Friday, 20 October 2017

Reusable Bags: Are We Now Drowning in Something Worse than Single Use Bags?

Bags, bags, reusable bags everywhere . . .
Years ago, in Canada, various retailers and businesses started to give out or sell reusable bags to try to reduce how many plastic bags or "single use" bags were produced and ultimately thrown away. This was supposed to be good for the environment.

A bag of bags.
I can remember as a child having to take reusable bags to the grocery stores and various food retailers in Europe when we were there on vacation (this was decades ago). We’re slow to catch on here and the way we’ve done it has still perhaps not worked quite the way it did in Europe. Here, while some people are religious about using reusable bags, others supplement, and some refuse or always forget their reusable bags.

In Victoria, British Columbia, Canada where I live, certain stores have started to charge for bags (or offer “discounts" per reusable bag brought to the store with you) or have banned plastic bags completely. The municipality of Victoria is currently debating what should be done about plastic bags or single use bags from stores.

I use a reusable bag to save plastic "single use" bags so that I can reuse them.
This is complicated, while reusable bags can be very good if they are of good quality so that they don’t break soon after purchase of being gifted to the user. Unfortunately, there are a lot of reusable bags that I’ve had over the years that break, rip, tear, or become somehow unusable very quickly. The problem with this is that it takes much more resources to produce these reusable bags than it does to produce a thin plastic bag. Also, the materials that they’re often made out of are plastic, just like plastic bags, but they are thicker and even worse for the environment. If they have mixed materials, fabric plus plastic, then good luck finding somewhere to recycle them when they break. Whereas, plastic grocery bags can be returned to the grocery store for recycling.

But there's just so many reusable bags and this isn't even my entire "collection" . . .
I order online from Thrifty Foods from time to time and have my groceries delivered (with a baby in the house, grocery shopping is an extra challenge that I don’t need). Because I can’t use my reusable bags since they are delivering to my house, they use paper bags (since they banned plastic bags). While this might be somewhat good, it’s a lot of paper, since they can’t fill a lot of bags as full as a stronger plastic bag could be filled. I reuse these paper bags to put my compost in (before putting it in my compost bin, because the City of Victoria, unlike other municipalities requires compost to be in either a compostable or a paper bag before it goes in your own bin- a waste for sure since it’s all being chucked in the same big truck).

And I use a reusable bag to keep  some of my many, many paper bags so that I can reuse them.
My favourite reusable bag my husband and I bought in Amsterdam the summer before last. We were at a grocery store and realized we had no bag to put our purchases in. They don’t give out bags there so it was either try to carry everything in our arms or buy one. We looked at the beautiful canvas bags and wondered how much they could possibly cost. They were sturdy, a good size for carrying a small shop, and comfortable to wear over the shoulder or carry in the hand. We could not believe it when the cashier told us the price, about $4.00 Canadian. A bag like that here would probably costs at least four times that. No doubt their good quality reusable bags are priced to encourage people to use them (and reuse them) and for less waste to occur over time. Plus, canvas is biodegradable, unlike plastic which most of our reusable bags seem to be made from here. Also, the bag became dirty from travelling for about a month and when we arrived home I was able to pop it into the washing machine to clean it easily. Good luck doing this with one of those mixed plastic and fabric numbers.

My favourite reusable bag is from Amsterdam.
I always reused plastic bags that I was given at stores and I still do. They are handy for carrying other items, for garbage cans around the house, for cleaning out the kitty litter box, etc.. I am still not convinced that the mountain of reusable bags being produced is going to save the world. They are choking out thrift shops and eating up all of our closet and trunk space. I suggest that if we are going to move towards reusable bags in the long term that they be more like our beautiful, high quality, biodegradable, and cheap Dutch canvas bag.

Let's make more reusable bags like this sturdy and cheap canvas bag from The Netherlands.

Amazon Prime: Box in a Box the Sequel

Another sizable box from Amazon Prime
I ordered a present for one of my sister’s children. It was a hopper ball for children. The package was shipped through Amazon Prime. I have had a series of overpackaged items from Amazon Prime (you can find links to other posts here and here and here).

When this item arrived, the box was large. I was confused given that the ball is just a deflated piece of plastic and should not have occupied much space (especially since it is a small child's size).

I was confused as to why the box was so large for just one item.

When I opened the box, it was filled with two huge long pieces of folded brown packing paper.

Lots and lots of paper.

More packing paper nestled around a cardboard box. 
Once that was removed, there was a box that the hopper ball was in. A box within a box (just like when I ordered diapers from Amazon Prime, link here). The hopper box was quite small and there was no wasted space inside of its box. The waste came from Amazon Prime alone. Why could they not have wrapped the product box in paper or plastic or even used a bubble mailer rather than a much larger than needed box plus all of that paper?

A box in a box.
The product itself looks tiny compared to all the cardboard and paper that it came wrapped in.
The paper and the box are of no use to me, so they went right out to the recycling. What a waste of resources. Even if they are recycled, it takes a lot of energy and resources to both produce and recycle them. It would be much better if they had not been used in the first place. I have had a few Amazon Prime packages that were wrapped very well in that they did not use overly large boxes or a lot of packing materials or redundant boxes, but many of my packages from Amazon Prime are overpackaged (and from reviewing Twitter, it seems that a lot of other Amazon customers are experiencing overpackaging).

Packaging is something that companies need to pay more attention to as they start receiving more online orders and have to ship more. Overpackaging is a problem that is going to impact us all in the future when our precious resources have been used and there is nothing left but a bunch of garbage and mountains of recycling to process.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Sample Through Well.ca: How Much Packaging Does a Sample Need?!

I previously wrote a post (that you can find here) about getting a sample after shopping online at Well.ca, a Canadian online shopping site. The website has many interesting products including food, vitamins, protein bars, a wide range of baby products, kitchen implements, etc.. I’ve been very pleased with the website so far (their customer service is excellent too), however, there is one aspect of ordering products from them that makes me a little annoyed. When one places an order, depending on how much one has spent, certain samples are offered. One does have the right to refuse the samples, but in this case, I took the sample offered which was Neutrogena Hydro Boost gel cream. I figured it might be handy to take along when travelling instead of lugging along something larger.

I pulled it out of a drawer yesterday when I was organizing and was struck by how much packaging was involved in this tiny sample. There was a large plastic wrapper with an expiry date stamped on it. There was the tiny plastic tube of moisturizer. There was also a big coupon for buying more of the product printed in high colour on cardstock.

Big plastic wrapper, giant coupon, and tiny little sample.
So much waste.

Why is this coupon so big?

Why does the coupon have to be so huge or on cardstock? Why is a plastic wrap even needed when the tube is plastic? There is overpackaging galore involved in this sample. Neutrogena should reduce the amount of packaging that it’s using for samples. Our children are going to having nothing left but a pile of garbage if companies keep using so much wasteful packaging for all of their products including free samples. Well.ca, being a company focussed on wellness, should perhaps put some pressure on the companies that are sending samples to them to distribute to use less packaging for the “wellness” of the planet. 

Overpackaging impacts us all. Now I’m left with a plastic wrapper and a piece of cardstock which the coupon is printed on, all of which I will never use again and some of which I can’t even recycle. As for the tiny tube of moisturizer, once that’s gone, it will end up in a recycling bin somewhere too. I wonder if it would have been better for Neutrogena to put the lotion into one of those little tear open pouches which while they are not recyclable, they don’t take up much room. The tiny plastic tube, if it is recycled, will take a lot of resources to process. Too many resources are being squandered on things like redundant packaging. It’s time that we all thought of a better way to make our finite resources last.

Amazon Prime, Halo SleepSack, and Safety 1st Secure Plug Protectors: Overpackaging that Our Children Will Not Appreciate in the Future

I ordered a sleep sack for my baby (this is what is recommended now instead of using a blanket) plus safety covers for the electrical outlets around my house last week from Amazon Prime. I’ve mentioned before in previous posts (you can find them here and here) that I have a membership because I don’t get out of the house much anymore and infants don’t come with a lot (even though they apparently need a lot). 

The package arrived in a box as usual. I must point out that this delivery was the third one from Amazon Prime which failed to reach our house by the guaranteed date. Fortunately, Amazon Prime has excellent customer service, so they have made this right. What Amazon has not done right is packaging (again, see posts listed above).

I thought the box looked big when I received it. Here it is on my washing machine.
Nothing under that plastic bubble wrap.

Lots of empty space in this big box.

Another big box for the recycling heap.

A baby sleep sack is small, light, and already packaged in a bunch of stuff, or at least it was in the case of the Halo SleepSack. Electrical plug protectors are small and probably pretty hard to damage. These Safety 1st ones were in a pretty small plastic package. The box that Amazon used was about twice as big as was needed. 50% wasted space, 50% wasted cardboard, 50% more space taken up on a plane/truck/train, 50% more cardboard and resources needed to produce the box, and 50% more box to process at the recycling plant.

These two little items shouldn't need such a big box.

There was also plastic bubble wrap in the box (and it's the annoying large bubble wrap that's not that useful for reusing- I reuse fine bubble wrap on trips where I take it with me to bring back more fragile souvenirs), presumably to use up all the wasted space. It’s not like a cloth sleep sack or a box of plastic plug covers would break. I don’t understand why Amazon couldn’t put this in a small bubble mailer or cardboard mailer. Why a box?

More plastic that will either be thrown out or recycled, but probably not reused (on trips I reuse the finer bubble wrap in my suitcase to bring back more fragile souvenirs).
I am disappointed also by the amount of packaging used on the Halo SleepSack. This is specifically a children’s product and as such should consider the generation that it is targeted at and what their future is going to be like. This sleep sack was encased in a plastic bag, had a huge cardboard wraparound, a plastic hanger unusable for anything in a home (must be for hanging these in a store), and tissue paper inside the sleep sack. This is way too much packaging. My child and the other children of that generation are going to be really annoyed when they see how we have squandered all of these resources. With the amount of packaging used on so many different products and in shipping, it seems like all that will be left in a few decades is a big garbage dump/ recycling heap.

Lots of packaging on this sleep sack for babies.

After the bag is removed there's more packaging . . .

A big cardboard surround.

And a little plastic hanger.

And tissue paper.
 Even the packaging on the Safety 1st plug protectors leaves something to be desired. The package is hard plastic and is not even full all the way up, there’s a significant gap of empty space. Then there’s a cardboard back. Why couldn’t they just go in a thin little plastic bag? They probably don’t get damaged that easily. They look pretty robust. No one can reuse the partial plastic box after and while a little plastic bag couldn’t be reused either, it would take up less plastic and resources to make than a partial plastic box.

The plug protectors are encased in a semi-rigid plastic.

It's like a box without a back (cardboard at the back). It wasn't even full.

There's also a paper insert at the front.

While it’s good that all of this packaging is recyclable, it’s not good that we’re using so many resources and sending them straight back for processing again on recycling day. It’s not like I can reuse any of this waste, so it’s going straight out with the recycling. A truck has to come around and pick it up, it has to be stored and processed, then it has to be made into something else. That takes resources to do too. Why not just prevent this waste by using less packaging? Overpackaging is senseless and future generations will not thank us for it.

More stuff for the recycling pile.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Wasteful Packaging: Knorr Selects Spinach & Artichoke Rice Sample from Well.ca

In mid August, I placed an order with Well.ca, a Canadian online shopping site that has many interesting products including food, vitamins, protein bars, a wide range of baby products, kitchen implements, etc.. I’ve been very pleased with the website so far (their customer service is excellent too), however, there is one aspect of ordering products from them that makes me a little annoyed. When one places an order, depending on how much one has spent, certain samples are offered. One does have the right to refuse the samples, but in this case, I took the sample offered which was a Knorr Selects Spinach & Artichoke Rice side dish.  I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like the dish, but it was free, and with a new baby in the house, a “10 minute” food item sounded like good emergency backup.

I received my order from Well.ca and found the sample. It was packed in plastic (Why? The packet the Knorr side dish comes in is very thick and foil lined with a plasticy sort of outer shell). This is not the first time I’ve received samples from Well.ca that have been overpackaged (one notable example was a Dare REALFRUIT Biscuit Strawberry with Yoghurt sample which was this little fruit bar that was wrapped in cardboard, had a paper coupon, and then a plastic wrapper around all of that). 

The Knorr sample came in a plastic package.

Upon opening the plastic wrap last night (in a fit of desperation of what to eat late at night after finally getting a fussy baby to sleep), I found not just this thick package, but also two different paper inserts. One of them was a large piece of paper with something about entering a contest for a $100 gift card (it didn’t specify what the gift card was for- I mean is it for Knorr products or something more general.  If it’s for Knorr side dishes, I doubt many people will waste the time entering- I certainly don’t have time) and the other was a coupon for more of this Knorr stuff.

When I opened the plastic package there was all of this inside.

My husband and I cooked up this monstrosity last night. The smell of the dry stuff was gross and it was even worse prepared. We tried to improve it by putting some fresh grated parmesan on top and lots of pepper and some salt, but it was unsalvageable and after a few bites we couldn’t eat anymore. Plus, if you’re looking for a 10 minute preparation time, look again. One actually has to bring it to a boil first, then time 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and wait at least another 5 minutes to let it thicken. Anyways, I generally don’t like packaged food and this certainly didn’t make me want to try anything by Knorr again. Bluck!

And Knorr should stop using so much packaging for a sample. This creates an incredible amount of waste. It’s unnecessary. My child’s generation is going to having nothing left but a pile of garbage if companies keep using so much wasteful packaging for all of their products including free samples. Well.ca, being a company focussed on wellness, should perhaps put some pressure on the companies that are sending samples to them to distribute to use less packaging for the “wellness” of the planet.

Overpackaging impacts us all. Now I’m left with a plastic wrapper, empty package, and two pieces of paper, all of which I will never use again and some of which I can’t even recycle.

So much waste. 

Friday, 6 October 2017

Zero Waste: How I Reuse Free Makeup/Cosmetics Bags

Another "free" makeup bag joins the ranks along with its own packaging.

I’ve blogged before about the “free” or bonus stuff that often comes with makeup or skincare (you can find the links here and here and here and here). Sometimes it’s some samples and other times it may also includes a makeup or cosmetics bag. I’ve ended up with an unbelievable number of these from such places as Sephora, Shishedo, and Clinique. 

Another makeup bag and it's filled with samples.

This makeup bag came full of more "free" samples.
The picture below was taken more than a year ago and since then a few more of these bags have joined the ranks.

There's even more of these cosmetics bags hanging around my place now.

Someone on a blog of packing tips said that they use their free cosmetics bags when travelling to organize stuff. I tried this method on my last trip (to French Polynesia- haven’t finished uploading all of my blog entries for this trip but you can find it here). I put charging cords and earphones in one cosmetics bag. I put my GoPro Hero 5 and its accessories in another one. I put my travel journal (paper) plus pens, scissors, and tape in another. I used yet another to carry my prescriptions. I was quite pleased with this way of reusing the makeup bags (it makes it easy to find small items in a suitcase or backpack when it’s categorized in makeup bags that all have different patterns and colours) which otherwise would be a complete waste (I mean you might use one to travel with your makeup, but how do you use 15?), however I still have so many not in use.

One example of how I used makeup bags to organize small stuff when I traveled. Here's my GoPro Hero 5 plus accessories.

The other day, Graco sent me a replacement baby carriage (a jogger type) because my previous Graco stroller was defective. Unfortunately, both of these carriages are equipped with only a strangely small phone carrier (they say it will fit modern smartphones, but if you have anything larger than an old flip phone, you won’t be able to use their phone carrier or even the opening tray underneath to store your phone (not even my husband’s iPhone 6s fits in this carrier). Also, annoyingly, women’s clothes often don’t have pockets, so where am I supposed to store my phone? I went over and over the problem in my head. I tried the cup holders, but they didn’t fit my Google Pixel XL. I tried a small reusable bag, but it hung down from the handle too far, which was irritating. Then I remembered all of the free makeup bags. Some of these were made of waterproof materials. I found one that fit my phone and took a hair elastic and passed it through the zipper pull. Then I took the elastic and passed it through the frame of the stroller by the canopy of the carriage. I use this now for when I don’t have pockets and need somewhere to put my phone. The little lidded storage box on the carriage works for my keys, but not really anything else. I think I’ll probably use a real elastic band next time to give the case more latitude to be pull towards me when I’m rummaging for my phone while holding the handle of the carriage, but I’m pleased with this solution.

The middle thing is supposed to be for holding a phone. My Google Pixel XL will not fit at all.

It won't fit in this little storage bin under the "phone holder" either.

A free makeup bag.

Attached to the frame of the stroller with a hair elastic.

Light and nestled into the hood of the carriage, the free makeup bag now holds my phone when I don't have pockets.

While it would be better to not have so many makeup bags being produced and thrown out or just sitting around (when one visits Value Village and other used clothing stores one can observe dozens or sometimes what seems like hundreds of these makeup bags hanging around. Who is going to buy one of them used when it was originally free? What happens to them if they are not bought at these places? Are they thrown out?), at least if they are used somehow, they are not a complete waste. Really though, I think makeup bags are another example of overpackaging in our society that uses too much packaging, resources, and is not moving in a zero waste direction at all.

Do you have any ideas of how to reuse cosmetics or makeup bags?
Packages with packages. That's a lot of waste.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Recycling Day: When Overpackaging and Waste Are Really Apparent

In my neighbourhood, as in most, we have recycling day every two weeks. A big truck drives around a huge area of the municipality (or multiple municipalities) and picks up recycling from each house at the curbside. Not everything is accepted for door to door recycling (examples of exclusions include plastic bags, Styrofoam, old electronics, batteries, and lightbulbs, etc.). Plastic and metal are put together in bins. Glass is supposed to be in separate bin. Paper goes in bags. Cardboard goes alongside the bins (someone told me a story about their cardboard being rejected by the recyclers once because they didn’t have it tied with twine, fortunately our recyclers don’t enforce this antiquated and wasteful rule).

This week, my husband out of town on business again, I hefted all of the recycling from our place out to the curb. Even carrying a huge amount per trip, it took me two trips to get everything to the curb. Part of the reason for this is the cardboard boxes from supplies we’ve ordered from Walmart and Amazon Prime these past two weeks. The pictures below are of just two weeks worth of recycling from our household (two adults, one who is travelling for work often and therefore not here to consume as much as usual, and a baby). I also didn’t bother taking the glass to the curb, as we only have a few glass containers, so I’ll wait until we have more.

I can't believe this is just from two weeks and a household of only two adults and one baby.

When I go out on walks and see our neighbourhood and others nearby on recycling day, I can’t help but be struck by all of the packaging our society uses (plastic boxes for spinach, endless yoghurt and milk containers, cans, cartons, and so much cardboard). Sure, some things need packaging, but there is a lot of overpackaging happening. If we decreased the amount of waste and moved to more of a zero waste position, think of how much less would have to be picked up on recycling day and processed (which takes a lot of energy and resources too). If we didn’t produce so many packages, we wouldn’t need to recycle so many packages. We would use less resources and there would be more left over for the future generations. So, while it's wonderful that we're diverting so much waste by recycling in Canada, it would be better if less waste existed in the first place.