Coming full circle

When I started this site, back in 2011, I posted lots of articles about cleaning products. Indeed my preoccupation with sorting the good from the bad in the world of eco cleaning, was really the kicking off point for the blog.

Since that time I have written about a wide variety of eco products from roof tiles to sunscreen, mattresses to chicken broth. But now I find myself coming back to the heart of the household: laundry and cleaning.

I am pleased to report that more and more people have begun to use green cleaning products and, as markets have grown (at over 20% per annum in north america), so has innovation.

That’s great news for consumers, and, hopefully, for the environment. Innovation, at is best, will enable us to leap rather than to edge forward in our quest for more sustainable lifestyles.

So, in that vein, I wanted to share with you details of three companies that are hoping to break the mould and alter the way we buy and use cleaning products. Two are in the UK and one in Canada.

First there is Splosh, a small, Herefordshire-based company that sells a full range of cleaning concentrates by mail for you to dilute at home. Splosh does its best to make things easy for you: it sends you reminders, has an app for ordering and makes sure that its refill boxes fit through your letter box so they are ready and waiting when you get home.

By using Splosh you drastically cut down on the needless shipment of liquid from factory to supermarket to the home. And by refilling bottles you use less plastic. You also save money (products typically cost about half of what an equivalent eco product would cost at the grocery store).

In a similar vein, Delphis Eco, based in south London has developed an Eco Turtle filling station in conjunction with a primary school in Surrey.

Delphis makes eco cleaners primarily for trade use (though it does have plans to move into the retail market soon). But Managing Director, Mark Jankovich, wanted to do more and worked with a nearby school to design a cheap and sustainable dispensing station which allows schools (and other institutions) to purchase bulk concentrates and on-sell them.

As with the Spolsh system, the manufacturer ships concentrate, which is diluted by the customer. The interesting angle here is that kids can adopt the system and in so doing become sustainability advocates and actors themselves. They can also make money to finance school projects or charity causes.

Full details of the filling station and its economics are provided here.

Finally, my favourite product discovery so far this year is a box of laundry strips, made by the Canadian company, Dizolve in Moncton, New Brunswick.

These are fabulous things: perforated sheets of eco-friendly laundry detergent, with or without fragrance.

You tear off a strip (if you are wondering, the texture is something akin to a floppy communion wafer) and place it in your detergent dispenser (assuming we are all on front loading machines here…otherwise throw it in with your clothes), then your wash is ready to go.

I was worried the product would not dissolve properly, but it did (the name rings true!), and the cleaning power was good too. My guess is that the sheets might not dislodge the very harshest stains, but for everyday laundry they are super.

I love the sheets for the neatness of the dosing (no guessing or sloppy measuring out of liquid), for their lightness (a 64 load pack weighs about 180g whereas a recent purchase of concentrated washing liquid weighed in at 2.5kg for 60 loads) and for the fact that sales also help support food banks and charities. This is a business that seems to be serious about doing good.

Like Delphis, the company also has a fundraising possibility on its website. Like Splosh the product easily fits through your mail box.

Dizolve sheets are not presently available in the UK, but fingers crossed. In Canada and the US you can buy online at a cost of $12.99 for 64 loads or about 20 cents per load (before tax and shipping) which is comparable to other eco laundry solutions.

With that, I am going to sign off for a while. It has been great writing these reviews over the past three years and I have learnt a lot. But, like many other blog writers, I find it hard to fit this extra activity into my busy life.

Thanks to everyone who has read the blog, and even greater thanks to anyone who has begun to make more sustainable choices. I still believe that each one of us can make a difference.

If I identify a really compelling eco product, I might be tempted back but – for now – good bye.


Beginning to green what you wear

One of the most common queries I receive from readers is about textiles: how to green what we wear.

This is a huge issue in our fast fashion world. Yes, one can buy a T-shirt for a few dollars. And, with luck, you might even be able to pass it on after you have finished with it to a charity shop, or use it as a household cleaning cloth. But did you need to buy it in the first place?

Low prices tempt us all in (I am by no means exempt here). But in the textiles world, prices are nowhere near high enough to reflect the true costs of production.

Certainly we can never compensate those who lose their lives at work, as in the case of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. But we can - or should be able to - pay the true cost of water to ensure that this vital resource is rationally allocated. More than 70% of global cotton production is irrigated, much of it unsustainably and in areas where drinking water is short.

According to the Environmental Justice Foundation:

  • Cotton is one of the thirstiest crops in the world, taking about 2,720 litres of water to produce one cotton T-shirt, equivalent to what an average person might drink over three years.
  • In 2008, 2,890 billion litres of water was used in Pakistan to grow the cotton needed just to make products sold by the homestore Ikea – equivalent to the volume of drinking water consumed in Sweden over 176 years. 

And if paying more means consuming less, then that would help limit the broader environmental impacts of textile production.

These range from the use of toxic chemicals and the health of cotton workers to soil degradation from cotton production. Many agricultural areas have to be abandoned after years of cotton growing. The cotton production frontier marches on but the trail of devastation left behind grows ever larger.

It is close to Christmas and I do not want to depress you, so let’s think about what we can all do. Most obvious is to buy fewer items, though this is not what the retailers have in mind for us.

Second, we can try to source fabrics that are less damaging for the environment and workers. But that’s not easy.

Like it or not, our personalities and self-image are closely tied to what we wear. That means that making ‘sacrifices’ in this area can be hard. So I am always glad when I happen upon products that I like and that are relatively less bad for the environment (indeed that is the whole ethos behind this website). Monkee Genes - a range of trousers/pants most of which are made from organic cotton – are one such product.

I am always a bit unsure about buying items such as jeans on line. But the great news is that once you find a product that fits, you are in business (and I lucked out first time with Monkee Genes: which also means I can’t tell you about their returns service).

The company doesn’t have the swiftest dispatch or the smoothest customer interface but the jeans will get to you in the end. And they will be certified organic by the Soil Association and not produced in sweat shops or with lots of chemicals in the processing phase.

They are also nice and well-fitting (at least for me) and the skinny range is not too low-rise, which I like. And with prices between £40 and £60 they are not prohibitive: just enough of a price premium over some of the high street chains to make you think. Happily they also ship round the world.

One slightly odd thing about the jeans, that’s not fully explained on the site, is the large white waistband patch with a strong banana logo: can’t imagine many want to tote that around. Happily you can pop this off entirely or replace it with a demure leather version for a small fee.

Monkee Genes make me optimistic about eco fashion, which is a good thing. Looking at all the benefits of organic fabrics, it’s a wonder we don’t demand them more vociferously. Who wants to carry around a toxic second skin each day?

A month ’til Christmas…

I feel slightly faint writing about Christmas, since I am so far from being organized. But my kids are definitely on the case, so I had better get started.

Last year I wrote about finding ways to reduce the waste associated with Christmas wrapping. This year I want to continue that conversation and highlight a particular product that might help.

Wrag Wrap is a UK company that makes lovely, reusable fabric gift wrap. The Christmas wrap selection is super, as indeed are the other offerings: these are definitely a cut above a charity shop scarf if you are looking to move away from single use wrapping (though I would still advocate using ‘found fabrics’ for wrapping in addition).

Thoughtfully, as you will see from the picture, there is even a wrap that matches this site almost perfectly.

Nicky and Louise, who own Wrag Wrap, have put a huge amount of thought and effort into creating a product that works for the environment but also works for demanding ‘wrappers’.

They examined what exactly people look for in wrapping paper and determined, for example, that the crackle was extremely important: so ‘crackle wrap‘ was born.This is a three-layered quilted wrap that makes a noise not dissimilar to paper when you manipulate it.

Another rather appealing wrap is made from repurposed festival tents (festi-wrap), sewn into functional sizes in the Midlands. I am told it was hard work going round all those festivals harvesting older tents that would otherwise have gone to landfill … but what a great idea.

The fabric for most of the wraps and gift bags that the company make is a mix between virgin and recycled polyester (Repreve). Again, this is something the pair thought hard about. Textile production can be pretty nasty in itself (I plan a post on this very soon), so just using any old fabric for the wraps wasn’t good enough for them.

Repreve is a polyester that is made from plastic bottles. Currently the wraps are about 45% Repreve, but the aim is to move to 100% recycled fibre once supply, price and quality have all been assured (there is heavy demand for recycled polyester at present which can lead to corners being cut: Wrap Wrap have tracing measures in place to guard themselves against ‘cheating’ by their supplier).

Helpfully, for all those of you who were not schooled in the Japanese art of fabric wrapping – furoshiki - the Wrap Wrap website offers not only instructions, but also nifty stretch wraps which are like large, elasticated christmas crackers that even I can handle. And wraps come with integral ties as well as matching fabric message card holders (like old fashioned luggage labels): the website provides a printable message card template.

Really, they have thought of almost everything.

So what is the downside? First, many of the wraps are made in China for reasons of cost and raw material availability (Repreve is processed in China). But the quality is high and these are not heavy items to ship so the footprint doesn’t suffer too much from shipping emissions.

Mostly it’s the price that might put people off: wraps run from about £6 to £10 (plus a flat £1.99 shipping), depending upon the size. Although this is in line with furoshiki cloths on other websites, it does make it unlikely that you will wrap everything in one of these from the get go.

But if you love great wrapping, you might think about building up gradually (and using old scarves or the like for other gifts as you amass your stash). Happily, if you don’t live in the UK, you won’t be denied this opportunity: Wrag Wrap ships via Royal Mail international, charging you actual rates (unlikely to be much more than a few pounds as mail is pretty good value in the UK).

Of course, if you want a stash you are going to have to grab back the wrap as soon as you give the gift. Given how nice these things are, that might result in fisticuffs….I’ll leave you to figure that one out yourself. Better, perhaps, to consider the wrap an integral – and very nice – part of your gift and share the love.

[Note: I was sent samples of the wrap for review. My Christmas tree will thank Wrag Wrap for that!]

Reclaimed wood

This is a guest post by Viridian Reclaimed Wood, a reclaimed wood company that is locally owned and operated in Portland, Oregon. Viridian is committed to finding the best use for every stick of wood that is reclaimed to reduce demand for new lumber.

Home building projects are too often extremely wasteful. But it can be hard to find the information and the right services to help lighten the environmental load of renovation.

There are a number of great websites where you can start researching waste reduction strategies, environmental building materials (e.g. BEC Green in Canada) and recycling options. But an excellent overall resolution is to make use of reclaimed materials wherever possible.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 1 million cubic feet of building materials are removed from demolition sites each year. Much of this can be reclaimed instead of ending up as landfill, which is something that organizations such as the National Community Wood Recycling project in the UK and the Green Building Council in the US are trying to promote.

Reclaimed hardwood flooring and reclaimed wood paneling are growing in popularity because they’re just as attractive as their virgin counterparts. They are also good for the environment and economical.

Because reclaimed lumber often comes from old-growth trees, it can be up to 40 times harder than virgin wood (on the Janka hardness scale) which is great for durability. Age and weathering also give salvaged wood a unique look that you’ll never find in virgin woods without a laborious (and probably chemical-intensive) staining process.

Panels or veneers made of reclaimed wood are strong and resist warping better than those made of solid wood, making them an ideal choice for bathrooms and kitchens. Many types of salvaged lumber are also weather-resistant, and therefore great for decking and outdoor needs.

One of the advantages of reclaimed wood is that it can be locally-sourced, so reducing the energy expended in shipping this heavy material. It takes less energy to manufacture an item from reclaimed lumber than virgin wood and the manufacturing process doesn’t require petroleum-based synthetic materials to look beautiful.

Reclaimed wood can be salvaged from many places: old buildings, shipyards, wine casks, water tanks, shipping and crating materials, barns and school gyms. The lumber is kiln-dried and milled, ready for reuse. And the wood’s back-story as an old ship, barn, school or wine cask makes for interesting conversations.

There is a wide variety of woods available in reclaimed form and you can even use exotic woods without guilt, assuming these are genuinely salvaged.

Unless you source the wood yourself, it is best to purchase from dealers that are certified by reputable, eco-friendly organizations such as the Rainforest Alliance or Forest Stewardship Council. This gives you peace of mind that the lumber is truly reclaimed.

And if it is, it can give your project coveted LEED points that count for green building certification, something which is increasingly being encouraged, and even incentivized, by far-sighted municipalities in the US and elsewhere.

And don’t forget the other side of the equation: if you are demolishing a building think about selling your old wood to companies that deal in reclaimed wood.

Recycle your way back to school

Love it or loathe it, that back-to-school feeling is about to take hold. And with it come the exhortations to buy, buy, buy: new clothes, new shoes and endless amounts of new stationery.

I am not yet sure what the lists advise in my new schools, but I continually marvelled, back in Canada, at the requirement for countless pencils, dozens of glue sticks and endless duotangs. I may be fooling myself, but I remember actually looking after my pencil case and its contents, removing the need for a late August buying frenzy.

Indeed, I discovered in my recent move, that I still own pencils that date back to school days (it’s the tell-tale name at the end which gives this away). The kids marvel at the idea of naming a pencil, but I vividly remember this pre-school ritual and the relief I felt at having a nice, short name to speed up the process.

I try to promote the idea of taking care of items, in general, and using them for as long as they are functional (even if they are no longer shiny and new). My kids are probably scarred for life as a consequence. But one thing that helps me is if I purchase better quality kit in the first place.

As an example, my kids love Staedtler Wopex pencils. They claim strong eco credentials, feel good (slightly rubbery and heavier than the average pencil), write well and sometimes make it through the school year and back home for the summer (adding to the lifecycle benefits).

Compared to the pencils that are virtually given away at dollar stores across the nation, they are expensive (around $1 or 70p each), but the leads break only occasionally which is a huge plus. The stationery-phile in me loves them and the colours are great. They come in HB/2H and 2B.

Next on the list are (ring) binders. The heavy duty plastic ones are a bit tempting (I have several) and do last a long time, but then what?? Cheap plastic or vinyl covered files are a horror: they offgas, leach toxins and end up in the dump after just one school year (if the dump will take them). Not a good buy at all.

By far the best option, in my view, is recycled heavy duty paperboard binders. In the US, my favourite ones are from Naked Binder. They are simple, solid, highly functional and recycled/recyclable in full. They cost about $7-9 each depending upon size. Kids could have fun drawing on them, but I love them pristine.

The snag is that while the company does ship to Canada, this is not cheap. So stock up if you are in the US or share an order with friends.

In the UK, Paperchase sells a similar file, though only in lever-arch size. It is not quite as lovely to hold as the Naked binder but gets good reviews. There are various other options you can try: let me know what satisfies.

And remember that recycling your file at the end of its lifetime is also important. Avery recycled files make this particularly easy as the metal fittings unscrew from the paperboard cover. Both parts can be recycled (too few people keep scrap metal for recycling, but it’s an easy thing to do, even if your local council does not collect: I took a big pile – including a dismantled Avery file – to a Habitat ReStore in Canada before I left).

This post is getting too long, so I will finish, though I could obsess about pens and pencils for ever.

I should mention, though, that I was sent some great recycled newsprint pencils and coloured pencils by Treesmart a few weeks back. You may have seen these: they are made (in the US) of tightly wrapped newsprint, which is fascinating when you sharpen the pencils as it comes away in many ribbons. The pencils are a good weight and have nice leads, although I find them a tad thin for my big hands. The small pencil crayons are cute for younger kids.

The good news is that they have excellent green credentials and you can buy 48 pencils for $15, though this brings me back to the question of what anyone would possibly need 48 pencils……


Pesky drains

People don’t talk about clogged drains too much. I guess it’s not a really exciting topic of conversation. But that does mean that when the water starts flowing too, too slowly out of your sink (you spot that tell-tale soap and dirt ring), you can feel rather alone.

How do other people deal with this problem, I ask myself? Or is it just me and my four fine children that create the gunk that narrows the pipes that prevents the water from disappearing when it should?

My hunch is that I am not alone. But that is of little benefit to me as I ponder my options: (a) call an expensive plumber (b) pour some noxious chemical down the drain, or (c) as I have been known to do –draw down on my friend Bob’s reserves of goodwill and ability to dismantle a drain.

I have tried the vinegar and baking soda trick, but had relatively little success or found only temporary relief. So I was pretty happy to be sent a nifty little product called Drain-FX which promised to do the job in an efficient and eco-friendly way.

Drain-FX essentially turns your faucet into a mini pressure washer which blasts all that gunk out of your drain. Hey presto, you are good to go again.

The kit, which sells on-line for $19.95, consists of a thin piece of tubing, a quick connector and a variety of attachments that screw onto your tap in place of the aerator. By doing this you increase the pressure from about 50 psi (city standard) to around 250 psi. The flexible piping allows you to spray the concentrated stream of water around your drain with gay abandon. Because drains typically become larger the further down they go, the gunk, once dislodged, ceases to be problematic.

I must admit, though, that the whole thing looked pretty off-putting to me when I first received it. But once I made the commitment to get on with the job, I found it quite easy and even managed to avoid spraying myself. There’s a You Tube video in case you get stuck.

Best of all, you can use the kit again and again, or lend it to your neighbours (if they buck the trend and share tales of their plumbing problems). It wil work on most taps, so long as you can find an aerator to remove. Sadly, that was not the case for my charming old powder-room taps. But Drain-FX did work in my kitchen despite my initial misgivings (I have a extendable sprayer-type tap).

So, as I pack my bags for my upcoming move to the UK – a land of fine plumbing I feel sure – I will be certain to take my Drain-FX with me. I hope they have the same aerator fittings there: according to the website 99% of the world’s aerators fall into four sizes, all of which can handle Drain-FX. So I’d be unlucky to be in that 1%.

While I am on the topic, though, let me say that my postings are likely to be few and far between over the next few months as I make the move. I don’t think that news will ruin your summer. I just hope you won’t turn your spam filter against me as I intend to pop up in your mail box again sometime in the fall.

Biodegradable water filters

Water is on my mind these days. It is either bone dry in the garden or sodden (yes….the climate is changing). And two of my evenings this week will be devoted, in different ways, to campaigning to preserve the ecology and beauty of the mighty Ottawa river.

On a more mundane level, summer means more thirst for most people. I am bad at drinking water. But when I do drink it, I love the non-taste of my home water, which flows through a reverse osmosis (RO) purification system.

I know this is a controversial technology as there is a good amount of water wastage. I do, though, enjoy the pureness and I feel reassured me when I dip my ‘total dissolved solids’ meter and find that my glass contains maybe 1 or 2 parts per million (PPM) while city water is typically up at 56 PPM.

I am not suggesting city water does any harm: far from it. Just remember that 1PPM is 1 milligram in each kilogram of water.

I abhor the out-of-control use of bottled water, and particularly the global traffic in water (when so many have completely inadequate access to drinking water). I am therefore very glad to see water fountains making a come back in public spaces.

If you are someone who is reluctant to forego bottled or filtered water, check out GAC filters: these small bag of black ‘grit’ (actually granular activated carbon made from old coconut shells) remove many of the superficial nasties and taste in city water. In fact, activated carbon is one of four steps in a typical RO system.

GAC is a family-run Halifax-based company that sells compostable, teabag-sized pouches that you can toss in your water bottle and reuse (each pouch is good for 50 litres). The filters are actually put together in Sri Lanka using carbon from Haycarb. This is a green carbon source (actually a carbon-neutral carbon source, if you get my meaning) that uses waste products whenever it can.

So the advantage of these filters is that they are lightweight (less than 5g) and fully compostable (no plastic casings, the mesh surrounding the carbon is plant-based). They are small enough to leave in a coffee maker reservoir or in a sports bottle, but you can also use them in a pitcher in the fridge.

Each (reusable) sachet cleans about 50 litres of water and costs C$1.55 (with free shipping over $15 domestically and over $20 internationally).

The ‘cleaning’  process takes about a minute, though you can also leave the sachets in your bottle or pitcher and just refill. Sadly the sachets only work for already potable water, otherwise they’d be a sell-out for camping trips.

One word of caution, though. The packaging suggests you rinse the filter before use. I do recommend this. My first glass of water was alarmingly grey. Not harmful but not reassuring either.

Finally, full disclosure here, GAC sent me a few of their filters to try out. We did a family taste test this morning and my discerning children ranked the GAC water up there with RO water.

Getting a comb through your (kids’) hair…

I believe I am not alone in my struggles with my kids’ hair. Brushing is apparently the highest form of torture. And to make matters worse, it’s quite hard to explain, cogently, why I (and the world at large) actually cares about neat hair.

So, the bar is pretty low in my household (I can see my friends shaking their heads in agreement). But I do at least try to ensure that, post-shampooing, a comb gets through the flowing locks of my four daughters.

My little ‘helper’ in this regard is Acure leave-in conditioner with Argan oil which I spritz on the girls’ hair to give me a better than even chance of success.

I empathize with those who think leave in conditioners are dumb and excessive, a symbol of consumerism run riot (on par with lip exfoliation products?). But my guess is that people of this persuasion don’t have kids who scream at the mere sight of a comb. (Full disclosure here, in case my kids read this: it’s only one who is really comb-phobic…)

The Acure product is well-priced ($9.99 per bottle from the Acure site or $8.62 from the mysteriously cheap iHerb, which is where I get it since they ship swiftly and cheaply to Canada). And it’s fully functional. If truth be told, I only really use it at the swimming pool when matted hair and industrial strength chlorine conspire to make my life really tough. But it does the trick and once a week the comb runs through the hair.

I hope that it does a load of other good things, such as strengthening and conditioning. But just combing it without misery is enough to make me like it.

Argan oil is, of course, totally trendy these days. I’ve tried it in pure form on my face and have not loved it. Maybe it is the magic ingredient in this stuff. Who knows? But something makes combing easy, without making the hair greasy. The remainder of the product ingredients are on the website and all look pretty plant-based and benign.

The conditioner smells citrusy, but not too intensely so, which is all good too. In my youth I was happy to have my entire head smell of (fake) green apples, but I lost that willingness a while back. I’ve tried other natural de-tangler products and the smells were sometimes quite overwhelming (kid-oriented often equates to bubblegum or grape).

To finish up, I just want to mention that I have often been asked to recommend a shampoo on this site, but I remain unable to do that. I have tried and tried to find something that I really like, that is natural, well-priced and kind to my always-dry scalp. But I have not yet succeeded. When I think I am close I either find a nasty ingredient or my scalp starts itching!

So I remain a shampoo dilettante: any recommendations?

Office paper (from straw)

Despite frequent exhortations not to print at the bottom of people’s emails, we still seem to be drowning in paper. I do my best to (a) reduce = not print (b) reuse = fill the GOOS (good on one side) box for homework and other notes and (c) recycle.

My old boss used to assure me that I should not worry, that paper was a renewable resource, but I did not buy in. I still feel bad about paper use and the resources needed to make, process and ship the stuff to my door.

I have tried a number of recycled and unconventional options and wanted to share my views.

First, let me say that from my experience the paper manufacturers do a grand job of up-selling: they have us convinced that particular types of printer require particular grades of paper. I have a very functional HP desk jet all in one printer/scanner/fax and I have never had problems with any paper I have used (the same was true for my previous HP laser jet). Maybe I got lucky…or maybe, just maybe, we don’t need everything we are told we need….

Perhaps paper quality is a big concern in high volume office machines, but for personal ones I really don’t think it matters.

My absolute top choice for office paper is Step Forward paper, made in India for a Canadian company and sold through Staples ($6.50/500 sheets, a fairly standard price). This paper is composed of 80% wheat straw fibre (a waste product) and 20% virgin wood pulp (Forest Stewardship Council certified).

In case you are worried, it is bears no resemblance to cow poo paper or that textured stock you find in fancy card stores. It’s a standard, bright white paper with technical specifications to match (92 for brightness and 21lb in weight).

Despite being made in India, bleaching is done with the elemental chlorine free process (relatively environmentally benign). This puts it on a par with most north american paper as far as bleaching is concerned (elemental chlorine has been outlawed in north america).

Initially I was worried about the emissions associated with shipping the paper from India, but these do not add up to much when you look at the lifecycle environmental footprint of paper. And if you wish to do just that, you are in luck. Step Forward commissioned a full, third party environmental analysis of its product and posted it on line.

The report ranks Step Forward paper relative to regular north american paper (virgin pulp) and both 30% and 100% post-consumer recycled paper. Step Forward came out on top in four categories out of seven and was the environmental winner overall.

If the company succeeds in its stated objective of making paper in north america using 100% agricultural residue and no chlorine, this ranking will obviously improve all round (see p. 6 of the report).

Two factoids from the report which are interesting: wheat straw paper can be recycled just as many times as wood pulp paper (5-7 times) and the total energy used for making Step Forward paper and shipping it from India is less than half that for virgin wood pulp paper made in north america. Please remember these figures and quote them back to those who tell you it takes more energy to recycle paper than to make it from virgin sources.

Step Forward requires 20,413 MJ of energy/tonne of paper. 100% recycled north american takes 25,188 MJ/tonne, 30% recycled north american takes 39,218 MJ/tonne and virgin north american takes 45,232 MJ/tonne. So there!

This post is getting a little long, but let me give you a few other options if, for any reason, you can’t lay your hands on Step Forward paper.

Cascades, a great Canadian company that I have talked about before, makes several recycled papers. The cheapest option is a 100% recycled version it makes specially for Costco and sells in large boxes of 1,500 sheets. It is regular weight (20lb) but not what you might consider regular brightness or opaqueness. Does not bother me in the slightest but it might bother some. It is well priced and functional. Don’t fear it!

Cascades also makes some more up-market recycled options which would suit larger scale offices better. ReproPlus 50 scores a 94 on brightness, a 190 on the Sheffield smoothness scale (who knew?) and 88% for opacity. For every 3 cartons used, Cascades claims that one tree, 683 gallons of water, 413lbs of air emissions and 132lbs of solid waste are saved as compared to using a virgin equivalent.

Cascades Rolland Enviro100 copy paper is, unsurprisingly 100% post-consumer recycled. Opacity is 89% and smoothness falls to 170. Rather oddly the claim is still for one tree saved despite all that extra chewed up post-consumer stuff, but water savings are double the ReproPlus 50 level at 1,241 gallons. And, better still, the paper is processed entirely chlorine free.

Take a look here if you want to see the specs of all Cascades office papers.

So, on that very technical note, I’ll sign off. Bottom line, in my view, is that its crazy to use virgin pulp to make office paper. I think that’s what I said about toilet paper too.


Too late for Earth Hour

Every year when Earth Hour comes round, I wonder why we don’t extinguish the lights more often. The kids love it, we relax and, in some infinitesimally small way, the world becomes a better place.

Or that’s what I had always thought. My long-held theory has been that taking small steps will ready us, in the longer term, to take much bigger steps for the planet (think of giving up planes and cars….). Harvest the ‘low hanging fruit’ now and then get out the ladder. That is part of what this website is about.

But this may not be how it works. A recent blog post and related film, from the folks who produced the excellent Story of Stuff, challenges this notion, suggesting that as we pay attention to small consumer decisions we become simultaneously complacent and disempowered. Instead we should focus our energy on movements for real change, at governmental and corporate levels.
I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Anyway, back to Earth Hour. I still think that this is something worth celebrating and I was thrilled that a Canadian city, Vancouver, was selected as the Global Earth Hour capital this year.

Just in time for Earth Hour, I was also thrilled to discover – by way of my great friend and inspiration, Helen – a fantastic solar light made by the company Nokero (‘no kerosene’). I was particularly glad to see Helen with such a light, as last year when camping together we managed to melt both her tent and my hand with a red-hot propane lamp.

Nokero’s real aim is to bring environmentally friendly light to those without access to electricity in developing countries. Burning kerosene is expensive, contributes to global warming and creates terrible internal air pollution (living with a kerosene lamp is equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes a day). Nokero lights solve the air quality problem and are said to repay their cost within 3-8 weeks.

Nokero’s excellent lights work for us in the developed world as well. They are light weight, bright and functional. They hang or stand up and switch off automatically in bright light so as to avoid wasting charge (so can be used as porch lights, etc.). They are ideal for camping, disaster preparedness or Earth Hour 2014.

The basic light is the Crestone, which retails for $15 (through the site or on Amazon). This is the one I have tried (while night-skiing last Friday). It’s a great light: bears no resemblance to the cheap solar garden lights you see everywhere these days. There is also a new model, the Shavano, which is twice as bright. That’s bright!

An additional bonus is that the lights operate on AA rechargeable (and recyclable: let’s hope that happens in developing countries and these things are not creating a new stream of toxic waste) batteries, which can be replaced for $2 each.

Nokero ships around the world, though rates are expensive for single lights. While the company has dealers, these are mostly in the developing world. My assumption is that the lights are cheaper there too, and that we are subsidizing the cost of lighting the developing world with our purchases here.

Nokero also makes an interesting-looking range of solar battery and phone chargers as well as a neat reading lamp, which I hope to try before too long.
Keep up the good work, there in Colorado, Nokero!

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