Thursday, September 29, 2011

Recycling Tip: Which #'s Are Recyclable in Vancouver?

It's a Green, Broke & Living in Kits Recycling Tips double-header today! Slightly less exciting than a HNIC double-header, but slightly more important (unless the Canucks are playing, in which case it's debatable).

Q: What plastic types / #'s can you recycle in Vancouver blue bins?

A: Just #1, 2, 4 and 5. Vancouver isn't exactly the most progressive city in terms of plastics recycling. 

Currently, only numbers 1 (PET/PETE - polyethylene terephthalate), 2 (HDPE - high density polyethylene), 4 (LDPE - low density polyethylene) and 5 (PP - polypropylene) can be recycled in our curbside blue boxes.

 If you'd like to further educate yourself on each of the categories, here's a terrific website to help you out (complete with pretty pictures of not-so-pretty plastics):

In Vancouver, we can chuck #1, #2, #4 and #5 into the blue box no trouble, but what about #3, #6 and #7? Why not those?

I just posted in the last Green, Broke & Living in Kits recycling tip that polystyrene trays (#6) aren't recycled in the city. #3 is the dreaded PVC or "polyvinyl chloride", and it has a whole host of issues, primarily surrounding the "chloride" part of it's chemical composition.
#7 is a catch-all category for "other", which pretty much tells you the demand for which is slim to none. What manufacturer would pay for a conglomerate of "other" plastic types mixed together? Hardly a recipe for consistency.



So here's the bottom line(s):

DON'T BUY PLASTIC WHENEVER YOU HAVE AN ALTERNATIVE CHOICE (and there's always an option - for inspiration on going plastic-free, visit the brilliant Plastic Manners blog)

NEVER, EVER, EVER BUY PVC ANYTHING (#3). Especially clothing. I don't care if you have a fetish - find a new one! It's nasty, and I still maintain that one should never wear any garment whose washing instructions are "wipe clean with damp cloth"!

Is this recyclable in Vancouver? "PP" stands for polypropylene = #5. YES!


Recycling Tip: Polystyrene Trays

It's time for another installment of "Green, Broke & Living in Kits - Recycling Tips"!

Please remember that this information is local and current for the City of Vancouver only, and may differ greatly from your municipality's waste management programme. If you're not in Vancouver, be sure to find out what the rules are where you live - and I always hope they're better than our set of rules!

Q: Where can I recycle #6 PS (polystyrene) food trays? In my blue bin with other containers?

A: You'd think so, but NO. Items marked #6 or PS are 
NOT recyclable anywhere in the Metro Vancouver area.

CURSES! Yet another ubiquitous garbage item that cannot be recycled. My rhetorical and annoyed follow-up question is "Then why are there so many of these stupid things in shops?!". Argh.

Aha - the one thing that stumped the Metro Vancouver Recycles website! Polystyrene!

We can't recycle these, just like we can't recycle empty coffee cups or milk cartons. So what can we do with them, apart from tossing them into landfills? (Here's a story out of Portland, Oregon, USA, where a school has actively replaced styrofoam trays with a more eco-option. The article mentions that Portland once did have a 'polystyrene recycler', but it was defunct by 2002...).


Firstly, stringently avoid purchasing these hateful little things, whenever possible. But when you can't, or you already have them, keep them - they stack and store easily.

Another very important consideration is to NOT reuse raw meat and fish trays because of the risk of Salmonella or E. coli contamination (among other lesser-known harmful bacteria). Veggies are good and safe - just give the trays a quick wipe with a soapy sponge and a rinse before putting them to use.

Here's a few ideas for reuse:

I use mine for painting. They work great.

  • paint palettes
  • kid's crafts (some ideas here)
  • motor oil drip catcher for under the car (if it's leaking, get it checked - I can't tell you the number of times I'd check someone's oil at the garage only to find it completely empty! Don't do that to your car - it's not environmentally wise to let your vehicle run inefficiently/die an untimely death!)
  • spoon rest for messy sauces
  • seedling pot spill-tray
  • support trays for the bottom of paper or gift bags
  • two trays in a large paper envelope can serve as a padded mailing envelope

And here's some more ideas I found on the internet:

Hmm. I have to say that there aren't a ton of really nifty reuses for these terrible trays.

Let us resolve to JUST SAY NO to POLYSTYRENE! For inspiration, visit the amazing blog and life chronicle called "Plastic Manners". For a great Canadian (CBC) documentary, I also recommend "Forever Plastic" - it answers many questions on what plastics can and cannot be recycled.

And remember: Just because the manufacturer has stamped a friendly little 'recycling code' symbol on it, DOESN'T MEAN IT'S RECYCLABLE. The sad fact is that no infrastructure + no market for that recycled material = no recycling programme in place.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Passion for Penny-Pinching: Groceries

Passionflower near Cypress & 6th. I wanted an excuse to use this photo!

Perhaps "penny-pinching" is not an admirable term, but I think being wise and frugal with your money (but generous to others, particularly those in need) isn't such a bad thing. Wasting money is foolish no matter how you slice it, so let's not equate 'cheapness' with fiscal responsibility here!

I also think that if you do it correctly, you can in fact be incredibly efficient with your money without anyone noticing! How? It just takes a little foresight. Today, I'll highlight grocery shopping.

I can't believe I forgot about customer appreciation Wednesdays! New Apple, W. Broadway at MacDonald

Frugal Food

New Apple Farm Market on West Broadway (not the 4th Avenue location that I tend to favour) has a customer appreciation day every Wednesday - 10% off your purchase of $10 or more. Saving on groceries isn't always as easy as it should be, and an across-the-board discount like this is so valuable when you buy items that very rarely go on sale.

So plan ahead - when are you going grocery shopping next week? Make it Wednesday, and choose New Apple over Safeway! Safeway is really only a good option for big-brand foods like Kellogg's cereals and Campbell's soups (or Procter & Gamble products in the household department), and probably only because they move so much of those products. For anything else, especially spices, specialty and exotic/imported foods, Safeway can be literally TWICE as expensive! Take nutmeg, which we needed in a hurry one day - $7.00 about at Safeway. Same quantity (and probably fresher) at a local small grocer - $3.50!

From "The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook" - the prettiest food pyramid image

Safeway's produce is almost never as good in my mind, either. So another good frugal practice is to not shop at Safeway - check the online flyer to see what's on sale, and if it's something you need, go for it. Just don't shop here first! (The same can be applied to any chain, i.e. IGA and No Frills, though the latter does have some very cheap options!). Note that you can sign-up for weekly sale e-flyers from these larger chains.

Jericho Village - Paul's No Frills
Less picturesque from underground, but still quite cheap.

I suppose one other way that the big chains like Safeway can be good deals is seasonal stock, particularly near Christmastime when the baking supplies are often on sale. Again, if you monitor the flyers, you'll be aware of this. Or, if you plan on doing traditional Christmas baking, make sure you comparison shop for candied cherries, pecan pieces and Crisco before you invest. A cheeky way I remember what Safeway is generally good for is the "white person food" rule - if it's something you were raised on (and you're a white kid from Canada), Safeway might be your best bet. (I'm thinking things like Kraft Dinner, Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup, Oreo cookies, Premium Plus salteen crackers, Nalley's potato chips, Pirate cookies, Froot Loops, Jell-O pudding cups and Chips-A-Hoy cookies (note that none of these things are healthy lifestyle choices!!! Or even likely non-GMO choices!), for example).

MarketPlace IGA on 4th avenue at Collingwood - very friendly staff here!

Another good practice is to shop with a list (partly so you won't forget, and also so you won't deviate from your plans!), and to not shop when you're hungry; the urge to save money will be beaten out every time by the powerful natural urge to eat!

Kitsilano Natural Foods - W. Broadway at Stephens

A great way to save is to buy in bulk, and the best place for that in all of Kits, so far as I can tell, is Kitsilano Natural Foods, which I have blogged about previously. It's also much more environmentally friendly, so remember to bring a reused plastic bag to fill up again.

Coupons can also be useful, but quite honestly they're becoming so scarce that it's almost not worth mentioning. There are a few places online where you can register and subscribe for coupons to be mailed to you (I've done this), but oftentimes what's on offer is just not what I would buy to begin with. And if the coupon cannot be combined with any other offer (which is what most of them say), it's almost pointless to use it when you could stock up on the item when it goes on sale and end up saving substantially more. I did a bit of trial-and-error with online coupon sites for Green, Broke & Living in Kits test purposes, and ultimately decided that the effort put in rarely pays off. Sale monitoring is likely more efficient and a better deal, and you also won't have to deal with stingy store-operators that won't honour the coupon (it has happened to me enough times that I tend to try my luck with coupons at large chains only).

In season today - $0.69/lb at IGA. Another flyer find, and a BC product

For produce, buying in-season and local will also be a cost-efficient move. A great way to find out what's in season is to go Farm Folk City Folk's Get Local BC website's seasonal availability chart here. At one time, this chart contained just the vegetables - now there's a section for fruit, seafood, meat and dairy, and herbs, too! Print it out and put it on your fridge, or wherever you list what groceries you need to buy! - Seasonal Availability Chart for Fruit - Seasonal Availability Chart for Herbs - Seasonal Availability Chart for Meat & Dairy - Seasonal Availability Chart for Seafood - Seasonal Availability Chart for grains, honey, nuts and fungus - Seasonal Availability Chart for Veggies

Frugal, Nutritionally-Dense and Yummy Meals

"Eat Well, Spend Less" - Five frugal recipes from outline the benefits of black bean burgers, quiche, chocolate chip chilli, seasonal soups (my favourite option), and lentil shepherd's pie. I'm considering trying the shepherd's pie tonight - I hope it tastes as well as "Everybody Loves Veggies"'s version at City Square Mall!

That Shepherd's Pie recipe is GOOD! (Cheddar made it better!)

Cheap, Healthy, Good - this blog is the real deal. Their "about" section says, "Cheap Healthy Good is a blog dedicated to the advancement of frugal, nutritious, ethically-minded food in everyday life". Can't go far amiss with that mission statement! Recipes are varied and inspired, and are listed in their master list here, which segregates the recipes into vegetarian and carnivorous entrees. I'm getting hungry just reading that list - it reads like Moosewood's stuff (and Moosewood's recipes are also fairly economical, too!).

Speaking of Moosewood (Ooh! They updated their website! Nice!), they appear to have deleted their original online recipe trove and replaced it with only a select few... so sad. Hope you bought the books or downloaded the freebies when you had the chance.

Other frugal (and vegetarian!) meal ideas:
  • cornbread with homemade chilli (or stew)
  • whole wheat pasta (spaghetti with veggie sauce; rotini tossed with roast vegetables; orzo salad, etc.)
  • curried dal (lentils that don't taste like lentils! Vij's does it best; get the cookbook)
  • rajma chawal (a way to eat red kidney beans if you don't like chilli much - I love Vij's version!)
  • mashed potatoes and roasted veggie casserole (i.e. a shepherd's pie)
  • homemade seasonal soup with biscuits (add cheddar and herbs, or go for a buttermilk-based recipe)

I like this article on 'healthy, frugal eating' at WiseBread by Philip Brewer - it's just restating some obvious facts, but it's succinctly written. It's inspired me to grab my carry basket and head to Apple Farm Market to buy whatever's cheapest and most plentiful. According to Get Local BC, it should be artichokes, beans, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, corn, cucumbers, fennel, garlic, kale, leeks, lettuce, mustard greens, onions, parsnips, peppers, potatoes, pumpkin, radishes, rutabagas, salad greens, spinach, squash, tomatoes, turnips, zucchini - that's just about everything!

Canada's Food Guide - Health Canada

Basing your meal planning on Canada's Food Guide is a good place to start if you're really unsure of how to come up with a balanced meal.

And in the UK, a much more logical representation of a balanced diet!

An afterthought: The Benefits of Wise Spending

One of the many benefits to eating well, local, seasonal and consequently cheaply is an accumulation of cash. And if you want that money to go an extra-mile too, consider donating to the Union Gospel Mission Thanksgiving fund which provides full traditional Thanksgiving meals to the needy of the downtown eastside and surrounding areas. For $26.32 (I'll bet that's less than your typical grocery store purchase!), you can feed 8 people Thanksgiving dinner.

Autumn = harvest season. Time for thanks!

Please consider donating - I do every year, and I'm always happy to do so. UGM makes it so easy to give such a small amount that gets stretched to bless many people.

Another group that can really stretch your monetary donation to feed those in dire need is the World Food Programme. With the famine in the Horn of Africa, now is a critical time to give.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

An Ode to Used Bookstores

Is there any shop so full of romance,
than the dimly-lit second-hand bookstore?
With ardent passion, I will take this stance,
and sing of its treasures forevermore.
For where else can you be greeted by a friendly cat,
and browse curious, tattered volumes on creaky shelves?
The forgotten personal library of countless anonymous readers.
In the age of harsh fluorescent lights and the pert "@",
a quiet soul seeks stillness; in dusty books she delves,
yearning for literary gold, while opposing consumerism's leaders.

Okay, so it's plain that I don't study poetry. Apologies. But the used bookstores of the world really are praise-worthy. They're also endangered - leading a tenuous existence on the periphery of commercialism and always at the mercy of the high cost of rent throughout the city of Vancouver.

Kestrel books, 4th ave between Dunbar and Alma. Resident feline very friendly.

One such bookstore is Brigid's Books on West Broadway (at Bayswater). It's lovely - it's one of the easier-to-navigate stores, with high ceilings and tall, narrow shelves. It may be doomed, however...

I'm not proud of my eavesdropping capabilities - it doesn't seem a very noble trait, but I defend myself with the claim that my hearing has always been above-average (and steadily decreasing, no doubt, with the din of the city a constant in my current life). But when I was at Brigid's yesterday, I did happen to hear a conversation between the property's owner and the bookseller, regarding major renovations to the premises. The application for construction (but not outright demolition, apparently) will be submitted for approval, and propose a time frame of November-January.

Brigid's Books - on borrowed time?

The bookseller did, tactfully in my opinion, point out that this is the busiest time of year for them - the pre-Christmas shopping season. The landlord said some very nice things about respecting the used book industry, and agreed that it was a shame to lose yet another used bookstore in Kitsilano, but concluded with, "It's just business, you see."

I left at this juncture, uncomfortable in hearing of the impending move, if not outright demise, of Brigid's Books. I hope that by publicizing this hopefully trivial piece of knowledge I am not doing Brigid's a disservice - in fact, it is my intention to get you to GO AND SHOP - SUPPORT BRIGID'S BOOKS TODAY! Because who knows how much longer it will be there...

Here today, gone tomorrow?

I believe Brigid's is associated with Tanglewood Books (Broadway and Granville), but that's archaic, anecdotal information stored in a disused portion of my memory. If I'm right, perhaps Brigid's will live on inside Tanglewood. I just really don't want to see Brigid's shut down - such a convenient location, and it lends real charm to that stretch of Broadway.

In fact, I encourage you to go and support all the local used bookstores, including lovely Kestrel Books by 4th and Alma. Kestrel is another of my favourites, with its very friendly greeter, the resident feline ("Ruby"). And Canterbury Tales on 4th at Maple is another great choice (James, if he is on that day, is probably one of the most helpful and knowledgeable booksellers I've ever had the fortune of meeting). Sadly, no cat.

Kestrel Books on 4th near Alma

Don't forget that the VPL Booksale is looming (October 27-30th) - mark those calendars!

Please Support your Local Used Bookstore Today!

W Broadway at Stephens location

And once you've visited all the Kits used bookstores (including the Salvation Army stores at Stephens & Broadway and 4th & Cypress - they have more contemporary fare, typically), A'son reminds me that (don't forget the www or you'll get an 'under construction' notice!) is another excellent online choice for finding that elusive title.

Have a recommended local used bookstore that isn't in Kits? Please comment below and recommend those from your neighbourhoods/regions for the benefit of other outside-of-Kits readers!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

DIY Christmas Gifts 2011

Well, it's September. That means I have a cold. (And I do - I'm at home, sick). But it also means that it's time to start planning for Christmastime, unless you enjoy a stressed-out, chaotic December. I don't - the more I can get done now, the better. The hard part for me is remembering what I made and squirreled away in the banker's box marked "Christmas" that sits in my closet!

Here's a few ideas to share with you, while we both wait patiently for SewMamaSew's Handmade Holidays list to come out for 2011!

Gifts to Make:


Admittedly, I'm not a terrarium fan. I was charged with coming up with projects for our kid's group, though, and this was one of the trials. For some inexplicable reason, terrariums have become trendy (again). I think it might be something as simple and as deeply sad as the disappearing greenways and gardens in urban areas, or that people just don't have much of a connection between themselves and the soil anymore.

Well, if you're no green-thumb, hate outdoor gardening, but you like miniatures and having 'greenery' inside, try a terrarium! This one cost me practically nothing - the container was sitting next to my neighbour's dumpster (I have no qualms about this!), and the aquarium rocks I bought, used, from the Salvation Army for craft purposes (they've been used by me previously to force paperwhite bulbs for Christmas, and as part of a tealight candle display after that). The rock on the top and all the moss and little plants came from the sidewalk. They came easily loose with a screwdriver blade on my Swiss Army knife. Easy peasy. Moss doesn't really need soil (it grew in the cement trough between sidewalk slabs after all - no soil there), so putting it as is on top of well-draining rocks with a bit of water in the bottom for moisture has made it pretty happy indeed.

Look! A little purple flower! Too bad my macro lens can't handle more...

Many people making these terrariums put in little miniature amanita mushrooms or gnomes or deer figurines. If that's your sort of bag, I say go for it! I've even seen Star Wars terrariums functioning as action-toy dioramas... I'm not sure how I feel about that. Entertained, I suppose.

At any rate, terrariums are dead easy to put together, and rather fun to arrange. All you need is a clear vessel of some sort (big empty pickle jar works great), with or without a lid (it doesn't matter - it'll just change how often you need to add a tablespoon of water to it), and some substrate like soil or rocks (rocks are often prettier). Then just prise the moss loose from the sidewalk (try to gather different types of moss and a few teeny tiny plants like the one flowering in my terrarium, pictured above) and arrange. (I cannot believe that "prise" is getting picked up by Blogger's spell-checker here. Let's say 'no' to dumbing down our language! If you're in need of some augmentation to your current vocabulary, try here on FreeRice, where some wealthy person will make a small donation of rice for each word you correctly define).

If you have a plastic Wookiee or miniature garden gnome you'd like to add, do that last. And voila - a tiny, secret garden of your own to marvel at like a sadistic, controlling giant from above!

Quilts, blankets, and throws.

I can't for certain say why it's taken me this long to finish my denim quilt, but this would have normally been a very quick project (apart from wearing out the jeans - that took a few years to accomplish).

My recycled-jeans denim quilt, finally completed!

This Christmas I'll be sewing together vintage tea towels depicting a particular country to make a tea towel quilt (I can't say more than this, or I'll potentially spoil a surprise). I was inspired by this: - Not my image.

I hope they don't mind me sharing this photo without permission, but I absolutely must show it here because:
  1. Mine isn't finished (component pieces still in the mail....)
  2. It's utterly fantastic and I doubt mine will look as good anyway
  3. She's raffling it off if you make a monetary donation to UNICEF to help with the famine in Africa!
Unfortunately, the deadline was August 31st, so you'll have to make your own rather than enter to win this gorgeous quilt. Pity. Such a brilliant idea, though.

Now you see why I had to share it. It's green, it's handmade, and it's very, VERY ethical - well done, Madeleine Sargeant! You're an inspiration in so many ways!!! I might just borrow your philanthropic idea as well as the tea towel quilt idea!

Homemade Preserves

This was my first excursion into the world of 'canning', and I have to say that without a doubt it was a great success! It was also a perfect way to preserve some of 'summer' for the cold winter ahead.
"Tomato Chutney" - Bernadin Home Canning website recipe (I made it extra spicy with 6 Thai chillis!)
I didn't have a boiling rack, but a clean dish rag worked just fine during sterilization of the jars

The recipe was from the Bernardin website, as were the instructions for all the "how-to". Note that canning "high-acid" foods like jams, jellies and chutneys is relatively easy and doesn't require much in the way of dedicated equipment, and you can get a simple "basic canning equipment" pack at Canadian Tire for around $14 (boxes of jars with lids run about $7-8).

A 12-pack of jars typically costs less than $10, and can be reused.
Some basic supplies - all I needed, really!

Many other canned goods, however, require a pressure-cooker for canning purposes, to prevent deadly Botulinum contamination (where botulism comes from - yes, if you eat Botulinum toxin, the most potent neurotoxin ever discovered, you will seize up and die. Best to avoid this, ne pas?!).

But chutneys, jams and jellies are all safe and easy (easy, provided you follow all canning recipes exactly - no substitutions or inaccurate measurements!). This one was also very tasty! See the recipe for Tomato Chutney here on Bernardin's website. For more information on canning, see here.

Gifts to Buy, that are Green, Ethical and Relatively Inexpensive:

Used books - amass a Collection of Classics.

I love old books. Used books have more character than new ones!

Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Cervantes, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dumas... Wodehouse, Wilde, Adams... Kipling, Kingsley, Tolkien, Lewis, Carroll.... Go for the acclaimed works of fiction, or humour, or story-telling, and put together a half-dozen or so books that everyone should read.

Don't know your literature? Not to worry. The Guardian has that covered - here's the list of 1000 (I've read 2.5% of this. Yikes). Not to be outdone, here's another list from the Daily Telegraph that outlines just 100 novels everyone should read (here I've finished 9%. Eep). There are other lists like these online - have a look and cross-reference them if you want a more manageable listing!

The beauty of a gift like this is that it gives refinement, sophistication, education and entertainment all at once. And it puts to good reuse all of those old novels your English teacher made you despise (in my case, virtually anything by Charles Dickens. A Tale of Two Cities seemed much too long for my liking . . . and then I found out that it was originally published as a serial. Harumph. It was that generations' version of "Lost", where writers keep making money without any conclusion in sight. At least Dickens wrote well enough to not be lynched by an angry mob of let-down fans . . . wait, JJ Abrams hasn't been beaten to a bloody pulp?! Why not?!).

Slowly but surely attempting to amass the complete works of Wodehouse!

What if your recipient doesn't like classic literature? Ha, not a problem! Here's a few other ideas:
  • Collect the complete works, or as much of it as you can, of their favourite author
  • Find the first edition hardcover of their favourite book
  • For a child, give your favourite childhood books and novels
  • Go for a particular genre, i.e. true crime or mystery, romance, humour, etc. The Guardian's top 1000 books list breaks down the recommended titles into specific genres
  • Give books that the receiver is already familiar with / loves / owns, but in a language that they are trying to learn (for example, give the Spanish version of "The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy"). Look online for these - they'll likely be harder to find
  • Non-fiction subjects also work - perhaps the recipient is obsessed with "Storm Chasers" (like I am!) and would like to read about tornadoes and severe weather phenomena? Or perhaps they are an artist - there are many art books featuring famous works and the geniuses who created them
Now, where to get them!
Here are some local booksellers that I highly recommend:
Canterbury Tales (West 4th at Maple) - James is awesome; ask him for recommendations.
Brigid's Books (West Broadway at Bayswater)
Tanglewood Books (West Broadway, between Fir and Granville)
Kestrel Books (West 4th between Alma and Dunbar)
MacLeod's Books (Downtown: West Pender at Richards)

Online, I always liked Abebooks, but my husband discovered The Book Depository - free shipping! (I'm not sure if he used the American or British site. The ".ca" version does not appear to be affiliated with the other two - I can't vouch for it's veracity. Steer clear is my advice!). However, it has been recently purchased by Amazon, so who knows when it'll cease to be a bargain.

But the best deal for used books BY FAR is . . . . 

The Vancouver Public Library Book Sale!

This year it's October 27-30, at the Central Library on Georgia Street. Books range from $0.75 (that's seventy-five cents!!!!) to $2.50 - note that the majority of the books are just $0.75 each! There is also a "Friends of the VPL" book sale that runs in adjoining rooms. Prices here can be higher, but it's still an absolute steal!

GET THERE EARLY AND BRING CASH AND A CARRY BAG! Also, new books are added each day, so go more than once if possible, and join forces with a friend for the best success (Laura & Allie - let's team up!). This is a great opportunity to get Christmas gifts for very cheap. The effort you put in to finding them (and in some cases, fighting off others to get them!) goes into the value of the gift. It's not as easy as walking into a store and thinking, "Huh, what would ____ want?", but it is much, much cheaper and, in my mind, infinitely more meaningful.