Archive for September 19, 2012

Garden waste with less waste

The days are getting shorter, there’s a nip in the air: autumn’s blush is with us. In the next week or so the streets of my neighbourhood will be plastered with mini advertising hoardings. Oops, sorry, I meant garden waste bags.

Did you ever wonder why these are so cheap in the stores? Indeed so much cheaper than their smaller counterparts, the indoor compost bin bags, which have altogether more limited advertising possibilities.

The fact that the bags are cheap and made from natural-looking brown paper which is, of course, going to be composted, makes it easy to use them with gay abandon.

But let’s think about that.

Yes, garden waste bags are typically not made from actual trees, but from waste products in the paper system. And it is true that they are not bleached like white paper. But paper manufacture is energy intensive….and even if more than 50% of that energy is now generated from burning waste chips and other biomass, it is still carbon generating.

Then there is the issue of transporting the finished bags. Anyone who has bought a pack of 40 bags from Costco will back me up when I say that they are heavy: indeed they need to be heavy to withstand the ravages of decaying plant material and rain (even snow…). Heaven forbid that we should be inconvenienced by a split bag.

Many bags I see here in Canada are actually made in the US (yes, we seem to have no comparative advantage in manufacturing large paper bags), so first need to be shipped up here and then carried home.

You get the picture: there is a lot of waste tied up in each, neat brown bag. And, to add insult to injury, when your nice brown bag is composted, it will release methane (as does your garden waste), a potent greenhouse gas.

So what is your alternative? First, be sure to fill your bags to the top (I can attest to the fact that the waste disposal guys will pick them up even if they are not neatly rolled over to seal them up). Then let them settle and fill them up even more. It’s amazing what you can stuff in after a couple of days on the curb, especially if your first filling consists of dry, bulky leaves (it’s always better to rake leaves when they are slightly wet).

More importantly, round up all those rigid plastic containers you have littering your backyard and bring them into service. I use recycling bins (on the off week), garbage bins (the bags can sit on the curb alone for short periods, if necessary), garden waste bins, even cardboard boxes.

In so doing, I drastically reduce my bag consumption. Not to zero, for sure. I have five large trees on my property and neither the time nor space to mulch all the leaves, so I certainly get through a number of bags at this time of year. But on an ongoing basis I manage very well with my motley selection of plastic. Not pretty, but it works.

Glass plates: Another great alternative to plastic

If I have learnt anything this week, it is that I am getting old. My youngest made her way to full-day school for the first time and tomorrow is my birthday (before you ask, I am very ancient). But what surprised me most was that when a friend asked for suggestions on baby shower gifts, I had no ready answers. Have I really moved that far beyond the baby years?

Shortly after giving her a lame, holding response, I realized what I should have recommended: Brinware plates.

I wish these had been available when my kids were in the early stages of eating food. Back then I struggled to avoid plastics and melamine. It was tough to part with those hard plastic plates that seem to do so well in the dishwasher, but when I learnt that the full name of melamine was melamine fomaldehyde and that cats, dogs and infants were suffering from melamine poisoning it became easier.

The challenge lay in finding alternatives. Many ceramic bowls and plates have come to a sad end on the hard stones of my kitchen floor.

I didn’t know it at the time, but what I needed was a tempered glass plate with a non-slip silicone `sleeve’. Thankfully the folks at Brinware have provided us with just that option and made it pretty, to boot. The glass in the plates is not only tough, but etched with cute designs from owls (my favourite) to frogs, pandas and butterflies. And the sleeves, which can be removed for washing, come in some of my top colours: orange and green (I am hoping that purple will come soon).

Since my kids are now older, I have been using the plates without the sleeves. That frees the sleeves to be employed as useful all-purpose small toy displays and even frisbees, at a pinch. Meanwhile, the plates – which are gently curved to keep the food in the right place – wash well in the dishwasher, though without rinse-aid (which I seldom use these days) the glass does get a bit blotchy, as you might expect.

Brinware plates cost about $10 each and can be purchased on line or from various US retailers. The sole Canadian supplier is Jess’ Crunchy Store, a great little on-line business out of Kitchener, Ontario. If you act fast, Jess currently has the plates on sale at 20% off: you get two for C$17.59 (shipping and taxes extra).

If you want to reach the free shipping threshold of $79 at Jess’ store, you might also want to try the silicone placemats (also from Brinware, but I have not tried them) or the lip balm that I recommended in a recent post.

So there you have it, Alessandra, a great baby shower gift suggestion: sorry it is late.

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