Archive for On the run

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.

Repurposing your Mason jars

I am a great believer in repurposing. I cut forlorn sweaters up to make mittens and I hoard old shoeboxes in my basement in the hopes of identifying future uses.

I am also a big believer in canning, but it is a skill I have failed to nurture in myself. I make delicious tomato chutney every summer and, very occasionally, jam. But wrestling bushels of vegetables into neat glass jars is beyond me.

Nonetheless, I delight in all the Mason jars and canning accessories that appear in the stores late summer, marking the fleeting weeks of abundance here in Canada.

I use large Mason jars to store my dry ingredients (sugar, rice, nuts, etc.) and have designed my kitchen drawers with this in mind. I love the wide mouths and the easy access of the jars, not to mention the uniformity, the low cost and the squeaky clean-ness when they come out of the dishwasher.
(NB. It seems I am not alone in my love of Mason jars: see here for 31 ways to use a Mason jar in your kitchen.)

I was thrilled, the other day, to find two clever new Mason jar add-ons that substantially increase the range of possible uses for my smaller jars.

The first is the cuppow. This is a slightly raised plastic (BPA free) insert that replaces the disc lid of your Mason jar and turns it into a drinking cup. Just screw it on and you have a convenient on-the-go cup.

The cuppow comes in two sizes to fit widemouth (76mm) or regular (60mm) Mason jars. It does not close completely so cannot withstand really bumpy rides, but does a great job if you want to sip a drink in the car, for example.

I don’t love the feel of the drinking rim/spout, but I am very fussy in that regard and like really thin edges to my mugs (see my earlier recommendation for vacuum mugs). It retails for $8. The price seems a little steep as there is not a lot to the product, but it is US-made and claims to be recyclable plastic.

The second option is the reCAP, which entirely replaces your Mason lid, both disc and screw collar. It is a fully close-able pouring/drinking spout for your jars. I prefer the way this feels on my lips, but it does present a large (about quarter-sized) round hole which might be a bit abrupt for hot drinks on the go (though great for gloopy things like smoothies if you want to grab these as you head out of the house).

It could also be used to turn a Mason jar of any size into a pouring dispenser, for example for sugar, rice or liquid honey. Its founding purpose, according to the website, was to turn a jar into a salad dressing dispenser. You can shake away and still pour with ease.

The reCAP is also BPA free and made in the US. It retails for $7-$7.50.

Both are available in Canada from a neat eco product site called Greenmunch (I should mention that they did send me free samples of both products after I enquired about them). Greenmunch also specializes in hard-to-find paper straws, another alternative to the glass straws I wrote about in the early days of my site.

In praise of the pocket handkerchief

As a child, I remember that there were two things that my father always kept in his pocket: a penknife and a hanky.
Maybe I am too urban, but I don’t carry a knife. I do, however, almost always carry a hanky. And it is amazing how often this comes in handy.


One thing you should know about me is that, almost every day of my life, I do at least two sets of rapid-fire sneezes so a hanky is of particular value to me (oops…now you will think I am very weird and never read this site again). But, even if you are not weird like me, I promise you will find one useful (especially with kids and food around).

Although recycled tissues are now quite widely available, I am a firm believer in cloth handkerchiefs. They are less resource- and energy-intensive, kinder on the nose, more versatile and generally a most satisfying addition to life.
And for those of you who are squeamish: you don’t have to wash them separately, nor at very high heat. They do just fine on a 40C quick wash in my household (and nobody seems to get sick as a result…).

I am pretty traditional and prefer a crisp cotton handkerchief (the type that you might see poking out of a breast pocket). But I am also willing to iron my hankies which – I recognize – puts me in a minority. Unironed (after line drying) they might be a bit stiff and unruly.

hankybook lots

If you are a non-ironer, there is help at hand as many of the organic handkerchiefs now available on-line are made from cotton jersey (non-fraying, stretchy and soft) rather than traditional cotton.
An interesting option, that is in my pocket even as I write, is the hanky book.

This is akin to a kids’ cloth book (minus the stuffed cover). It is made of 4 sheets of organic cotton jersey sewn down the middle (so 8 pages) plus a coloured cottton `cover’. It is small (3″ x 4″ when folded closed). The idea is that you open it up, blow your nose on one of the `pages’ and then close it. That way your bag/pocket/hand doesn’t get contaminated by terrible things from your nose.

You have probably gathered that I am not squeamish about hankies, so this is not a big deal for me. However, the things works quite well and it’s a neat idea, especially if it converts some tissue users to the cause. Hanky books cost $5 if bought in packs of 3 and $6 if bought separately. They ship to Canada at no great cost. If you are any good at all with a pair of scissors and a sewing machine, you could also make your own for much less (assuming you can source the cotton jersey).

hanky owls

Another, more traditional option comes from a company called Hank & Cheef. These are sewn in Vancouver using organic cotton from Turkey. I love the designs but my gripe is that the nicest ones occur on the regular-sized hankies which are really too small (8.5″ square: a real handkerchief should be at least 10″ square: dainty ladies’ versions have never cut it with me). They sell only one 12″ hanky and this is significantly over-priced (in my view) at $9.75. After all, you need at least 5 in your drawer to keep you covered.

So there you have it. In Canada, at least, it is tough to find regular hankies in the stores. Maybe that is not the case in Europe. I would hope not as I would really hate to see these items die out altogether. For now I have raided the back-up supplies of both my mother and my mother-in-law so I am in good shape….but they won’t last forever (sadly: because I lose them, otherwise they pretty much do).

Right now I need all the hanky (and help) I can get as I have a lousy cold.

I never leave home without….

……my stainless steel tea thermos. In fact my kids run after me with my cup of tea if they see it left behind.

I have tried various thermos products to keep my tea hot. The hands-down winner is the Innate Commercial Dr 12oz Stainless Steel Vacuum Cup. I love how this cup looks. I love that it does not leak even when stowed causally, upside down, in my handbag. I love that it keeps my tea so hot even when I am out in the freezing cold on my skis and skates (in fact the tea is often too hot to drink when you first open the lid). I also love that the drinking rim is thin and metal (although there is a sort of sipping cup built into the lid, I ignore this). I don’t like the thickness of plastic when you sip and I don’t like the taste of plastic after a while. So this cup meets all my requirements (though wouldn’t be suitable for someone who wants a semi-covered cup to sip on the go, as you have to reveal all when you take the lid off).

innate cup

As a company, Innate (which is Vancouver-based) also tries to reduce its footprint and be totally transparent about its business practices (see here).

Imagine, then, how sad I was when I looked at the Innate website to find that my favourite all-time cup has been discontinued….and been replaced with other cups, none of which offer the same sleek features as my treasured tea cup (although one does have an interesting-looking built in loose-leaf tea filter). Perhaps I will try some of the new cups and let you know how they work. But, in the meantime, I would hotly recommend that you purchase any last cups that you can find. Amazon still has some in various colours for only about $10. Here in Canada I purchased mine at Mountain Equipment Coop. Maybe they still have some on their stands, but there are none on the website. Good job that I have a back-up in case of loss or another disaster.

Green bags for your greens

The transition to reusable shopping bags has been smoother than most people anticipated. It seems that, despite our low expectations of ourselves, we are usually able to remember to bring a bag when we shop for groceries.
(The only problem, now, is the proliferation of reusable bags which tend to embody about 20 times the carbon as the light, disposable variety. At least they don’t swirl around and pollute our waterways and oceans).

The next step is to eliminate those super lightweight plastic bags which are used to gather up fruit and veg. I try not to use these and usually get a hard time from the cashier when the fruit is rolling around everywhere.
A better alternative is a reusable produce bag.

Carebags Green small

My favourite are from a Vancouver company called Carebags. They sell green, mesh bags with drawstring closures. The bags are tough, stretch to fit lots of apples and can be used for other things too (washing produce, storing it, keeping small items together in the laundry, etc.). They are made in Canada and are extremely light which is good for the weighing scale at the supermarket and good for shipping if you buy them on line (they are also available at a growing number of super-markets).

There are alternatives. I have some organic cotton mesh bags, but these are heavy and more expensive. Some local supermarkets are also bringing out their own bags, but these are typically made overseas and not designed as well as Carebags.

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