Buy your milk in bags

Milk is a staple of virtually every household, but what type of milk packaging is the most eco-friendly? All three types of milk packaging – jugs, cartons and bags – are recyclable. But unfortunately not all are accepted by all recycling programs.

As well, recycling isn’t a perfect solution: collecting and transporting recyclables costs time, money and fuel – especially when the end destination of those recyclables is half a world away.  Where I live, jugs and cartons are recycled, but in China.  Yep – sorted, baled, stuffed into a container and shipped thousands of kilometres.

So what’s a consumer’s greenest option for milk packaging?

  1. Check with your local solid waste authority to see what’s accepted for recycling, and then choose accordingly. In spite of its shortcomings, recycling is still better than trashing.
  2. Choose the biggest size available; one big jug or carton uses less material than two or more small ones.
  3. If all three types of packaging are recycled where you live, choose plastic bags:
  • they are lighter (less material and less weight to transport)
  • both the outer and inner bags are the same soft plastic as grocery bags so they can be mixed in with them (but inner bags must be well rinsed of residual milk)
  • they may be recycled locally (as they are here in NB) as opposed to being shipped to China; and
  • soft plastics (#4 LDPE) are one of those rare materials that can be perfectly recycled: that is, reprocessed back into the very same types of products over and over again.

Close your fridge door as quickly as possible

Particularly in this season of warmth, it’s worth being reminded of a common sense tip: you can save money and energy by opening your refrigerator as infrequently as possible, opening the door only as widely as necessary and closing it as quickly as possible.

To help remember, imagine your fridge as being full of water.  It comes gushing out each time you open the door.  The more frequently, the wider and the longer you open the door, the more water that ends up on your floor.

Cold air in your fridge is like that water: it’s heavier than warm air, so it comes tumbling out each time the fridge door opens.  And the more cold air that escapes, the more your fridge needs to work to replace it.  That costs energy and money.

So the next time you open your fridge, imagine that it’s full of water and act accordingly.  Your fridge will thank you by using less energy!

Taking back the only thing that is truly ours

If poverty is having less than you need, many of us live in a new kind of poverty brought on by the demands of our hurried, frenzied world: time poverty.  I came across that phrase recently in The Better World Handbook (New Society Publishers).

From the book: “The quest to “have it all” has programmed us to have overscheduled, frazzled, harried lives where we run from place to place without much sense of where we are going.  Stretching ourselves too thinly sucks out the meaning of daily experiences.”  It’s not very good for the planet either.

The authors suggest, “We must learn to think, feel, communicate and experience the world beyond the confines of material possessions.  We must commit to leading lives fuelled by compassion and love rather than by consumption and personal gain.”

In other words, if life is a treadmill where the cost of accumulating all our stuff is time poverty, perhaps it’s worth reassessing our priorities: slowing down and consuming less; relaxing, living and laughing more.  Aspiring to less stuff and more time.  Better for us, better for the planet.

Something to think about this vacation season!

Sunscreen is as much a part of summer as ice cream is. But have you ever paused to wonder just what’s in that stuff you put on your skin? (I’m definitely wondering, given what it does to my shirt collars and sleeves.)

Do a bit of research and you quickly realize that finding the very best sunscreen is a complicated affair. Perhaps the simplest, clearest advice comes from David Suzuki’s Queen of Green: choose a sunscreen that:

  • Is well rated by the Environmental Working Group
  • Offers broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays
  • Is free of toxic materials, particularly oxybenzone and retinyl palmate (a form of vitamin A)
  • Is a cream, not a spray or powder
  • Offers SPF 30 protection (lower is not enough, higher offers negligible extra protection)

(Of course, the best protection comes from covering up with a good hat and clothing, and avoiding the midday sun altogether.)

Enjoy this summer with safe, effective, eco-friendly sunscreen!

Keep cool with less AC

June 21, 2016

How to stay cool and reduce your air conditioning bill

Finally, summer – most people’s favourite season – is here.  But how quickly our weather transitions from pleasant to hot, and we find ourselves turning on the air conditioning!

In many places, more electricity is used on hot summer days than in the cold of winter.  Much of that peak power comes from fossil fuels, and much of it is used for air conditioning.  (Yes, there is a certain irony about that fact.)  So reducing our use of air conditioning is a great way to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Here are four ways to do just that:

  • Install blinds, shades or curtains, and keep them closed when sunlight is most intense. Retractable awnings work well too, and still allow light in.
  • Open windows in the evening to take advantage of overnight coolness; close them before you leave in the morning to keep things cool as long as possible.
  • When air conditioning becomes necessary, nudge the thermostat up a few degrees and invite everyone to dress lightly. (Already this summer, I’ve been chilly in over-conditioned buildings.) Even then, use the AC as sparingly as possible.
  • Longer term: plant trees strategically to provide shade plus free natural cooling; some good advice here. (‘Aha’ fact: exposed dark asphalt gets very hot and heats the surrounding air, so consider planting trees to shade paved areas too.)

Don’t overheat this summer – but by using less air conditioning, you’ll help prevent the planet from overheating.

For fun and food, build a bean tepee

Everyone – kid and former kid – loves a secret place!  So why not build a bean tepee in your backyard?

It’s simple: all you need are a few poles and some string to build a frame – easy instructions here. (Igloos and other creative designs are possible too, depending on how elaborate a frame you’d like to build.)

Then plant some pole bean or pea seeds at the base of each pole and water.  Watch as your plants grow, wind their way up the poles and close in the walls.


Presto: a fun play place for anyone, with the bonus of delicious fresh veggies!

Thanks to Don Ross for this Green Idea!

‘An Inconvenient Truth’ ten years on

I still get goosebumps when I think back to April 9, 2007.

I had just arrived at the Nashville Hilton to attend a training session led by former US Vice President Al Gore.  Knowing that Mr. Gore would kick things off with a live presentation of his newly-famous slideshow, I claimed myself a front-row-centre seat in the hotel ballroom.

The place was buzzing with anticipation as the MC went through her opening remarks.  Then, with a quick glance to the side of the room, she announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, the Honourable Al Gore” – and in walked the former VP.

For the next 90 minutes, I and 200 other trainees from around the world sat mesmerized as he presented his Oscar-winning slideshow about our climate crisis.  I introduced myself at a reception later that evening, and this photo was taken.  And two days later I came home and changed my life and my career.  For me, it was an epiphanal experience.

Yesterday, May 24, marked the tenth anniversary of the release of “An Inconvenient Truth”, the documentary that awakened the world to climate change.  Much has happened over the past decade – both convenient and inconvenient – but much remains to be done.

Even as we take heart in the progress made, may each of us face forward with renewed resolve to solve our climate crisis: to make changes in our own lives, and to demand action of our political leaders, regardless of political affiliation.

Clean the coils on your fridge and freezer

The warmer the weather gets, the harder our fridges and freezers need to work.  In the process, they disperse heat through their coils, which are located on the back or underneath.  But over time, dust can build up on those coils, making them disperse that heat less efficiently.

So this week’s Green Idea is a simple one: the next time you have your vacuum cleaner out, why not make a quick swipe over those coils to clear off that dust?  Your fridge and freezer will work more efficiently, consume less power, save you a bit of money and last longer – all good things!

Thanks to Bullfrog Power ( for this Green Idea!

It’s safer and better to just avoid grass fires

When I was a kid, it was a rite of spring for people to burn lawns, fields and roadside grass. I remember being curious about why they did it, and being told that apparently it made lawns green up more quickly. Or the ash fertilized the emerging new grass. Or burning got rid of weed seeds.

I’ve since learned that none of those reasons are valid. Lawns only look greener because of the scorched, black backdrop. Much of the nutritive value of the plant residue goes up in smoke. Weed seeds are dispersed the previous year, so most escape burning.

Three more downsides of grass burning:

  • First, it’s a risky practice. Springtime is by far the busiest time for my local volunteer fire department.
  • Second, grassfire smoke creates challenges for people with breathing problems.
  • Third, burning releases carbon dioxide into the air; allowing residues to rot naturally or compost instead preserves that carbon for the soil, where it does good. (The same goes for brush and wood residue, which enrich the forest floor when allowed to rot naturally.)

So – please share this with anyone who still thinks burning grass is a good thing to do (and here’s a nice myth-busting one-pager). It’s a spring ritual we need to rethink!

Put an “Eat Me First” bin in your fridge

You’ve paid for that food – so of course it will get eaten, right?

Alas, maybe not. According to the UN, one third of food produced for human consumption is wasted. Fruits and veggies have the highest wastage rates of any food.

Much of that waste happens at home – including in our fridges, where things can quietly languish until they go bad.

But here’s a simple solution: create an “Eat Me First” bin or basket for your fridge (and it’s exactly what it sounds like!). Then just get into the habit of putting whatever needs to be eaten soonest into it, and checking there first when searching for a snack or preparing a meal.

You’ll cut down on food waste and save money: two good things! More info here.

Thanks to Lindsay Coulter, David Suzuki’s Queen of Green, for this Green Idea!


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