Sustainable Living

I am passionate about reducing waste.

I’m also passionate about living my life as sustainably as possible without sacrificing comfort. That’s why I’m posting all the tips and tricks I’ve learned over the past 8 years right here. I want to help you achieve a sustainable lifetstyle too!

How to Live Sustainably in Comfort

It’s 2020 and the start of a new decade. We are seemingly paralyzed by the thought of climate change and unable to take any real action towards solving the inevitable. Because the climate crisis is finally becoming top of mind and we are all realizing that action must be taken soon, I’ve decided to start a database with articles and links to help us as consumers and game changers to start living sustainably without having to make a huge investment, just a desire to make a positive impact on Earth.

 

Even if we as a population completely switched over to renewable energy and recycled everything, the truth is, it’s still not enough to have a real effect on slowing climate change. We need to reduce our overall consumption of everything. However, it is a misconception that consuming less means giving up the comforts of running water or heated homes to live in a cave. It’s also not unreasonable to feel helpless trying to cut emissions while still driving to work so you can keep a roof over your head. But it is possible to live sustainably in comfort and focusing on reducing waste is a really great place to start. Over the last 8 years, I’ve tried to build a lifestyle and business with this as my main goal. Starting now, I will write an article each month with the tips and tricks I have acquired over the years of sustaining a comfortable lifestyle that does not exceed the maximum human footprint allowable to maintain a healthy planet. I hope that I can help you do the same. 

 

I’ve built a career around waste reduction. My business specializes in recycled, upcycled and repurposed items diverting thousands of pounds of material from landfills. Landfills do not decompose and eventually toxic pollution from them seeps into surrounding soil and groundwater. Landfills also produce dangerous methane gas. Sadly, there are over 10,000 landfill sites across Canada and we produce more garbage per capita than any other country on earth. Waste reduction must include all forms and not be limited to just solids but liquid and gases too. We must reduce all of it. 

 

At home, I try to repair stuff first before buying new. If I can’t repair an item I look for used items in good condition. For example, Kijiji, WINS and other second hand shops can be great places to find used furniture or clothing. So many items are available in brand new condition yet at affordable prices. It may not be new but it will be new to you and that’s pretty much the same thing. Just recently, I replaced a broken zipper on my down jacket. This was a much cheaper option that buying a new one. With a broken zipper, that jacket could not be donated and would most likely have ended up in the garbage. I just extended its usefulness by years.

 

Same as my shop, I also reuse as much as possible. Instead of buying new tupperware, I reuse glass jars and plastic food containers. I bring cloth bags to the grocery store for buying bulk produce. I make an effort to choose items with the least amount of packaging and when I see items over-packaged I always let management know that I won’t buy those items. Many restaurants will offer discounts if you provide your own take-out containers. Incentives like this will likely increase once the nation wide single-use plastic ban comes into effect. I maintain compost and recycling bins in my bathroom and kitchen and hang dry most of my laundry. If you must use a dryer, put dryer balls in the load to shorten drying time. There are now also a lot more places to purchase bulk, refillable zero-waste products ranging from home cleaning to body care. Depending upon which neighbourhood you live in check out Canary in Kensington, The Apothecary in Inglewood, Without Co in Mission or Nude Market in Victoria Park which just moved into my shop!

This past year, I have been experimenting with a plant based diet sourcing as much local produced food as possible. Not only is local safer and fresher but a plant based diet can produce a lot less waste than animal intensive farming. Plus, local produced goods don’t travel as far so transportation pollution is greatly diminished. I cook large meals at home so I can take the leftovers with me to work for lunch the next day. Sometimes, I can stretch the meal over several days so I don’t have to cook at all. If you can’t find fresh, locally produced fruits or vegetables in season, frozen are a great option. It’s also very easy to preserve fruits in the summer for use during the winter. Canned fruits are a tasty treat when you can’t find any in season. Some fruits and vegetables last for months in the fridge. I’m still eating carrots from my garden that I harvested last November. 

 

In the garden, I use hand tools instead of power tools wherever possible. A grotesque amount of oil and gas is leaked in non-point spills in backyards filling up mowers or snow blowers. The EPA (Environmental protection Agency) estimates at least 17 million gallons of gasoline are spilled annually just filling lawn mowers in the USA. That is a staggering amount of pollution that could easily be eliminated simply by switching to hand tools. You could even go one step further and eliminate grass lawns all together. Plant native species or food varieties instead. Take advantage of tool lending libraries like the one in Bridgeland. In the future, I hope to see tool lending libraries and repair cafes hosted in every community centre in Calgary. It should be standard. 

 

Although, I do have a car, I rarely drive it. I walk or ride my bicycle to most destinations. Not only are these modes the most economical but they keep me fit and healthy and do not pollute the air. For longer distances I take public transit. I use my car only as a last resort or to travel long distances such as travel to other cities. A few years ago, I invested in a cargo bicycle and this bike has proven to be invaluable. I use it for both work and pleasure. Last year, my summer vacation was a bicycle camping trip on my cargo bike!

 

I live close to work. You can really shorten the amount you commute by simply living closer to work. It’s also helpful to choose a community with lots of amenities within walking distance. This means you might have to live in a smaller home in order to afford a place in a more convenient location. But living in a smaller home also decreases your footprint and it is much more economical to maintain over the long term. I grew up on a rural hobby farm but, since moving to Calgary, I have always lived in the inner city.  I have found that a smaller home is worth the convenience of having everything located close by.  I never have to worry about getting stuck in traffic or paying for parking.

 

To further reduce my impact on the environment, I am careful when choosing what type of recreation I participate in and where. I try to live within the seasons. For example, I enjoy swimming in the river in the summer and take advantage of outdoor skating rinks in the winter. When my daughter was younger, we chose activities close to home or carpooled with other families. 

 

Which charities you choose to support also make a difference. I donate to local charities that make a direct impact on individuals in my community and I also give preference to those that are very clear about what the money I am donating is spent on. One of my favourite charities is Two Wheel View. This organization, located in Sunalta, teaches disadvantaged children how to repair bicycles. The children receive their own bicycle when they complete the program. This charity relies on cash and bicycle donations to operate, but in return, it helps disadvantaged children learn valuable skills while recycling and making use of active transportation. All things that I support.

 

Check back next month when I go into even more detail about how to live sustainably in comfort. Every month this year I’ll go in depth and explore topics such as local economics, food, transportation, housing, recreation, gardening, vacationing, clothing, community, gift giving and charities. 

The Real Value of Recycled Goods

At Reworks, we take customer opinions seriously. We have heard from some of you that you believe our markups are too high and that prices on recycled products are out of reach for many people. Some also find it odd that recycled goods made from free materials can seem to cost more when the whole concept is to get more people to buy reused and recycled goods.

You’re right! Recycled products can cost more but I can guarantee that my mark-ups are way less than on standard imported goods. Even though many of the materials used are free, the cost to process those material can be expensive and it can take quite some time to build these beautiful items.

For example, the seatbelt bags that I carry, are made by an independent Canadian maker named Trevor Kehler of U.S.E.D. He doesn’t just receive the seat belts all clean and ready to sew at his doorstep. Trevor has to go find them. He has to spend a lot of time working at auto wreckers hand cutting the belts out himself. He then must transport them to his studio (over 5000 pounds of them last year alone) and then wash them before he can even begin sewing his bags. In addition, he is still charged a fee by the auto wreckers despite the fact that those belts would likely end up in the landfill anyway. Trevor hand makes all his own bags and has made a major investment in skills training, equipment and studio space to do this. This is not a large scale assembly line operation. He can’t compete with offshore labour either.

So, when you decide to buy a seat belt bag from my shop, you are paying for what it actually costs to make the bag and to support the independent maker and my shop. There is not a lot of room for profit but it does help independent Canadian business owners, like Trevor and I, make a sustainable living. You also have a great story to tell when someone compliments you on your item!

When you buy local, you’re keeping the dollars you choose to spend in your community. Yes, the products may be a little more expensive but there are no hidden costs like there are with imported products. Further, your dollars also keep your community clean and sustainable – keeping more stuff out of the over 10,000 Canadian landfills, avoiding air pollution associated with transporting goods from overseas and reducing the tax dollars that go to supporting waste infrastructure. When you think of all these benefits, locally made products are quite a steal!

Natalie Gerber

Natalie Gerber is a contemporary textile designer making handcrafted goods in Canada. She embraces an ethic of environmental responsibility, with a passion for community initiatives in support of sustainable futures.

Her initial work encompassed a variety of fashion accessories ranging from clutches and shoulder bags to belts and totes. Natalie has since changed her focus with the development of her own textile design studio where she has created a successful line of soft furnishing and décor. Her change in focus has left her with a limited selection of inventory that does not fit with her new work. Reworks Upcycle Shop has happily acquired this inventory! Her unique accessories upcycled from vintage fabric, leather and suits are now available through our online store. These pieces are one-of-a-kind and are the very last upcycled fashion accessories made by Natalie Gerber. Check them out before they all gone.

Natalie Gerber studied at The Natal Technikon, in the Fashion Design program, Durban in South Africa. After immigrating to Canada her interests in textiles and design developed while studying classical tailoring and couture design under Calgary designer Mithè de Fontenay. Enrolling at the Alberta College of Art & Design, Natalie earned a BFA Degree in Fibre/Textiles in 2003, and later in 2007, a post-graduate Certificate in Creative Pattern Cutting for the Fashion Industry, from the London College of Fashion in London, England.

Natalie’s Inspiration in her own words:

“As an artist, designer and maker I am inspired to create functional design for everyday living. While craftsmanship is important to my creative process, so too is function. I combine my love for illustration, surface design, clean lines and hand-printed fabrics with conscious material choices and in-studio practices.

While my studio focus is on boutique textile printing I am further motivated by interdisciplinary and cross-cultural collaborations. Creative alliances provide opportunities for knowledge sharing that I believe contribute to rounding out my experience as an artist and designer.

This ethos has extended into my studio practice through special projects with a social responsibility – most recently collaborating with a group of artists to develop imagery for print in the township of KwaDabeka. Located outside of my hometown of Durban, KwaZulu Natal in South Africa. This fair trade opportunity has inspired me to further explore community initiatives that support sustainable futures.”

The fashion accessories now available at Reworks reflect Natalie’s earlier work but still encompass her desire for functional design and her focus on sustainability.

Cardboard Safari

Cardboard Safari makes its home at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Charlottesville, Virginia. Inspired by the landscape that surrounds them, they celebrate the union of art and technology, joining imagination and fabrication to make beautiful sculptural forms for your home. Their goal is to make neat stuff, fun products that foster an appreciation for the natural world.

Creativity, conservation, and collaboration are paramount to their mission. Meticulously developing products on the computer and cutting precision parts on the laser, their designers strive to meld simplicity and sophistication in their sculptural works of art. The consumer has an opportunity to participate in the creative process by slotting together and embellishing the final forms.

Some people find the idea of a cardboard animal head shocking. It is important to note that they adamantly oppose poaching and support wildlife conservation efforts. They also support responsible food hunting. A lively addition to your home or office, the animals in our collection have unique personalities. The intention behind our animals is to celebrate life on earth, to raise awareness and respect of all living things.

There is a little something for everyone – the hunter, the hipster, the aesthete, the child, the executive, the artist. These delightful topographies help people get in touch with their inner crafter, their sense of humor, and their sense of place. At Reworks, the top seller is Bucky the Deer followed closely by Billy the Bison. You can also find a unicorn and an warthog! Cardboard Safari products make great gifts as well as a fun addition to a cabin. Check out our Decor section for more ideas.

These trophy heads are vegan. Designed by a team of thoughtful artists, each product is developed from a sense of awe and admiration. The cardboard used in their products is recycled and locally sourced. All of their products are locally manufactured by a small staff in our Charlottesville shop. They keep their footprint in mind every step of the way.

They are also proud to say that all of their products are Made in the U.S.A.

They are a small business, employing less than twenty people, and all of their products are manufactured on site in our Charlottesville shop. Their recycled cardboard is locally sourced. They know how important it is to support the local economy and to provide jobs in our community.

Because they are not sending assembly work overseas, they know exactly what goes on in their shop. One thing is for certain, there is no child labor (though they do have a child like enthusiasm for their products)! Their employees are paid a living wage.

The Cardboard Safari crew is treated with fairness and dignity. This fosters care for the work they do. Employees are not trying to meet quota and so Quality over Quantity prevails.

From Cardboard Safari hands to yours, they create clever products with a personal touch!

Green Guru

Could our fascination with the look, feel and resiliency of leather ever get surpassed by something even better? It’s starting to seem that way, with companies like Green Guru’s shiny, supple bags made out of bike inner tubes! They function magnificently, and divert an ideal material.

Interestingly, fashionista inspirations were not the only way this company found it’s footing, even though they look so good. It was the rugged sports of mountain biking and racing that founders Davidson Lewis and Justin Dougherty were regularly hitting the trails and popping tires on that they felt like there should be another way to put that rubber to good reuse. Lewis, with an industrial design background, started creating bags out of inner tubes and truck liners. Available tires are more than abundant, so they can select the ones that are in particularly good shape, and avoid any that have been patched with lime or have too much chalky residue.

Based out of Boulder, Colorado, there is a huge emphasis on keeping their company local. They contract an industrial sewing company that is only a few miles away. New designs are always being tested for ergonomics and for fastening to different parts of a bike, or wearing on the body while easily being able to remain active. One of the benefits of working so closely with their manufacturer, is an ability to maintain a high level of quality in their new products. Jezryl Castelo explains, “we can change something if it needs to be fixed. It’s not like if it’s being made in China, where you get a big batch, but you can’t just go over there and be like, ‘hey we need to switch this up’ it [would be] a 3-4 month turnover.”

The company keeps up with a lot of events and stays at the forefront of the bike and sustainability community in their city (and many others!). After 8 years of mastery, they’ve started to expand out into some interesting new lines. Certainly, people like bags for a lot of different areas of life, so while the bags for cyclists are very technical, they have now launched a sister company called Green Goddess, which features designs that are more like clutch purses and things for use in more specific situations.

Additionally, some of Green Guru’s latest bike bag designs have instead been utilizing vinyl banners from events, which feature cropped glimpses of patterns and imagery that makes each piece unique and imbued with a story all it’s own. They even come in an insulated cooler bag style that can fasten to a bike frame. All of the designs are also fairly water-resistant!

Whether you’re into mountaintop picnics, a night out on the town, commuting by bike, or extreme sports, they’ve got you covered and looking great, with a bag or accessory that can outlast them all, looking sleek in the most rugged conditions.

Artech Glass Studio

We just love to enjoy a cool beer with warm company, but the masterful glassblowers at Artech Glass studio have taken it to the next level, by turning those empties into beautiful new glasses! Last year they diverted over 15,000 beer bottles from the landfill by transforming them into fun tableware.

So many people have been good about recycling their glass over the years, that there is actually a huge stockpile building up in storage. We usually think of it being melted and turned into new glass products, but it’s not really the case. If bottles from different companies were to be melted and mixed, the glass would shatter as it cooled – they have to be identical. Some glass is crushed and used in asphalt, or empties can even be taken back to a beer store, who will send them to the brewery for refilling, but only a few times, and the brewery has to be in the same province. Glass is an ideal material for other types of re-use instead, and Artech is famous for just that!

Commonly, the original brand of beer is still evidenced in the new cup, which is great for picking out our trusty favourites! Many companies, like Steamwhistle and Corona bottles, have fired-on labels that remain intact at high temperatures, while others like Sleeman and Heineken have raised text. Artech has also just unveiled a new line called ReBeer, which features their own signature surface decoration, as well as coasters and straws. Sometimes they do custom work, like awards and unique commissions. We spoke to co-owner Jennifer Wanless-Craig, and she shared a fond memory of a person who asked for a vase to be made in the shape of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s head!

The setting that all of their work is made in is also pretty amazing! As though a normal glass-blowing studio wasn’t thrilling already, theirs is in a ghost town! Residing in Tory Hill, Ontario, they live and work out of what used to be a church, which they bought and renovated from it’s previous use as a store. About 15 minutes from Haliburton, it was a bustling community in around the 1920s-1940s with a dairy, many cheese factories and a mill. There was a general store with a gas station but it burnt down in the ‘90s. It’s a beautiful place, with a playground, a lake, and Artech working their fiery wonders by the main intersection where passers-by head to cottage country. This helps them to be more eco-friendly in some other ways, like shipping their products wrapped in old newspapers and egg cartons from a local diner, in old banana boxes. “We use what’s local!”

Last year some of their creations appeared in the Mortal Instruments movie, and recently they were even approached by a company who wants to build a glassblowing studio in Rwanda! Come in and check out their glasses and other inventions at ReWorks, and then pass the story on over a cool one with friends.

Adrian Martinus Custom Woodworking

Adrian Martinus Custom Woodworking is the Calgary, Alberta based studio/workshop of brothers Adrian and Martinus Pool. Working primarily with rescued and reclaimed wood, the duo creates unique furniture and creative objects such as their very popular rolling pins. Their claim to fame is their colourful use of reclaimed skateboards.

Growing up on the Canadian Prairies – on an acreage outside Red Deer, Alberta – woodworking has always been a Pool family affair, as their grandfather was a seasoned wood turner. In spending time by his side as children (while Grampa worked on projects), they gained early exposure to the creative potential of wood and the intoxicating smell of wood being cut. After a neighbour’s son built a skateboarding ramp, their skateboard and carpentry obsessions merged and grew. They couldn’t bear to see the beautiful laminated wood of damaged skateboards simply discarded; and as carpenters they were troubled by witnessing so much quality wood being discarded as construction waste. By 2014, they had formed their own company to focus on designing with rescued and reclaimed wood. Martinus attended film school before pursuing carpentry, bringing his keen eye for aesthetics and a creative perspective to each piece. Coupled with brother Adrian’s insatiable appetite for precision and endless gumption, their furniture designs reflect both a refined sense of artistry and a commitment to quality craftsmanship.

Adrian and Martinus believe that rescued and reclaimed wood furniture can be sustainable, modern, well-designed, and of the highest quality. Whether they are working with aged barn boards, recycled gymnasium flooring or broken skateboards, they embrace the limitations of the material and develop innovative techniques to find the unique potential in their materials.For example, skateboards are made of seven dyed maple veneers and every skateboard manufacturer has slightly different shapes, contours and colours for their finished boards. The inconsistencies, variation in condition, and very limited supply of this material encouraged the brothers to develop (beginning their R&D in 2011) a unique design and build process in which every part of the skateboard is used – from the surface griptape to the sawdust remains. For the brothers, every piece has a depth and personal connection. They’ve collected the wood materials from a variety of sources, built up the smaller cuts and pieces into workable forms, and considered every contrasting grain and pronounced element. Manipulating line, colour, structure and form results in their unique and multilayered design style. The emerging graphical forms in their furniture designs suggest influences from modernism and cubism. Community-building is also an important influence on their approach to design, with the brothers regularly connecting with other designers and craftspeople through local design collectives, a well as ongoing networking with skateboard retailers, builders, farmers and renovators to maintain their supply of unique and storied material. While Adrian Martinus Custom Woodworking is a relatively young firm in the furniture design industry, the evolution of their work has demonstrated a constant progression and demand for their designs is steadily growing.

You can find Adrian Martinus’ products right here on this online store and at Reworks Upcycle Shop’s location in the Calgary Farmer’s Market.

Alora Boutique

Alora Boutique jewelry is handmade in Calgary, Canada using recycled materials. Alora typically works with recycled brass that is created using a technique called loss-wax casting. Each piece of jewelry has been created with a symbolic and positive meaning attached to it – love, forgiveness, family, and believing – so that you can be reminded of your values and your intentions each time you wear it.

Currently, Alora only works with recycled brass using loss-wax casting but plan to launch a new recycled silver line this fall. In order to work with silver, Alora needs to learn new techniques and invest in different tools.

To help fund the launch of the new silver line Alora has started a BoostR campaign to fund the expansion. Alora be using a portion of the money to create this new line as well as give back to disadvantaged women in Calgary. The new silver line will help Alora meet customer demand and provide an additional stream of revenue. This additional revenue will help expand their current social programs and help Alora achieve long-term plans of employing disadvantaged women.

Find out more about Alora Boutique at www.arola.ca

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