May 14, 2013
Minimize waste and save on your grocery bill
Food is a very significant part of our carbon footprint:
- it takes energy to produce; that’s especially so for meat and other animal products
- it travels long distances to get to our plate
- we often end up wasting A LOT of what we buy at the grocery store (up to one quarter of all the produce we buy, by one estimate)
In a world where we lose so many people to hunger every day, it seems obscene to waste food – so why not use leftovers to make soup? Here’s a blog with loads of ideas for soups and other yummy dishes made from leftovers. And here’s a link to Simply in Season, a favourite cookbook of the chief cook in our household; it’s loaded with recipes for healthy living and a healthy planet. So is the More With Less Cookbook.
And – here’s a simple one-pager with suggestions on how to minimize food spoilage. Happy nibbling!
April 30, 2013
The special case of e-waste
Not long after the age of computers came the age of e-waste: unneeded, broken or obsolete electronics. It’s noxious stuff, typically containing toxic materials like lead, mercury, arsenic and chromium. And we generate an awful lot of it: as much as 50 million tonnes every year, according to the UN. (In particular, the global transition to flat-screen monitors and televisions has produced a big bump in the amount of e-waste generated.)
It’s very important to keep e-waste out of our landfills where it can cause long-term contamination of the surrounding environment – so here are some options:
- Reduce, by buying less stuff and by using electronics until they wear out instead of upgrading frequently.
- Reuse, by donating your electronics for refurbishment or salvaging of useful parts; in Canada, check out Computers for Schools
- Recycle all electronics, to keep their toxins out of the environment. Click here for programs in New Brunswick; here for programs elsewhere in Canada; and here for the US.
And – you can use Greenpeace’s annual Guide to Greener Electronics to help you choose greener electronics brands.
April 16, 2013
Save money by putting foam insulation over your hot water pipes
Often our hot water taps are a long way from our hot water tanks, so we need to run the water for a while until hot water arrives. But all that cold water ahead of the hot was once hot; it was left stranded in the pipe when the hot water tap was last turned off. Parked in uninsulated pipes, hot water becomes cold very quickly, representing a loss of energy and a waste of money. (Hot water heating represents about 20% of the average home’s energy bill.)
You can conserve energy and save money by installing foam pipe insulation over the pipes that carry hot water from your hot water tank to all the places it will be used. It’s very cheap – $1 or less a meter. And it’s very simple to install – here’s a 2 minute instructional video.
So – insulate those hot water pipes and save!
March 19, 2013
Call those toll free numbers
Recently, the packaging of my brand of oatmeal changed: it went from a soft plastic bag with a #4 recycling symbol to a bag made from a crinkly type of material labelled with the #7 recycling symbol. Alas, #7 plastics are a catch-all class of materials that don’t fit the other categories; they are for all practical purposes unsortable and unrecyclable. Trash, hidden behind a recycling symbol. (More on that here.)
Well, like most consumer products, my oatmeal bag had a toll-free consumer hotline – so I called it and to inquire why a company would change from recyclable to a non-recyclable packaging. The person on the other end promised to forward my concern to the engineering department.
Alas, my oatmeal still comes in a #7 bag. But if enough consumers called that toll-free line to question the packaging, I know the folks in the engineering department – and the boardroom – would take note.
Gandhi said, “We must be the change we seek in the world.” Here’s a simple way you can Be The Change: if you come across packaging that is labelled as a #7 plastic or that is an unrecyclable mix of materials (there’s plenty of it out there), why not call that toll-free number and make your concerns known? Enough calls = action and positive change!
March 5, 2013
Avoid exfoliating soaps with plastic beads
Imagine designing a product which, when used exactly as directed, releases tiny bits of plastic that can wind up in the ocean and persist for ages. Crazy, right?
Crazy, but true. For years, many exfoliating soaps have been laced with plastic microbeads. They’re an abrasive, to remove dead skin particles, but they end up going down the drain. If they make their way into marine environments (and that’s often what happens), they stay – for a long, long time. Microbeads from exfoliating soap are contributing to the millions of tonnes of plastics swirling about in the world’s oceans today. But they’re about the only plastic there by design. What were they – or we – thinking?
Unilever, the maker of brands like Dove, Vaseline and Pond’s, announced in January that it would be phasing out plastic microbeads – but only completely by 2015. My quick search found no similar commitment by Procter and Gamble, maker of brands like Noxzema and Olay. So what to do right now?
- Look at the ingredients of exfoliating soaps; avoid brands that contain polyethylene, polyacrylamide or “microbeads” or “microcrystals” of unspecified content; look for natural exfoliating ingredients like ground nuts, seeds, fruit, salt and even oatmeal and cornmeal
- Choose brands that appear on this list compiled by the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia
- Make your own; the same EHANS site has recipes
January 22, 2013
Just clean that plate
Back in 1956, the notorious US prison on Alcatraz Island had this rule for all inmates: “Take all you want, but eat all you take.”
Most of us live in a world of plenty, so it is easy for us to take food for granted and to waste. A report last fall estimated that Canadians waste $27 billion worth of food a year, the majority of it at home. How we waste? 1) we load our plates up with more than we can eat; 2) we’re quick to discard things when they approach their best-before dates; and 3) food is cheap.
Food is a big part of our carbon footprint, and it’s obscene to waste it when nearly a billion people worldwide go to bed hungry.
So perhaps the easiest way ever to reduce the carbon footprint of our food is to simply do what prisoners at Alcatraz were asked to do: don’t serve up too much food, and clean your plate.
December 11, 2012
What do coffee canisters, cans for concentrated frozen juice and parmesan cheese containers have in common?
Answer: they all contain steel bottoms (and often tops too) that are recyclable. But if you want to recycle them, you need to rip them out of the containers – a task usually only hard core recyclers might be inclined to do.
However, there’s an easy way any of us can rip the bottom out of a frozen juice can: simply ‘unwind’ the cardboard-like side all the way to the bottom of the can, and then tear it free of the steel. It’s hard to explain, but easy to demonstrate… so take a peek at this 2.5 minute video to see how it works.
Then happy separating and recycling!
November 27, 2012
Tips for a low-stress, greener Christmas
Christmas may be a boom for the economy, but it’s a bust for the planet – from shopping road trips to disposable everything to low quality stuff shipped in from afar.
Here are a few ideas to help you go ‘stuff-less’ this year:
- For the foodie, a share in a local community supported agriculture operation that will provide a weekly box of fresh, local food
- Coupons for hair care, gym membership, home cleaning, snow removal, massages or dinner at a local restaurant
- For the driver, a printout of “10 Eco-Driving Tips For Everyone” (www.tinyurl.com/howtoimprovemileage2) that can help the average driver save at least 10% on their fuel bill every day
- Homemade items like knitted goods, baking, preserves and crafts
- Shop secondhand shops for nearly-new clothing, books, music, electronics, furniture and more at a fraction of their original prices
- Make commemorative donations to organizations that share your values: a homeless shelter, food bank, nature trust, animal shelter
- Purchase carbon offsets for your friends. Learn more at www.tinyurl.com/COffsetInfo.
Thanks to Alicen Thorne for this Green Idea!
A second life for potato bags, sugar bags and more!
I love potatoes, but unfortunately the paper bags they come in are not recyclable: they’re made of a special kind of paper because regular paper is just not strong enough. The same goes for the packaging of other products like sugar: paper, but not recyclable. So how to keep them out of the trash stream?
If you have a wood stove, here’s an option to consider: rip the mesh window out of your potato bag (because it’s not made of paper and definitely shouldn’t be burned) and use the bag as a fire starter. The same can be done for sugar bags. And if you’re ‘hardcore’ about reducing the amount of trash you generate, you can also separate out other types of paper that are not recyclable but are good for burning (for example, the waxy paper under pizzas or around sub sandwiches; most cash register tapes), stuff them into your potato bag and voila: an easy way to get your wood stove started. If you don’t have a wood stove, maybe you know someone who does.
Here are a few key points to remember:
- Please use paper only for starting fires, not as a replacement for well-dried firewood.
- Keep stove emissions low by proper burning practices; Natural Resources Canada’s Guide to Residential Wood Heating is a good resource
- If you’re in the market for a stove, choose a model that is EPA-certified for cleaner burning
- If you’re unsure about the recyclability of any type of paper, you can do a quick check on the internet or with local authorities. (Or send me a note and I’ll do my best to help.)
It’s true that burning non-recyclable paper is not a perfect solution, but by most accounts it’s better than burying it in a landfill. And – it’s a bit of free heat as the heating season nears.
September 18, 2012
Green power within your reach, TODAY!
What do the above companies, plus Royal Bank, BMO, Shaw Communications, Kraft Foods, Nissan, Home Depot and Google have in common? They run part or all of their operations on green power – sustainable electricity produced from renewable sources.
No, they don’t have power plants in their back yards. They simply buy certified green power from a green energy provider, and have it delivered through the existing power grid.
And you can too, for your home or business. Just Google “green energy provider” to find a company that offers service in your area, and then sign up. There are no wires or switches, and no worries about reliability. However, there is a small premium price for green power, typically a couple of cents per kilowatt-hour. If you’re keen on green power, hopefully you’ll agree it’s a small price to pay for being carbon-free. And – by buying green power, you are creating an incentive for the development of more green power, and helping transform the market. A really good thing!