Monday, October 26, 2015

 1 cup of organic yogurt

time to consume: 5 minutes
material: container = polypropylene (PP)
label = cardstock
 lid = aluminum foil
time to decompose: container - hundreds of years
label – 2 months
lid – never

Dear All,
A huge THANK YOU for voicing your opinions on the necessity to move out of plastic & metal packaging for organic produce.

On October 5th, 2015, I delivered the petition to the National Organic Standards Board through their comment platform. It is now available to be viewed by all members of the board online, and will also be given to them as a hard copy.

The NOSB will have their fall meeting starting today! Oct 26-29 (sadly I cannot attend, but hope many of you will!). We did everything we could here, through public petitioning, to raise their awareness on the urgency of the topic. Meeting notes should be published later in the fall, so keep an eye out here and here

I am leaving the petition OPEN, since plastic packaging is an ongoing problem which needs more and more awareness. So don't hesitate to continue linking / posting about it.

Let's continue the good work!
Warm Regards to all,
The Bare Necessities

Further actions:
- SPEAK AT THE MEETING: the most powerful thing you can do, if you are in Vermont or willing to travel there to attend the meeting in Stowe (Oct 26-29, 2015).
--- reserve a speaking slot here
--- all logistical info here


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Dear Readers, Minimal Lifestylers and Zero-Waste bloggers,

We have until October 5th to make our voices heard at the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)! The idea is to put the topic of packaging pollution on the agenda of the next, or following meeting of the NOSB, which creates the guidelines followed by the USDA's National Organic Program in the USA.

Please help by adding your name
Thank you for your time and care.


Wednesday, September 9, 2015

4 organic bananas
time to consume: 1 week
material: wrapping = transparent stretch film (material undisclosed)
tray = PS (polystyrene)
labels = adhesive paper

time to biodegrade: paper = 1-3 months   plastics = hundreds of years
(source :
distributor : Market Basket, Demoulas Super Markets, Inc., USA
origin of produce : Columbia
manufacturer of packaging : Cryovac, Sealed Air corp., USA
 Organic produce is packaged IN MANY TIMES MORE PLASTIC than conventional produce.

To use the words of the Plastic Pollution Coalition:
"- Plastic never goes away
 - Plastic spoils our groundwater
 - Plastic attracts other pollutants
 - Plastic piles up in the environment
 - Plastic poisons our food chain
 - Plastic affects human health
 - Plastic threatens wild life
 - Plastic costs billions to abate"

YET, the consumers probably MOST AWARE of this dire situation, i.e. the consumers making the effort and paying a premium to have a less polluting, more organic/natural lifestyle, are the ones having to consume the MOST PLASTIC when purchasing their food.

The labelling, transportation, traceability and shelf constraints imposed on organic produce especially, result in fruits and vegetables needing to carry labels and protection against the elements and fraud. This function is important, as it allows to build trust between organic producers, distributors and consumers.

However, most of the current materials used in organic packaging (styrofoam, polyethylene, aluminum, etc. - gallery here) are environmentally destructive. Beyond a certain scale, organic producers use packaging machines which have been designed to use specific types of plastic elastic bands / labels / meshes, etc, and have little leverage to change the status quo.

So, how can we act?

In the USA, the production and handling of organic produce is regulated by the USDA's National Organic Program.
This program follows the directions defined by the NOSB (National Organic Standards Board). This is supposedly a grassroots committee which records public comments & concerns.  They meet twice a year, and 30 days before each meeting they welcome people's written or oral comments.

The interesting thing about this system is that:
1) The meetings' agendas are defined independently from the public's comments and concerns. There is no reading of public comments during the meetings either. From what I understand, the comments are handed out at the end for who wishes to read them
2) It's almost impossible to find the page where to submit comments; the average number of comments the NOSB receives for each meeting is 1100 (of about 90,000,000 households who "purchase organic food at least sometimes")
3) However, if an issue is brought up enough times in the comments, they might consider putting it on the next agenda 

After lengthy phone calls with members of the USDA (who were by the way extremely lovely and patient), here is the info that will allow you to act right now, if you, like me, are concerned by this issue.
- The next meeting of the NOSB is at the end of October 2015
- The comments section for that meeting just opened a few days ago. You have until MONDAY OCTOBER 5th, 2015 to make your voice heard, either in writing or by voice recording.
- GO HERE and click on the COMMENT NOW! blue button at the top right of the page, to demand:




- Not "recyclable plastic" (only 8% of plastic gets recycled anyway)
- Not "recycled plastic" (it's still plastic)
- Not "biodegradable plastic" (they are controversial as to their carbon footprint and end result)


Thank you for being here.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

It's polluting and wasteful, and I don't want to spend 8 months of my life dealing with it.
As often in this world, it will take you some energy to fight the system, but if we all do it, we might get results. As to this day, I am practically free of junk mail myself - the one that keeps inundating the house is my husband's (hi, honey!). Let's make it at least useful by using it as an example of how to fight it.

Whenever someone or some form asks you for your address and email, SSN, birthdate, etc., take the 1 minute it takes to question it. Why do they need your private info? In most cases you have the right to refuse, and only give what is necessary.
Also, always be on the lookout to uncheck the box "I accept to receive promotional offers, etc". online.

This took care of most financial junk mail for me.

Go this website:

or do it by phone:

Important thing to know: Complaint Desk checked out and "found, buried in the fine print, that Social Security numbers and birth dates are not required.
- Online, simply leave the number and dates off the opt-out form
- By phone, ignore prompts for the number or date and eventually the computer operator continues without it."

for more info:

- Get a box
- Put in there all the junk mail you receive for a few weeks
- Take an hour one morning and set aside all the senders to whom you willingly gave your contact info - for example your alma mater, clothing brands you naively gave all your information to at the cashier, a local theater or a journal you subscribed to, a charity you're donating to, etc.

This works for known senders mentionned above.
To not go crazy and keep track, I log all calling info on paper - no duplicates that way.
Here is a downloadable template (lettersize) to make things easier for you:
Companies who work by purchasing people's private information lists from big data brokers are more tricky - if you call the pizza company to complain, you're likely to just speak to a powerless employee whose boss doesn't even know who the parent company purchased the direct mailing list from. One thing you can try is call the highest up possible (headquarters).

Apparently some websites also offer to find these larger sources for you and protect your address. I tested these out today, we'll see how efficient they are:
DMA Choice (supposedly takes care of 80% of marketing mail in the US)
Catalog Choice
Privacy Rights 

If any of you guys have tried them, your feedback would be greatly appreciated.

This is tedious but is worth the extra-time (few hours vs. 8 months, remember  ;)

While waiting for the stuff to stop pouring in, you can always collect the perfectly new and usable business reply enveloppes contained in the junk mail.

Saying NO to disposable cups

Friday, May 15, 2015

Hello all!
Sorry I was away for so long - been in nomadic mode for the past 2 months, with lots of moving in and out - had the internet, but my brain wasn't available to sit down and write.

During these travelling times, I lived out of a suitcase, which I enjoy because it makes me realize how easily I can live without some items, and which objects are absolutely necessary (more on this later).

Also, there was a lot of working in coffee shops.
Being the being that I am, naturally I always try to ask loud and clear for drinks FOR HERE, IN A REAL MUG, IN A REAL CERAMIC MUG PLEASE, several times if necessary. Sometimes I'll ask them to put fruit juice into mugs, if they don't have real glasses made of glass.

Some might argue that real mugs take water & electricity to wash and dry. Sure enough - actually if anyone has studies and numbers to forward me I am very interested in this issue.

The way I think of disposable cups is the following:
- plastic cups take hundreds of years to decompose & are a product of the fossil fuel industry, which I do not wish to support.

- the majority of "paper" cup are lined with polyethylene (PE), also petroleum based, which prevents both composting and recycling [scary to think that very hot drinks are being poured directly in contact with PE before being drunk(?) by us]. Also, paper cups rarely travel without a brand new sleeve of corrugated cardboard, a lid made of plastic (usually #6 = Polystyrene or #7= Other), and/or a stupid straw (#5 = Polypropylene PP)

- "compostable" cups (made from plants, etc) will compost only if they are thrown on a compost pile; good luck with that. I live in a pretty progressive town and composting is still far from being a common sight, especially at the city level. If these cups end up in the regular bin, they'll take as much space as the regular plastic ones (most people, me included, do not always crush), which is a burden on the public waste management system, which is paid for with public (our) money.

- the more we say NO loudly , i.e. express our refusal as customers to be part of the problem, the more companies will have to take our opinion into account, because these material choices will start impacting their own logistics.

- ceramic mugs / glasses can last centuries (millenia!) if properly taken care of.

- getting a drink and producing zero waste is a wonderful feeling.

I try to go to independent local coffee shops instead of (inter)national chains, to encourage local businesses and economies. But it's also important to talk about the big chains, for when they make little moves their impact is huge. So, because Starbucks is the largest coffee house company in the world and because their employee benefits are not bad, I want to end with this tip for Starbucks customers:

Starbucks has amazing mugs.
Large, comfy, beautifully shaped ceramic mugs.
All you need to do is ask for them.

Take care!

ps: the interesting context that made me go to Starbucks in the past few weeks (I used to never go), is the gentrification of my neighborhood - yet another problem. Basically, the closest independent coffee shop increased their prices all of a sudden, becoming more expensive (!!), & with no info on how they compensate their employees.

pps: the one problem with the Starbucks mugs is that most of them seem manufactured in China. Making / buying local mugs is not difficult, and I wish there was a push in that direction.

ppps: I am not endorsed by any company. noooo.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Sugaring is an ancient oriental waxing method using a mix of white sugar, lemon juice, salt and water (plus honey if you feel so enclined).

It was a total pain for years, having to purchase waxing strips from the store (the only ones I can use are full of chemicals, available only in certain countries, and expire/dry up if stored for too long), or gathering the courage to use the noisy, painful electric epilator (here come my army of rotative tweezers, muahaha).

Sugaring proved a pretty perfect alternative:
- all natural ingredients
- either biodegradable or no waste (lemon peel - ideally salt & sugar are bought in the bulk section)
- ingredients available almost everywhere (if you are travelling and have access to a kitchen, no need to carry hair removal tools / strips in your suitcase).
- cheap (enough quantity for half-legs & armpits would cost $0.76 with organic lemons & celtic sea salt - I used regular lemons and the cheapest salt, so it's even less)
- extremely pleasant to use - sweet smell, warm/soft texture, no noise, hurts much less than other methods
- no loose hairs clean-up needed afterwards - just dispose of the wax ball

YES, you have to get the hang of it.
I made 10 small batches before understanding how to get the texture right, but it was SO worth it.

You will find my final recipe below (cause, why not share the joy).
I also suggest watching as many online videos as you can (search for oriental wax, or cire orientale in French), just to understand basics of preparation and waxing technique.

Another few cents: make it cheap if you need to; but getting the best ingredients, even if only applied to your skin, can do not harm, and it will encourage healthy agricultural practices and businesses, for probably less than a dollar.

A warm hug to the three oriental ladies who consulted their moms to help me.
I hope this post will make them want to try it at home again!


Ingredients (this is enough for half-legs + armpits):
- 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
- water (just enough to cover the sugar in the pot - water not above the sugar, just wetting all the sugar)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Cooking Process:

1. put sugar + water + salt in a small pot > stir with a spoon to melt as much as you can (I think this mixes the salt well and prevents to get unmelted grains of sugar in the final mix)
2. put the pot on medium heat > wait until it boils > at this moment add the lemon juice and stir a bit to mix it in
3. let it boil without changing the heat, until it starts changing color > when it is BLOND (not white, not reddish brown), remove from fire
4. pour in a small bowl (make sure the bowl can handle the heat!) > let it cool down until it's really viscous (stir a couple times with a spoon to test) > when it is so viscous that you can almost make one ball with your spoon, it's ready!!!

Using the wax:

1. Here is the first big breakthrough that I had after 10 tries:
it's much better to leave the 'base' wax in that bowl as it is, and only take out small balls as you need them when you start waxing. If the 'base' becomes too hard, just warm up the bowl in the double boiler until it softens enough to be scooped out.

2. Scoop out about a tablespoon of the wax. (use a spoon, and help it with your fingers - don't worry, it's sticky but comes off the skin very easily too). It should still be a bit warm (don't burn yourself!!). Tip: dip your fingers quickly into the remaining half-lemon, it prevents the wax from becoming too sticky and then you can start kneading it with your fingers. [Also, in case you scoop it too early, do not panic: the wax will be extra liquid/sticky, but just keep on kneading, and at some point you'll see you can peel it out easily and cleanly.]

3. Kneading: second big breakthrough: DO NOT KNEAD TOO MUCH!!!
You just need a few kneading cycles with your fingers - the wax is transparent at the beginning, it will become more opaque, but don't wait until it's completely opaque (that's too late and you'll just be making salt-water taffy  :)
Basically STOP kneading when you feel that you have a soft material that can be spread easily, and is a bit sticky, not totally dry.

4. START HAIR REMOVAL (good tutorial on the gesture at the end of this video) and the wax will actually become perfect AS YOU ARE WAXING. It's handy to have a square of all-natural, unbleached wax paper lying about, for dropping or disposal of the wax ball.

5. IMPORTANT: always keep that partially used half-lemon next to you. Dip your fingers into it to wet them with a bit of lemon juice, when you manipulate the wax. It helps keeping it not too sticky.

WASHING UP: gently warm water will dissolve everything; let the pots, dishes and utensils you used sit in warm water for a bit - the sugar will melt and be very easy to clean afterwards; any remainders of wax on your leg (even the failed experiments that can end up covering half your calf) can be easily washed away under the shower.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

A few weeks ago I introduced you to IR4 (Industrial Revolution #4): 10 principles for future design and manufacturing.
Today, here is the first of a series of 'ideal objects', where I either feature objects that already follow the principles of IR4, or imagine what a popular mass-produced item would be if it was IR4 compliant.

So there you have it: the IR4 Converse Chuck Taylor sneaker.
I am not endorsed by Converse.
I chose this shoe because it is a great example of a simply made, daily item which is manufactured in great quantities - internet claims that 750 to 800 million pairs have been sold worldwide [when you quickly search for these number online]. Also important to note, it is a vegan shoe!

So, tons of potential: a few changes in its manufacturing process could have a big material and human impact.

The pair I own has the following characteristics:
- made in Vietnam
- cotton canvas upper
- cotton canvas lining
- natural rubber sole
- metal eyelets
-synthetic shoelaces (polyester?)
From the multiple pairs I have worn out, the shoe gives in at the junction between the sole and the upper. The eyelets are intact but have to be thrown away.
Its IR4 counterpart, would be something like this:
- made in USA (or your local country)
- undyed hemp canvas upper (grown in the USA)
- undyed hemp muslin lining (grown in the USA)
- natural guayule rubber sole (grown in the USA)
- embroidered eyelets made of undyed hemp thread (grown in the USA)
- undyed hemp shoelaces
Nothing mined. Local crops which require zero or low inputs of water & pesticides. Completely biodegradable. Super strong.

Utopia sounds so simple.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Regular jeans are probably the most widespread, mendable item still owned in the western world. By 'regular' jeans, I mean: made of strong, non-stretch cotton twill

Unsurprisingly, the current mending renaissance is happening big time through the denim world. Check out the beautiful repair corner of the japanese clothing brand Kapital, or the mending gallery from the stitcher Darn and Dusted.

This made me think about a major principle of the repair/re-use economy (if we ever manage to create one): it just can't exist if the objects exchanged are not of the best quality. Things cannot and will not be repaired if they aren't sturdy enough to handle that repair, and/or if their beauty and quality isn't worth the time it will take to mend them. One more reason to acquire thoughtfully, and encourage the making of good goods.

Current repair happening in the home shop:
LEFT LEG repaired by the people at our dry-cleaning place - with a sewing machine, for $10.
RIGHT LEG repaired by yours truly - by hand, with love. 
LEFT LEG FRONT: almost exactly matching thread - wow
LEFT LEG BACK: denim patch (probably less comfortable, but strong)
RIGHT LEG FRONT: cotton thread colors available in the house
note: the big black stitches are temporary basting holding an unfinished patch above the knee 
RIGHT LEG BACK:  the soft, double cotton canvas patch.

Still working on an extra patch covering the thigh.
Can I just warmly express how enjoyable an activity this kind of mending is?
The stitch isn't complicated, you make progress fast, and the peaceful rhythm of stitching is absolutely calming. I used this sashiko tutorial.

Just let go, and listen to the radio.


sorry, just the bit I need to paste for bloglovin to register this site:
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Saturday, January 10, 2015

It's on!
After reading some excellent pages on minimalist wardrobe websites such as Into-Mind, Project 333 and Un-Fancy (thanks to a friend who pointed them to me), I have finally decided to take stock of my wardrobe. 

The goal being (and this is totally personal):
1) identifying useful-successful garments and understanding why, so as to make better informed acquisitions in the future
2) identifying useless-unsuccessful garments and understanding why, and then getting them out of the house by donating or selling them
3) understanding the minimum number of garments I can function with

It was a scary thought.
Like diving into a messy pile of reasonned vs. impulse purchases, more or less successful attempts at a redefinition of myself, things that had just accumulated and never got worn, things that had gotten overly overly worn, items I was clinging on for the wrong reasons, and a heavy sprinkle of memories.
On the other hand I knew I had been pretty good (verging on the obsessive) in the past few years about buying ethically and locally made clothes, and mostly natural fibers.

To make the process less daunting I made it playful: got all the draft paper I could put my hands on at home, cut it into cards, and sat in front of the wardrobe with a pen.
Made a card for each item of clothing I had, with the same 5 pieces of information:
I figure that once all created, the cards will be a useful tool to sort through the wardrobe (put them all on a table, start sorting)

This made me realize how crucial the information on the inside labels is (and also how some brands get away with never telling you where the clothes are made). It's a tricky one because I dislike labels intensely: very often they itch, are made of a synthetic material different from the clothes themselves, and are stitched inside a garment's seam (so if you want to remove them you'll need to close a hole afterwards). Food for thought - form to be improved.

Also, there were items I couldn't find a name for ('hum, this is too thin to be a sweater, too structured to be a t-shirt, too light to be worn over other clothes, too full of zippers to be worn under clothes, gosh what is it?' - surprise surprise, it never got worn).

Still in the process of compiling all that info.
More wardrobe-editing posts to follow.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

It seems we need a total change of paradigm.
So many of us are making so much effort to navigate the current material world, every day, because it's too polluting, too socially unfair, too wasteful.

Consumption needs to change for sure. But production needs to change too.

Very roughly (and condensed by yours truly from wikipedia), there have been three successive industrial revolutions already:
- from the 1750s, with steam power, ship transport, textile, steel
- from the 1820s, with electricity, oil, the reciprocating engine, automobiles, railroad transport - global production doubled its pace
- from the 1970s, with the internet, microprocessors, computers - delocalization became possible, plants moved out of industrialized countries, the financial & communications sector flourished, social inequalities rose.

I believe we now need Industrial Revolution #4 (IR4): the generalization of environmentally and socially viable low-tech solutions, made as locally as possible, in the context of necessarily frugal consumption.

1. minimum material - i.e. do not over-engineer, use the minimum amount of material that will do the job safely > saves material

2. least harmful material - choose the material with the least embodied energy, the most renewable source, the least risk on health > protects the environment and its inhabitants

3. least processed material - use materials as raw and mono-material as you can find them, avoid using or creating composites > makes waste sorting, recycling and upcycling easier; lowers costs.

4. most local labor force - employ the qualified people nearest to you, or train the people nearest to you > supports local economy, reduces carbon footprint, reinforces & creates communities

5. no harming of labor force - do not kill, abuse, or exploit people; offer compensation sufficient to make a decent living, make the job safe in terms of materials, processes, and schedules; ensure a caring, supportive environment > honors basic human rights and relationships

6. equitable distribution of revenue - strive to create horizontal partnerships instead of vertical ones, give back cooperatively the profit created cooperatively > expresses respect for all types of work, makes everybody engaged in the enterprise

7. function, safety, sustainability, over aesthetics - do not let aesthetics / fashion / future media coverage have an influence on your design process strong enough to make you weaken your commitment to making good objects > prevents going back to the situation we are trying to get away from.

8. full biodegradability OR full reusability of parts - do not think of objects are individual finished goods, but as a temporary assembly of ressources, belonging to a vast material cycle > allows for composting; otherwise makes waste sorting, recycling and upcycling easier

9. maximum repairability - planned-obsolescence is forbidden. > reduces labor and material waste, maximizes return on investment into product, creates repair service jobs

10. no harming of animals - do not kill nor abuse living things; avoid animal material if you can, otherwise make sure what you take from them does not prevent their best livelyhood > respects all forms of life

Naturally not ALL things can be made following these principles, but if we try to at least transform all the ones we can, we might end up in better shape.

Wishing you IR4 new years to come.