organic ingredients. Any product between 70-95% must say what percent of their product is organic in order to use the certification labels. If a product has less than 70% it is not allowed to be certified organic, but is able to list which ingredients are organic on the label.

If a product has 95% organic ingredients than it is able to be labelled as “organic” without listing the percentage of organic ingredients. If you really care about the 5% than you must look for certified products that have “100% organic” written on the label.

Next you need to do some research. Different brands will give you more or less information (I plan on braking down some specific brands in the future). The best way to find organic products easily is looking for the certification stickers. Even with the stickers you can’t be certain. Every form of certification has corruption and loopholes so doing additional research is needed.

Without the sticker products can still claim to be organic when they aren’t, so make sure you know what to look for. Some of these you can trust. At my local farmers market there is a vegetable booth with a sign that says “uncertified organic”. They don’t certify because it’s too expensive for them, but they are very honest about how they grow their veggies.

 

 

Coffee Cups Ruin Everything

I have been trying to avoid disposable coffee cups for some time now, but I have decided this year that I am not getting a coffee without a reusable cup, no matter how desperate I am for caffeine. I try as hard as I can to produce no waste when getting a coffee. I have a reusable cup in the trunk of my car at all times, and if I go somewhere and someone else is driving I bring my cup in my purse.

Despite my best efforts I still had a zero waste fail. My friend and I were having the perfect day. We went to a health food store that actually had zero waste options, I bought direct trade organic coffee, we thrifted some records, and we were ending the day by stopping at an organic coffee shop. The café seemed perfect. I love coffee and am devoted to organic coffee (I’ll make a post on coffee later).

We got to the coffee shop an hour before it was supposed to close, I brought my own reusable cup in my purse but we decided to have our coffee “for here”. I thought I had nothing to worry about since we weren’t getting our coffee to go. But sadly I was wrong. Even though I tried my best I still failed at being zero waste.

I was very annoyed. I tried to comfort myself with the fact that the cup was at least made out of recycled material, but I still felt bad. I was hoping to make it the whole year without using a disposable coffee cup and here we are in January and I’ve already failed.

I decided not to let it get me down. I tried my best. I meant to be zero waste. I didn’t actively try and use a plastic cup but it happened. The best thing I can do now is learn to ask about cups if I’m new to a café. If every zero waster gave up after each fail there wouldn’t be any of us.

Zero-Waste Kitchen Swaps

The kitchen is one of the biggest producers of waste (both food and packaging). By making a few simple changes you can easily make your kitchen more environmentally friendly, and zero-waste.

Coffee Time

bodummoka-potAvoid paper filters for brewing your coffee. There are so many different ways to make coffee and most of them don’t use a paper filter. You can use a Bodum/French Press, a moka pot, an automatic coffee maker with a mesh filter, espresso machines, manual espresso makers, and so much more. They all change the flavor of the coffee (really only coffee snobs will notice most of it) and it can be fun to have different options every morning.

If you use paper filters switch to non-bleached filters. This way you can compost your filters and grinds easily. Composting your used grinds is the best way to get rid of them. You can also throw them straight into your garden (tomatoes and kale especially love coffee grinds).

In addition you can use coffee grinds for many DIY beauty products. Lip scrubs, body scrubs, soap bars, and a hair treatment are some of the many things you can do with used coffee grinds, other than compost them.

Say No to Paper Towels

paper-towelPaper towels are awful for the environment. So many of them get used every time you cook a meal or clean the kitchen. It’s just as easy to use a dish cloth and wash it. I just throw them in with my regular laundry. It’s super easy. You can buy them in any colour you like, made out of sustainable/organic materials, and you can even thrift them.

You can also use old clothing to make cleaning rags for your kitchen and save the dish clothes for your hands, dishes, and produce. It’s a very simple way to limit the amount of trees that get turned into paper products.

Find Good Packaging

If you can’t find a zero-waste option near you, just buy the product with the best packaging you can. Look for items in glass jars instead of plastic (peanut butter is an easy one for this), pick cardboard over plastic (it stands a better chance of being recycled), and items made out of sustainably sourced materials or recycled  materials.

yeastOn the left are two different ways to buy yeast, one in a glass jar with metal lid, and the other in paper packets. The packets aren’t recyclable, but the glass and metal lid are. You can also re-use the glass jar. In addition one packet has enough for one loaf of bread while one jar has enough for several.

cerealSome companies try and package as ethically as they can. There are no zero-waste breakfast options for me (I really wish I had a local zero-waste store) so I try and find the best option I can. Natures Path Organic makes cereal that I really like. They use eco-pac for their bags, and have no cardboard box. Without the cardboard box there are less trees being turned into paper, and the eco-pac is biodegradable. It also just tastes good.

Use Produce Bags and Shop Locally

Bringing your own grocery and produce bags is a super easy way to reduce your waste. The thin plastic bags your produce goes in stand little chance of being recycled so skip them as often as possible.

Shopping at smaller local stores and farmers markets can help you reduce your waste (they are usually less picky about you using your own bags/jars/whatever) and help you reduce the carbon footprint of your food. If you’re buying locally the food had to travel less. You don’t have to give up all far-away foods but try and buy seasonally and locally when you can.

Tea Time

tea-2Tea bags are not compostable. It’s best to switch to loose leaf tea. You can buy loose-leaf tea at bulk stores, David’s tea, and health food stores without packaging. If you can’t find it zero-waste than buy it in a metal or glass container. I have loose leaf tea from Twinnings and from For Teas Sake that is not zero-waste but come in metal tins that I plan on reusing after words.

I use to find loose leaf tea annoying, but it really isn’t that much harder to empty a tea ball than it is to throw out a tea bag.

tea-ballsThere are also a ton of different tea balls you can use. I have gotten so many as gifts. You can get them in nearly any shape and made out of nearly anything. Plastic isn’t best but if you buy one plastic thing to replace thousands (that’s really how much tea I drink)  of tea bags it’s not a bad option.

My favourite one is my round metal one that I found in my grandparents house. No one was using it so it became mine. It has a finer mesh on it so I can use all my teas in it. I find with some of my others tea gets out.

Use Jars to Store Food

lemonWhen you store food properly you won’t end up wasting it. I prefer to store everything in glass jars because they are recyclable and reusable. I also didn’t pay for my jars. They are all old food jars that held nut butters, sauces, coconut oil, and juice. It’s much better to use what you have than go out and buy new jars.

I store my lunches, juices, coffee, and any chopped up produce in a glass jar. It’s super handy and looks nice. I make lemon water most mornings, so I chop up a lemon throw it in a jar and I’m set for the week.

Make it Yourself

breadx2One way to reduce packaging is to make things yourself. This is really only good if you have the time. I like making home made bread but I don’t do it all the time. Baking is an easy way to reduce waste because breads, cookies, pies… almost always come in plastic bags.

If you don’t bake there are a lot of easy things you can make at home in large batches and freeze to save time (pasta sauce for example).

 

Have you tried any of these swaps? Do you have any to add? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

Four Common Excuses for Not Going Green

I’ve heard a lot of excuses for not going green. I’ve even thought them myself, but I’m here to debunk them. These are common excuses and problems for not going organic, zero-waste and every other shade of green.

It Won’t Make a Difference

Just today I was told that there’s nothing I can do to make a real difference because the problem is too big and my actions are too small. So many people quit before they even begin. The only way you won’t make a difference is if you do literally nothing.

Every small change makes a big difference. If every person who thought they couldn’t make a difference made one zero-waste swap, or switched one grocery item to organic than billions of of changes would be happening. You may be just one person, but one person, plus another person, plus another equals change.

One person changing will inspire others to change. They’ll see you bringing your own grocery bags, or  using a reusable coffee cup and be inspired to do the same. The more people who do something the more normal it becomes, and the more people who want to do it.

There are too Many Things to Change

You’re not wrong! There are a lot of things that need to be changed to have a greener world. Just remember that you don’t have to fix everything, and especially not all at once. If your goal is to become zero-waste change one thing. That’s it! Make one zero-waste swap and once it becomes a habit make another. Change is easier when you start slow.

Slow change is better than no change

If you want to go organic, pick one thing to change. If you pick food as what you want to change, switch to organic only for the “dirty dozen”. If it’s your beauty routine change one product.

What ever your green goal start slow and small. You’ll be better at sticking to your goals this way.

It’s too Expensive

Going green is only as expensive as you want it to be. If you want to go out and buy mason jars than do it, but you could just save the jars that are already in your recycling bin. You can thrift almost anything on a zero-waste essentials list. You only have to buy what you want to to go green, because odds are you already own most of it.

Not only that but what you do buy will save you money in the long run. A safety razor may sound expensive ($30-100CAD) but it’s better to pay that once than pay for new disposable razors every couple of months. Organic produce sounds expensive but I’ve always found it cheaper at the farmers market than conventional produce at a grocery store. It’s even cheaper if you grow your own.

Sustainably made products (especially clothing) is expensive but it almost always lasts longer. Try and invest in green products when you can.

What Will I Do With All My Stuff?

This is one I struggled with. You want to go green but you already own non-organic makeup, tea in bags, toxic candles, paper towel, plastic tuperwear, whatever. Use it up, donate, or give it to a friend. I use only loose leaf tea at home, but I didn’t throw out my tea bags. I gave a lot of tea to my friend, and kept some to leave in my office. You already own it so it’s too late. Don’t waste what you already own in the name of going green. Use it up and use it as much as you can.

10+ Green New Years Resolutions

Here are some easy ways you can green up the new year. Try them all or a handfull. As long as you try something you’ll be making a difference. Every little change you make adds up to something big.

1. Say No to Plastic Grocery and Shopping Bags

plastic-pollution-infographBring your own reusable bags everywhere. I always keep a small cotton bag in my purse, and a couple bigger bags in my car. I also plan ahead to bring a bunch with me when I go grocery shopping or shopping at the farmers market. Not only does this save you money (in most countries they charge 1-25 cents per bag) it’s also more fun and customizable. You can design your own, or just buy some with designs you like. I have bags covered in cactuses, or with logos from sustainable business I support, or from places I’ve traveled. Tote bags are my favourite souvenir.

1.5  Say No to Plastic Produce Bags

 

producebags-wI just got a bunch of reusable produce bags for Christmas and I am excited to start using them. You can just use small canvas/tote/cotton bags, but I like these because they are made for produce. I prefer them to be see-through and light-weight so I have no problems at the cash register.

2. Say No to Plastic Bottles

This means more than just water-bottles. I see stats and infographics on plastic water bottles all the time. I know they are the main culprit but we need to stop using all plastic bottles. My university (like many) is a water bottle free zone. You can’t buy them anywhere, but you can buy pop, juice, and sports drinks in plastic bottles. Bring a reusable plastic bottle with you everywhere. I have a lot of them. It’s best to get them in glass or metal, but BPA free plastic is also good. Use an old jar if you have to.

I have a plastic bottle that rolls up and takes up no space that I use for travelling, a small metal one I bring in my purse, and many more. I change them depending on where I’m going (will it fit in the cup holder of my car?) and how long I’ll be gone (all day = a bigger bottle). I even have one with a place to put fruit/herbs/cucumber for infusing the water. Just get whatever kind you like and use it instead.

3. Say No to Any Disposable Cup

That means coffee cups, frappachinno cups, pop cups, you name it get rid of it. I always have a reusable coffee cup in my car, as well as a cute mason jar cup with a straw for iced/cold drinks.

4. Bye Bye Straws

We use thousands and thousands of straws, and they’re almost all made out of plastic. It’s such a silly thing to use such a horrible material for. Why on earth should we be digging up dinosaurs and turning them into a plastic straw? They would be upset. Either ask for no straw when you go out, or be super cool and bring your own reusable one. I hate asking for no straw. Sometimes they don’t care, but sometimes you get weird looks. It’s the price we pay for the planet.

When I make my own drinks I use reusable BPA plastic free straws, and I have stainless steel ones coming in the mail. They are easy to clean. I just rinse them out as soon as I’m done (especially with smoothies) and throw them in the dishwasher. Once my new straws and cleaning brush come in the mail it will be even better.

5. Go to the Farmers Market

Find whatever one is closet to you (I’m positive there is one, they’ve been poping up like crazy) and go to it. Even if you have to wake up early on a Saturday or day off. I work at the farmers market so I can tell you not all booths are organic, sustainable or healthy (I sell deep fried Russian food in paper bags or styrofoam, clearly I’m not in charge of the packaging), but there are lots that are. Even if they aren’t the best environmentally no one will stop you from using your own containers or bags (I use a reusable container nearly every Saturday and reusable bags constantly, since my customers are the best).

You’ll find seasonal produce, fresh produce and you can actually see the person who grows your food. You can ask them questions. It’s great. They might even have recipe ideas for you. You can find produce, cooked food, baked goods, meat, cheese, milk, yogurt, eggs, candles, soaps, knitted stuff from sweet old ladies, honey, seamstresses, and it goes on.

Not to mention “go to a farmers market” is on every article listing cool date ideas.

6. Change One Part of Your Routine

This could mean changing your bed time routine so you use an organic toothpaste, getting sulfate free shampoo, using locally made soap, or using zero-waste lipstick. What ever it is, pick one small thing you do everyday and change it for the greener.

7. Buy Something Sustainable and Ethical this Year

One way to convince yourself to become a greener person is with a reward. I know the minimalist zero-wasters wont be a big fan of this one, but it will work. We like new things, and we like getting ourselves treats. Pick one thing like organic fair trade coffee instead of cheap chemical crap, or sustainable and ethically made shoes. If you turn going green into a gift to yourself you might stick to your resolutions this year.

8. Shop Mindfully

I know I just told you to buy something, but you really should be buying less. It’s hard. Try and buy only things you need or really really want. When you do buy something buy the version that is the best for the planet and the people making it. Also buy something that will last.

Follow this handy chart I found:

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9. Eat Less Meat and No Factory Farmed Meat

Eating meat is a tricky subject, but we all know the less of it we eat the healthier we are. If you want to become a vegan or vegetarian, if not just eat less meat. If you do eat meat, make it ethical. Spend more on good quality meat. If it doesn’t cost a lot than you know its from a factory farm that does not treat its animals well. An animal died so you could eat it, so we should at least take care of them well before that. The farmers market or a local butcher can be a good place to start.

This also goes for eggs. You can tell just by looking at an egg yolk if the chicken was treated well. The deeper and orangier the colour the better treatment the chicken had. A happy free-range chicken actually produces an egg with more nutrients! That’s just crazy. So make sure your eggs come from happy chickens, and your meat comes from happy animals.

10. Replace One Item with a Sustainable Version

This means things like switching from a disposable razor to a safety razor, switching from normal printer paper to sustainably sourced paper (certified wood, bamboo or sugar cane). There are a lot of options here so find a need in your life and swap it.

11. Bonus One: Plant Something

Growing something means more CO2 being turned into lovely breathable air, and it’s just fun. Make it a veggtable garden so you really know where your food comes from, a flower bed to make things prettier, an herb garden to spice up your meals, or a houseplant to make some clean inside air. Whatever it is, growing a plant can make you feel closer to nature, which is good for encouraging you to go greener. They’re also just pretty.

Let me know if you’ve tried any or all of these resolutions.

Five Night Time Routine Swaps

The best way to go green is to incorporate it into your everyday routines. One of the first things I changed was my night time routine. It was easy. I’m going to show you a few simple swaps that have made my night time routine better for the planet and better for me.

I wanted to try and switch to organic ingredients and zero-waste alternatives (the more local the better). The hardest part about this was researching what I could change. I decided that washing my face, brushing my teeth and flossing could all be made better.

Before I get into the swaps, the easiest thing to do when making your night time routine greener is obvious: turn off the tap when brushing.

Now into the swaps:

The Teeth

1. Toothbrush

toothbrush-with-packagingOne thing you can do is switch from plastic to bamboo. You can find bamboo toothbrushes at zero-waste stores, health food stores, and online. Mine is from brush naked. I really like it. At first I found it too soft, but I think my gums actually like it better. This company is great if you’re Canadian because it’s one of the few places that ship to Canada for free.

There are lots of different brands you can choose from. There are even ones with traditional nylon bristles, but with a biodegradable body or with replaceable heads, if you don’t like the feeling of bamboo bristles. There are also recyclable plastic toothbrushes. Choose one that’s right for you.

2. Toothpaste/powder/tablets

night-routine-copyI’ve been on a mission to find zero-waste toothpaste. I wanted something that still did the job, tasted good and came in as close to zero-waste packaging as possible. This was hard. I found natural toothpastes at my local health food store but nothing zero-waste. I made zero-waste the priority in this and eventually found Lush. I’ve bought bath bombs and bubble bars from them before but never looked at anything else. They have zero-waste toothy tabs or tooth powders. I read a lot of reviews and a few youtube videos and decided to give it a try. I went with the powder and I’m happy I did (see my full review here).

If you just want something natural than get whatever you want, but I like the zero-waste aspect. There are lots of brands that sell organic and/or natural toothpastes like Radius or Green Beaver. Depending on how I feel at the end of my toothpowder container I might try some of these.

3. Floss

radiusI bought Radius natural silk floss from my local health food store Jo Anne’s Place, but it can be found online. There are other brands but this is what I have. The floss I bought was a little misleading. The box it comes in says 100% biodegradable, but the biodegradable floss is inside a plastic container. This is still better than traditional floss, but I felt mislead. I now know that you can buy them in sachets and therefore can avoid the plastic.

The Face

4. With Make-up

I used to use disposable make-up removing wipes, rather than washing my face. I mostly did it out of laziness. Now, rather than using makeup removing wipes I’ve bought a make-up remover (before I realized I wanted to go plastic-free) with fair trade ingredients. If I can’t have plastic free at least it’s partially fair trade. I also cut up an old plaid shirt to use as my new make-up wipes. I pour the make-up remover on them. I just throw them in my laundry basket after I wipe my face off. Another alternative is coconut oil. When I finish my bottle that’s what I plan to use next.

I still own disposable wipes so I cut them up into smaller wipes (so I use a quarter or half instead of a whole sheet) in order to make them last longer. Now I only use them when I’m not at home. I think this is better than throwing them out. Throwing away an unused product in the name of zero-waste is crazy.

5. Without Make-up

kalamazoo2-2I use a zero-waste face wash from Lush called Kalamazoo (to see my review of it click here). I love the packaging and the product. I use this on its own if I haven’t worn any makeup, or use it after using my makeup remover. When I’m done washing my face I use a face-cloth to dry off. I know some people use paper towel for “cleanliness”, but if you wash your cloth often than you don’t need to worry about that.

I used to hate washing  my face at night but now I treat it more like a pampering/self-care part of my day. Now that I put thought into my routine I enjoy it more. After getting new products I put research into I was actually excited to get ready for bed (just the first couple times).

I hope you found these swaps helpful. You don’t need to do them all but making one change in your routine can make a difference over time.