Hello, world! Long time, no blog. I go through phases of blogging, then making a bunch of podcasts or videos…I’ve been writing blog posts for work (I’m back on a Co-op term now) which has reminded me of how much I enjoy writing – so here I am with a new blog post!
Today I want to try a new type of post, a hybrid between a product review and a life update. During the pandemic I’ve tried many new products, brands etc. to make my daily life more sustainable. I regularly receive requests for product recommendations and reviews, so I thought it would be helpful to share what I currently use and love. Navigating the world of “sustainable” products is tricky, especially when you’re online shopping during a pandemic. There are so many “fake” sustainable products or companies that lack transparency in their supply chains, leading to false claims and greenwashing.
As someone who does research on sustainable product purchasing for work and in my daily life, I know what to look for and what to avoid when making product purchases, and how to balance the pros/cons when there is no “perfect” product – because there is inevitably going to be trade-offs since “sustainability” has no clear cut criteria. It really depends on your personal preferences and capacities.
With this in mind, I will share some of the products I currently love that are sustainable and accessible to me. For reference, I’m a middle-class, white, cis-gendered, plant-based university student on a fixed budget living in Waterloo, Ontario. This is important to acknowledge because someone reading this post may not relate to the products I buy or rationale behind why I choose certain products because they have a different background than myself or live a different lifestyle.
There are so many things I could share in this post, but for to keep it (relatively) brief, let’s look at four different areas of life that I am trying to be more sustainable: in the kitchen, self-care, keeping clean and “fun” shopping.
In the kitchen
Almond milk used to be my favourite dairy alternative, but oat milk has now become my number one choice. Not only is it delicious, but it is one of the most sustainable dairy alternatives. Oat milk has a smaller water and carbon footprint in comparison to dairy milk, as well as a smaller footprint than most dairy alternatives. For instance, drinking 200mL of oat milk per day for one year creates 65kg of carbon dioxide and uses 3,512 litres of water (enough water for 54 8-minute showers). In comparison, 200mL of dairy milk per day for one year creates 229kg of CO2 and uses 45,733 litres of water (enough water for 703 8-minute showers). Similarly, 200mL of almond milk per day for one year creates 51kg of CO2 and requires and requires 27,042 litres of water (or 416 8-minute showers). I also like oat milk because oats are a staple Canadian crop (mainly grown in Saskatchewan), whereas other dairy alternatives (e.g. almond milk) rely on crops grown outside of our country. This means we can support the national economy and Canadian farmers, while reducing our food mileage.
I’ve been wanting to try a produce box ever since I wrote this post, and a few months ago I finally found one that meets my personal criteria. One, it’s affordable – that’s a BIG deal, especially as a student. The amount of produce you get in a regular box (for $25) is amazing. The quality is also exceptional, and I love the variety every week. During the pandemic, a produce box has been really helpful for reducing my trips to the grocery store, as well!
When possible, the produce box does come with locally grown produce. However given the winter months, the variety of local options available does decrease. Also a reminder that local does not mean sustainable if the products are grown in unsustainable ways (e.g. greenhouses, unfair labour conditions, etc). In any case, when products that aren’t grown locally come in the box at least I am supporting a local business, rather than a massive chain such as Walmart. Most of the products come unwrapped as well, which is helpful for reducing waste in the kitchen. The company I use also offers a trade-back program with their boxes, so when your next box is delivered you can just leave your previous box in front of your house and they will take it back!
If you’ve followed Clear the Air since the early days, you’d know that I’ve been using shampoo and conditioner bars for years. Recently I switched the brands I’ve been using – while I was once devoted to LUSH, I’ve heard some mixed reviews regarding the sustainability of their products and the health impacts of specific ingredients. They also discontinued some of the products I use so I took this as an opportunity to branch out.
I am now using Buck Naked Soap Company’s bars, which I picked up at Zero Waste Bulk. Their products are vegan and free of the “dirty dozen” cosmetic ingredients (which LUSH is known to use). What started as a small Canadian business has branched into an international staple for natural, affordable skin and hair care products. My hair is really stubborn and gets frizzy and dry with pretty much everything I’ve tried except for LUSH – and now Buck Naked’s products!
My skin care routine hasn’t changed much over the past few months because I love the DIY products I’ve made – and they have lasted for so long! For moisturizing I use my homemade shea body butter. I use coconut oil as a leave-in treatment after washing my hair. I still use vegetable glycerin for washing my face (either in bar or liquid form) which you can buy at almost any bulk or health food store – I either use the liquid vegetable glycerin from Zero Waste Bulk, or I buy bars from a company in Guelph.
keeping clean (and covid-free)
Of course one of the biggest factors governing how we live right now is the pandemic – check out this post for a more in-depth discussion on how to live sustainably during the pandemic. One way that I am practicing sustainability during this challenging time is reusable face masks. I have masks made by friends and local crafters, which you can add filters to so your masks keep you and everyone else safe. A reusable mask is such a simple way to create sustainable change in these circumstances, yet can make a big difference. If you go somewhere that requires you to wear a mask every day for a month, that could be 28-31 face masks you help prevent from going to landfill (can’t wait to see studies related to mask waste after this is all over…). Simply investing in a few face masks (or making your own) can keep your waste low, and can be a fun way to express your style!
While I am being diligent with washing my hands, face masks, etc. I find myself not doing laundry as often as I used to. This is because I really don’t have the need to wash as much since I’m not going anywhere. I’ll often wear clothing items multiple times before they go in the laundry – because if I don’t leave my house aside from taking a walk, the clothes really don’t get that dirty. Doing laundry less frequently helps to save water and energy, while also extending the lifespan of your clothing items.
When I do laundry, there’s a few things I do to promote sustainability, as well. I only do laundry when I have a full load (fewer washes = less resources used) and at off-peak times (early mornings and evenings on weekdays; all day on weekends) which also saves money on the hydro bill. I use cold water instead of warm. I also use a fragrance-free, natural laundry detergent made by a local company that works in high-efficiency laundry machines. Instead of using dryer sheets I use wool dryer balls. All these little actions can add up and leave a smaller impact on the planet.
In terms of “things” that I buy (aside from essential food items), I am much more conscientious about what I am buying. Do I really need that “thing” that I saw online? The pandemic has really helped me analyze my shopping behaviours: since I no longer window shop or browse just for the fun of it, I only find myself shopping for items I really need. This 1) saves money and 2) promote sustainability by reducing my material impact on the planet. It’s also presented an opportunity for me to invest more into the items I am buying, so they are higher quality and longer lasting. Let’s look at two examples.
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and less interested in “trendy” fashion vs staples that will last a long time, or because I’m graduating from university next year and trying to be mindful of the money I spend so I have more for post-grad school/living, or because I’ve become aware of the dangers of fast fashion (or all of these combined) but I am feeling more comfortable now to pay a bit more for high-quality, sustainably made clothing. To me, clothing that is made of organic, sustainably harvested materials (e.g. organic cotton), supports workers rights and fair wages, takes initiatives to further their sustainability such as carbon offsetting their shipments or donating to causes is worth my money. If the clothes are durable, stylish no matter the season and comfortable, why not? Mind you, I recognize the privilege I have to be able to say this because some people would not be able to spend their hard-earned money on “pricey” clothing. I am grateful that I am able to do so. That said, I don’t buy clothing excessively: I’m trying to build a capsule wardrobe with specific staples, and then work the rest of my wardrobe around them. My rationale is this: buy the staples as sustainably made as possible, and anything else “fun” should be thrifted. At least that way I can reduce my material footprint by extending the lifespan of pre-loved clothing items (and I can save money)!
Y’all know I love my coffee, and I used to love bringing my thermos to coffee shops to reduce my waste and save money. Since that is no longer possible in most circumstances I’ve taken to making my own coffee and investing in high-quality equipment and beans. I have a moka pot, pour over, french press and milk frother, and I buy Fair Trade and/or Direct Trade Organic coffee beans from local roasters. This might be costlier up front than just buying an Americano at Starbucks, but in the long run I have saved so much money. This way I also know my order won’t be messed up (gotta love getting regular milk in your drink when you’re plant-based + lactose sensitive!) and I can customize the strength/flavours to my liking.
If there’s one thing to take away from this post, it’s that simple, everyday actions can be made sustainable with a little bit of effort. Hopefully the points I have shared have demonstrated this to you, and perhaps inspired you to incorporate sustainable choices into your daily actions.
If you enjoyed this post, let me know! I would love to do a “Sustainable Favourites” every so often, and maybe centre future posts around a specific theme (e.g. food, supporting local, budget-friendly swaps, etc).
In the meantime, I encourage you to check out these blog posts and podcast episodes for more sustainable living inspiration:
- 2021 sustainability goals
- How to create a sustainable daily routine (COVID-19 edition)
- Episode 04: Three sustainable swaps to make in 2021
- What is privilege?
- How our perspectives of sustainability change through our lives
- 5 free ways to live sustainably
Until next time!