Why not go for ten or less bags of trash this year?

Two weeks ago I shared that our family had met our goal of generating less than 10 bags of trash in 2019.  (For the record: our accomplishment is humbled by that of longstanding subscribers Don & Heather Ross, who are routinely down to three bags a year – amazing!)

Some readers wondered how we did it, so I’m pleased to share what I think were the seven keys to our success:

  1. Choosing less packaging: limiting trash has become one of our guiding principles when we shop: we’ve gotten into the habit of purposely avoiding heavily packaged products and instead choosing products with little to no packaging and/or fully recyclable packaging. It’s meant the odd sacrifice, but we’re okay with that; our purchase decisions are one of the best ways we can influence the market.  I believe our strategy of ‘reducing trash at source’ was probably the biggest single factor that helped us achieve our goal.
  2. No single-use plastic bags, ever: it’s meant a few walks back to the car, but we’re now comfortably in the habit of using alternatives that include reusable produce bags or collapsible boxes (no endorsement intended).
  3. No disposable coffee cups, ever: that means I skip that coffee if I’ve forgotten my mug. The upside: I now remember my mug.
  4. No disposable cutlery: alas, still working on this one as I sometimes still forget my spork (no endorsement intended).
  5. Using reusable containers: for packed lunches, or even for restaurant leftovers
  6. Composting: organics make up a big part of household waste, so diverting them to a compost heap greatly reduces trash. A bonus: you end up with fertilizer for next year’s garden. Another bonus: your remaining trash is less smelly and less attractive to pests.  (Unsure about composting?  Here’s a simple guide, and you can find nice compost pails (no endorsement intended) online or at your local hardware store.)
  7. Recycling rigorously: our recycling systems are far from ideal (the carbon footprint of collection; the challenges of dealing with a mish-mash of mixed materials; dubious offshore ‘processing’), but recycling is still better than trashing.

Upon rereading the above seven points, I’m struck by how they all seem to have one common ingredient: the word habit, which is about making changes so that the right thing to do becomes the new norm.

Reducing Waste

So – why not try a ten bag challenge in your family – or a three bag challenge if you’re hardcore?  And please let me know if you have any tips or secrets to add to the above list!

(Read a far longer list of tips here.  For a deeper dive on eliminating waste: Cradle to Cradle, one of the best books ever on the subject; summary of its principles here.)

What’s your 2020 sustainability goal?

If you’re a long-term subscriber, you may remember this pledge I made a year ago in a Green Ideas about making sustainability resolutions for 2019:

My 2019 resolution?  I’m aiming for three, all stretch goals:

  1. That my family will generate no more than 10 bags of trash this year
  2. That my family will be carbon neutral for our electricity and transportation by 2022
  3. To present 50 free climate change presentations to schools and non-profits this year

Setting and writing down goals has never been a strength for me, so making such a public commitment was a big stretch.  But it’s led to a surprising result:

  1. We produced 9.5 bags of trash last year
  2. We’re in negotiations with a solar panel installer, and hoping for installation in 2020. In the interim, we’re buying green power and green biofuel from Bullfrog Power (no affiliation other than being a customer).
  3. My 50th presentation took place December 10

I guess there really is something to be said about setting – and then writing down – goals.  (In my case, I’m not sure if my motivation came from having a focus or from fear of public failure…)

So – let’s do it again.  First, what are your sustainability goals for 2020?  The more specific, the better – here are some suggestions:

  • To recycle everything you can, every time, without excuse
  • To start composting at home, work or school
  • To waste less of everything, especially food
  • To eat vegetarian at least __ times per week
  • To grow a vegetable garden this summer
  • To buy less stuff
  • To stop using drive-throughs and never idle more than 30 seconds, even in winter
  • To examine how you get around (without excuses), and to resolve to do better by driving less, carpooling, getting a more efficient vehicle and/or taking transit
  • To call or write your elected leaders (at all levels) at least __ times this year
  • To join Al Gore in Las Vegas March 8-10 for a life-changing Climate Leadership training program
  • Or something else, small or big

My 2020 resolutions?  Well, since my three stretch goals worked okay last year, I’ll renew all three (please just hit reply and let me know if you’re interested in one of those 50 free climate change presentations for schools and non-profits) – and add three more:

  1. To work to establish a Sustainability Committee in my neighbourhood, so we can work together toward solutions that will benefit us all
  2. To attend at least six Fridays for the Future climate strikes (totally out of my comfort zone, but I’ve come to believe that sometimes you’ve just got to show up)
  3. To contact my elected representatives at provincial and federal levels at least quarterly to suggest policies and advocate for climate action

I’d love to hear your 2020 sustainability resolutions – and I’ll keep you posted on my progress on mine.  Happy – and sustainable – 2020!

2020 Goals

Practice an attitude of gratitude

When I first heard of the immense power of practising gratitude, I was sceptical.  Just having a warm fuzzy feeling about the good things I have is going to make my life better??

The more I’ve read about it, the more I’ve learned it’s true: practicing gratitude helps us:

  • Be more aware of the blessings we have. I’ve never forgotten this powerful message I once heard from a motivational speaker: “if ever you feel unsatisfied with your life, remember that there are millions of people in the world right now who would trade places with you in an instant.”
  • Be less worried about what we don’t have, so we feel liberated to step off of the treadmill of ‘more stuff’ that is draining our finances, parasitizing our spirituality and ruining our beautiful planet
  • Be healthier and more relaxed
  • Have greater self esteem
  • Care more for others, and have better relationships with loved ones, colleagues and friends

And that’s just the start; there’s much more here.


So this holiday season, why not take a few minutes to relax, ponder your blessings and be grateful?  It will make your day better – and your whole life too if you turn it into a daily habit.

Happy holidays!  (And I’m grateful that you’re a Green Ideas subscriber!)

More ideas for going ‘stuff-free’ this holiday season

Wow – ‘buying less stuff, doing more good’ sure hit a chord two weeks ago!  Here are more ideas for going stuff-free this holiday season:

  • Use your special talent or skill, be it baking, knitting, canning, brewing, winemaking, woodworking, soapmaking or something else, to give a little part of yourself
  • Consider special experiences like ziplining, an escape room, haunted hikes, whale watching, wine tasting, a spa or a weekend getaway – all far more memorable than stuff!
  • Get tickets for special events like plays, sports, concerts or exhibits
  • Give a subscription for a magazine or, perhaps more in tune with the times, for Spotify, Netflix or another streaming service
  • Buy passes for a pool, gym, museum or art gallery
  • Enroll someone in a pottery, weaving, drama, music or other class; if you’re an expert, give the lessons yourself!
  • Offer homemade coupons for household chores, snow removal, handyman tasks or delivered meals, especially for the seniors on your list. Or instead of spending money that took time to earn, why not shortcut the process and just spend time with them?
  • If you still feel the need to buy some token ‘stuff’, shop a secondhand shop for light impact and great value


Less stuff.  Less stress.  More time.  More money.  Better for the planet.  A good plan for this – and every – Christmas.

Why not make ‘doing more good’ your focus this holiday season?

Black Friday and Christmas, the two biggest shopping frenzies of the year, are just around the corner.

True, treating ourselves and giving to others can feel good.  But there are downsides:

  • Most of us don’t need more ‘stuff’. As IKEA’s head of sustainability said a few years ago, “In the west, we have probably hit peak stuff.”  So our genuine desire to give often results in our giving things the recipient neither needs nor wants.  And things we buy for ourselves often lose their lustre once we arrive home and need to find a place for them.
  • As the authors of the Better World Handbook point out, “Everything you own owns you. Everything you buy, you must maintain, store, repair, clean and perhaps insure. Our stuff quickly becomes a psychological burden.”
  • All ‘stuff’ has an environmental footprint that includes everything from manufacturing to transportation to usage to eventual disposal. That footprint tends to be especially large for cheap, mass-produced, poorly designed, low quality, short-lived products shipped long distances.

So how to reconcile our desire to give with our desire to not contribute to the ‘stuff’ problem?

Why not choose to do good instead?  Many wonderful charities, from local to global, offer opportunities to for us to make donations toward meaningful causes in the name of people who we’d otherwise give stuff to.  For example:

  • Through Word Vision, you can donate livestock, medicine, school supplies, solar lights and more to help lift families out of poverty
  • Through Chalice, you can donate mosquito nets, school lunches, clean water systems, new classrooms and more to change the lives of students in need
  • Through the Nature Conservancy of Canada, you can symbolically adopt a polar bear, snowy owl, lynx or other threatened or iconic species
  • Through CanadaHelps (a portal for hundreds of Canadian charities), you can buy a charity gift card that allows the recipient to choose which charity they’d like to support.

No matter what issue you’re most passionate about, there’s a good chance there’s a charity out there that you can make a commemorative donation to.

Buy Less Stuff

So this holiday season, why not set out to buy less stuff and do more good?  Good for your soul, the beneficiaries and our planet.

The social pressure to fly less

Confession time: I love flying, and I’ve had a fascination with airplanes for as long as I can remember.  But my joy of flying has become clouded by flygskam.

Flygskam, the Swedish word for ‘flight shame’, has gained traction in the past few months thanks to Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg’s decision to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a sailboat rather than an airplane.

But… shame?  For something as everyday as flying??  Well, consider:

  • Aviation generates two per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. That may not sound like much, but if global aviation were a country, it would rank in the Top 10 emitters.
  • Emissions from aviation are growing fast: they are projected to be 70 per cent higher in 2020 than they were in 2005. Plane manufacturer Airbus predicts that the number of planes in the sky will double over the next 20 years.
  • Most emissions from airplanes occur high in the atmosphere, and high-altitude emissions have a much greater environmental impact than similar emissions at ground level.

True, new airplanes today are much more fuel efficient than their predecessors – but aviation emissions continue to rise because there are just so many more of them.  And realistic sustainable alternatives like solar or battery powered planes seem far off.

So what to do?  Here are three simple guidelines:

  • First, fly less. Choose alternatives like rail, motor coach or videoconferencing when possible.  Think creatively when planning flight-free vacations.  Set yourself an annual flight limit and live within it.
  • Second, fly light. When flying is unavoidable, pack the smallest suitcase you can, because kilo for kilo, luggage in the air has the same carbon footprint as you do.
  • Third, buy credible carbon offsets, like Gold Standard. (Choose carefully, as not all carbon offsets out there are equal – or legitimate.)


(A thought: if flygskam can help reduce aviation emissions, maybe we could use a little pickuptruckskam and SUVskam next…)

How to stay informed in an information-overload world

If you’re sincerely interested in knowing more about climate change and the solutions we need, getting information you can rely on (without being overwhelmed) can be tough.  Here are a few sources I hope may be of help.

(And: important note: don’t overdo it; one or at most two of these would meet most people’s needs!!)

  • Subscribe to The Guardian’s Green Light weekly email for a roundup of stories, debate and analysis from around the world every Friday. The Guardian is probably the UK’s most committed, credible media outlet on climate.
  • Sign up to The Energy Mix for summaries of top stories about climate, renewable energy, electric vehicles and more. Canadian!  (Or bookmark the page if three emails per week are too many; all stories are filed in an excellent searchable archive.)
  • Subscribe to What On Earth, sent by the CBC every Thursday. The content?  Kind of reminds me of Green Ideas, actually: tips and news…
  • Set up a Google Alert, to get regular emails (at an interval you specify) with top links from around the world on a topic you specify. My daily Google Alert set to ‘climate change’ has been keeping me informed for over a decade.  (Some questionable sources do creep in periodically, so be discerning.)

Do you have a favourite source not listed here?  Why not hit reply and let me know!

Pause, just for a moment

October 9, 2019

In Thanksgiving

One of the highlights of my year has been meeting Jim Merkel and reading his book, “Radical Simplicity: Small footprints on a finite Earth”. It’s a gentle, thought-provoking guide for living lightly on our fragile, limited planet.

Jim’s take on Radical Simplicity goes far beyond just living with less stuff. It’s also about learning to clear our over-stimulated minds of much of the clutter and anxiety of today’s frantic lifestyles, and instead focussing our mental energy on our core values. It’s about reconnecting with what truly sustains us: this planet and its beautiful, complex web of life. Jim describes once being on a team retreat where everyone, regardless of their personal faith tradition, paused for a moment of gratitude, silent or otherwise, before each meal.

On this Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, perhaps that’s one of the best things we can do: pause before we eat for just a moment to ponder the people, plants, animals and planet that make our existence and nourishment possible. We live in a privileged part of the world, and it’s good to be conscious of that. Happy Thanksgiving Day!


First prevent, then cure (or adapt)

“We’ll just adapt.”  It’s a commonly-heard response to climate change from individuals and politicians – and for me, a frustrating one.  True, the sad reality is that we’ve procrastinated so long on emission reduction that we now face some unavoidable consequences.

But “We’ll just adapt” frustrates me for two reasons.  First, because it’s typically a thinly disguised excuse for business as usual, and continued procrastination on climate action.

Secondly, and much more critically, because it implies the speaker actually understands what we’re adapting to, and actually believes there will be a new stability we can hang our hats onto.

It’s my experience that the larger consequences of climate change, such as water shortages, crop failures, food insecurity, political instability, climate refugees and sea level rise (this new report was released just this morning), are poorly understand by most people.  Climate change is not just a few degrees of temperature.

And climate change will accelerate, not stabilize, until we eliminate the emissions that are driving it.  So how can we even think about adapting to something that continues to change and deteriorate?

Perhaps the quote in this meme may be helpful in building understanding of why reducing emissions needs to be our priority.


First, we need to stop the source of climate change, emissions.  Then we can think about adapting to our new reality.

(PS Have an idea for a better analogy?  If so, please share!)

Join a Climate Strike Friday, September 20

One of my favourite music lyrics is from the song You’ve got to stand for something on John Mellencamp’s 1985 album Scarecrow: “You’ve got to stand for somethin’ / or you’re gonna fall for anything.”

If you’re like me, the thought of taking a stand on something – whether by calling a politician, writing a letter or joining a protest march – makes you uneasy.  But what makes me even more uneasy is the prospect of admitting to my sons (and all youth) that I did less than my best in fighting climate change, the defining issue of our time.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterrez has challenged world leaders to come to New York September 23 and pledge more aggressive actions to fight climate change.  Climate Strikes are being held in communities around the world for a week starting September 20 to demand strong action from our political leaders.

Will you be there, even if it’s not comfortable? 


For a map of planned strikes, click here or here (it’s worth checking both because some events are only listed on one).

For all you need to organize your own event, click here (and then register it at the above sites).

And for a zillion reasons why you need to be a climate activist, take a few minutes to check out this compelling TED talk by Luisa Neubauer.

Hope to see you out there!

(PS: Prophesy? The last line of You’ve got to stand for something goes, “We’ve got to start respectin’ this world / or it’s gonna turn around and bite our face off.”)