Archive for the ‘Composting’ Category


Last year, we began to try to buy toilet paper and paper towels that were made only from recycled paper. (I know, I know, we shouldn’t use paper towels. I’m working on it!!)

According to Greenpeace Canada, if each household in Canada replaced 1 roll of virgin toilet paper with just one roll of recycled toilet paper, it would save 47,962 trees.

It isn’t always easy, with the limited amount of information that companies put on their packaging, to figure out which brand of paper products is greener.  Some were obvious — like the individually-wrapped plastic-covered mega-rolls we used to buy at Costco. We stopped buying those, opting for the ones that said they were made from recycled paper. But it wasn’t clear which was the greenest. Some said they were made with recycled paper, others said post-consumer fibres, some had packages made of recycled material, others said they were biodegradable. Some just had green colours on their packages.

Thanks to Greenpeace Canada, now I know which ones to put in my shopping cart. Their campaign to preserve Canada’s boreal forest includes a guide to greener toilet paper products sold in Canada, and which ones to avoid. You can see it here.

And the last time we were at Costco, we found the Cascades brand recycled-paper toilet paper, so that’s what we’re stocking up on now. Here’s a story from the Globe and Mail about how Cascades is tooting its green horn after years of hiding the fact that it used recycled paper in its products.

These rolls of paper are all green

Normally quiet Cascades Inc. wants to shout out to its customers that its recycled paper products are truly good for the environment

When an Ottawa consulting firm conducted a study of the environmental claims of 1,018 consumer products sold in North American big-box stores, there was just one item that presented truly accurate information: a package of paper towels from Quebec paper company Cascades Inc.
  Those paper towels really are made from 100-per-cent recycled material, TerraChoice Environmental Marketing Inc. found, and they are biodegradable and compostable.
Every other product surveyed – all 1,017 of them – made one or more unsupportable marketing claims.
  Cascades, a quiet player in Canada’s huge paper industry, is about to boost its profile to try to take advantage of its long-time, and pristine, environmental record.
  For years, most of Cascades’ consumer products – paper towels, toilet paper, and napkins – hid behind private-label brands. But with a new environmental sensibility pervasive in the marketplace, the company wants to flaunt its green credentials by expanding sales of products sold under its own name. 
You can read the rest here.

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This would be one of the many squirrels that has discovered the buffet at our backyard compost bin. Hard to see the bins, buried under the 26cm of snow that fell here on Saturday night.


But what hungry squirrel would let 26cm of snow keep them from a tasty snack? Not this one, who dug a path down through the snow into the bin yesterday. That’s the very tip of his tail, sticking out of the snow while he dumpster dives.


Victory! He found something to eat.

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Ever since our family did a one-week garbage-free experiment last summer, I’ve been trying to keep our kids’ packed lunches and snacks as litterless as possible. The average Canadian kid’s lunch (like the one pictured above) is estimated to create about 30 kg of waste each year. I’d been at the kids’ schools at lunch and snack time and had been surprised by the amount of garbage being produced.

We have piles of reusable plastic containers, water bottles, real cutlery and cloth napkins that the kids are very good about returning in their lunch boxes each day. We also have a plastic bento-box style lunch kit that is great for lunches. We got ours as gifts from Laptop Lunches and they are sturdy, clean easily and can carry a lot of food for a hungry kid.

We also try not to pack individually-wrapped foods such as granola bars or cheese sticks. The kids take juice boxes from time to time, but usually have water or juice in a reusable bottle. They bring home any small plastic sandwich bags or snack-size bags to be recycled. It would be nice if our older child’s elementary school could provide recycling facilities in the lunchroom, but that’s something I hope to raise with the school shortly.

Here’s a picture of one of our kids’ lunches that I made last week:


Yes, it’s true, she has a paper napkin but that’s because all the cloth napkins were in the laundry that day!! Besides, she brought it home and it went straight into the compost.

I also picked up stainless-steel water bottles for the kids to use after reading several reports raising concerns about dangerous chemicals leaching from plastic water bottles into water. They love them, but they were a bit pricey so every time they leave the house they get a “Don’t lose your water bottle!!” reminder. So far, so good….

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For the first time since we got our outdoor compost bins, we are adding green waste like fruit and vegetable peels to it all winter long. It has kept the family of squirrels living in the maple tree in our back yard very happy as they have everything from canteloupe rinds to avocado skins to munch on in the cold dead of winter.

But this is what the bins look like now:


We had decided just to shut down the bins for the rest of the winter and start composting again in the spring once everything thaws and we can take out the new compost from the bottom of the bins and spread it over our garden. But after three days of throwing out egg shells, used Kleenexes, apple cores and banana peels, we had to stop. The guilt was overwhelming – we couldn’t believe how many bags of garbage were leaving the house.

So we decided to bring in the big guns — a pound of worms. We picked them up from our local Eco-quartier office where a couple of hours after I called they had them waiting for us in a plastic yogurt container. The little wigglers cost us $15 and provided no end of  amusement for our kids, who were making up songs about their new pets on the trip to pick them up.

We had an indoor worm composting system years ago when we lived in an apartment, and still had the bin that the worms used to live in. We filled it up with shredded newspaper and moistened it with water:


Then, we unleashed the worms. You can watch the worms arrive in their new home here. Click on the picture below or here.


We’ve fed them once and it seems some of the worms are smarter than others. The smart ones are already eating the fresh worm food, the no-so-smart ones are still in the little pile of compost they came in. 

We’ve yet to see if the worms can handle all our green waste. We’re saving some of it to take to my parents’ place in the country this weekend. They have a big compost pile in their back yard, so we’ll dump a few plastic containers of green waste on theirs and let the worms do their magic on the rest here.

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A few years ago when we lived in a lovely upper duplex with beautiful mouldings, hardwood floors and a delicious claw-foot bathtub but no back yard, we had a worm composting box in our kitchen. All winter long we fed those red wigglers our coffee grounds, shredded newspaper and kitchen scraps. And they ate like pigs, turning our green waste into dark black compost.

Now we have a yard with a composting bin in the back and a lot of creepy crawlies doing our work for us. But my friend Emeline, over at cochonetrouge, has been using a worm composter for the first time this winter and kindly answered my questions about her family’s experience.

Why did you start composting with worms?
I was too lazy to go outside!  All jokes aside, our outdoor composter was filled to capacity and we wanted a winter alternative. So we researched a bit and got our worms and starter bin through the R4 program at Concordia University.

How does it work?
We have a bin under the kitchen table that has the worms. I feed them about once a week, and line the top with some newspaper to make sure the environment doesn’t get too damp.  I was told not to go in there very often, but I can’t resist. I love seeing them. We have little baby worms and big mama worms… it’s really fun to watch.

What do you feed them?
All my vegetable/fruit kitchen scraps. Except for citrus and onion. Worms no likey citrus and onions. No meat, no dairy, no grains, no fats.

Does it smell?

Do the worms escape?
We’ve had maybe 3 or 4 escapees. They’re serving life without parole.

What are you going to do with the compost?
Not sure yet, maybe use it for some seedlings if we can get a little greenhouse project up and running. If not, we’ll use it in the flower and veggie beds this summer.

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Want to leave a legacy your family will never, ever forget?

How about letting the funeral home that cremates your body use the heat from burning you up to heat the room where your funeral is being held? That’s what a funeral director in England is proposing to his customers.  “It is a generous gesture,” he says.

You can read all about it at mediamatinquebec, the newspaper being put out by locked-out journalists at the Journal de Québec, Quebec City’s daily tabloid. The labour dispute began last April but they have been putting together this newspaper every day.

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In Saturday’s Montreal Gazette, as part of a series of year-end vignettes by reporters, I wrote this piece:

Monique Beaudin

The wind whipped snow around our backyard, turning snowflakes into skin-stinging pellets. Bundled up against another winter storm, I trudged through thigh-high drifts to our compost bin.

The habits learned during a week of cutting our family’s garbage down to almost nothing die hard, I thought, as I swept 30 centimetres of snow off the bin. In went coffee grounds, clementine peels, onion skins, and two bags of used paper towels from my daughter’s preschool.

Everyone had opinions on our garbage experiment – My Garbage Diaries, a series published in September. Our neighbours were peeking into our garbage can, Gazette readers complained about our use of dryer sheets, and casual acquaintances asked for composting tips. Of the hundreds of stories I’ve written for The Gazette, the Diaries got by far the most reaction.

When we struggled with dental floss – essential for good dental hygiene, but not recyclable – suggestions poured in: Let birds use it for their nests; reuse it (something that everyone in the family thought was gross); even sew with it. We cut down our toddler’s disposable diaper count to one per night hoping we’d get more than a few hours sleep at a time, but got grief from readers for even having them in the house.

Once you kick the garbage habit, it’s hard to stop. I’m overwhelmed with guilt if I go shopping and forget a reusable bag, I won’t buy eggs packed in unrecyclable styrofoam and will only buy toilet paper made from recycled paper. For the first time ever, we’re composting in the winter, even during snowstorms.

And My Garbage Diaries has morphed into Just One Thing, a personal blog about my family’s effort to reduce our environmental footprint, one day at a time.

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