January is a great time to declutter

If you’re like me, maybe you’re finding the garage is a bit fuller than it used to be, the basement is filled with stuff that’s rarely used and the desk is full of important papers that haven’t been touched in months.  All signs that it’s time to declutter!

Where to be.gin?  The David Suzuki Foundation’s Queen of Green has an excellent step-by-manageable-step process for decluttering.  It starts decluttering one corner of your bedroom, and builds from there to your home office, kitchen, garage and storage locker.  Instead of me cutting and pasting, why not check out the original posting here?  It’s worth a read.

Then happy decluttering!

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Last-minute tips for a low-stress, greener Christmas

Still scrambling for gifts?  Me too, in spite of my annual promise to self that it won’t happen again.

Here are a few ideas to help you cross those last names off your list – and tread more lightly on the planet in the process!

  • 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, theatre or dinner at a local restaurant
  • Homemade items like knitted goods, baking, preserves, soap and crafts

And:

  • Shop secondhand stores 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 or animal shelter
  • Purchase carbon offsets for your friends. Learn more at tinyurl.com/COffsetInfo.

Even more ideas here.  So don’t stress out, and Happy Green Holidays!

Homemade toothpaste?

December 5, 2017

Simple recipe, simple ingredients, simple process

I’ve always been a bit hesitant about homemade toothpaste, soap and detergent.  How could they be as good as the commercial stuff, and aren’t they a nuisance to make and use?  But I think I’m coming around: my wife has started making soap and my sisters have started making toothpaste and laundry detergent!

So here’s my sister’s recipe for homemade toothpaste – pretty simple, with ingredients available at the grocery store, pharmacy or health food store:

  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2-4 tablespoons baking soda or a combination of baking soda and sea salt
  • Up to one tablespoon xylitol powder (optional)
  • 20 drops cinnamon or clove essential oil (optional)
  • 20 drops peppermint essential oil (optional)

And it just takes five minutes to make.  You can dip your toothbrush into it (like a finger in the peanut butter jar) or, if it’s for family use, use a popsicle stick.

Here’s an alternate but similar recipe, and here’s a bit more about the dos and don’ts of homemade toothpaste.  Happy brushing!

Thanks to sis and subscriber Yvonne Duivenvoorden for today’s Green Idea!

Flush a little less?…

I was a bit shocked last week to read that the average American uses 57 squares of bathroom tissue a day, or fifty pounds a year.  I’m guessing we Canadians aren’t much different.

57 squares: that’s a lot of paper – by my math, nearly six metres or 20 feet!  Unfortunately, recycled fibres make up only a small percentage of that; the vast majority of bathroom tissue is virgin fibre.

Upstream of consumers, that’s a lot of trees, energy, water and other resources used.  Downstream of us, that’s a lot of flushed fibre for our sewage systems to handle and process.

TP is a consumer staple we don’t often talk about, but it clearly has a significant environmental impact.

So what to do?  Perhaps two simple things.

First, since Reduce is always the most important of the three Rs, strive to use just a bit less every trip to the WC.  Small actions by many equal huge differences.

Second, choose the most eco-friendly paper you can; look for high post-consumer recycled content and third-party certifications such as the Forest Stewardship Council logo.

(And that’s a wipe… I mean, a wrap.)

Five ways to improve your indoor air quality

From a recent blog post I read: “Commercials and slick marketing techniques have led us to believe that ‘clean’ equates to a scent that you would not find in nature.  But what does a clean home really smell like?  Nothing at all!

It’s true: we’ve become accustomed to air ‘fresheners’ and ‘fresh’ smells in our cleaning products.  But often the chemicals that produce those pleasant smells are very unnatural concoctions, negatively impacting the quality of the air where most of us spend most of our time: indoors.

So what to do?  Here are five quick tips for better indoor air quality:

  • Choose fragrance-free products, because most ‘fragrances’ are chemicals your lungs and skin would be better off without
  • Avoid aerosols, because they create fine particles that are more likely to be inhaled because they float in the air longer; use spray pumps instead
  • Look for logos of third party certification like EcoLogo (Canada) or Safer Choice (US EPA); don’t accept manufacturer claims of ‘green’, ‘natural’ or ‘new and improved’ at face value
  • Read labels, and beware of vague ingredients like ‘parfum’ or ‘preservative’
  • Diffuse natural oils like lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus or others to naturally freshen your air

More info here and here (the sources of this info)!

Be conscious of palm oil’s impacts, and strive to choose wisely

From a news article I read last month: “Few ingredients highlight the planet-friendly dilemma more than palm oil. Found in everything from margarine to ice-cream, this ubiquitous vegetable oil is natural and plant-based, yet it’s also linked with the destruction of vast tracts of rainforest.”

And that about sums it up:

  • Global demand for palm oil has skyrocketed; it’s used in just about everything, including biofuels
  • Global production of palm oil has skyrocketed, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia
  • A significant consequence has been the clearing of tropical rainforest, the lungs of the planet, to make way for palm oil plantations

So what’s a caring consumer to do?

  • Look for the logo of the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPOPalmOil) on the products you buy; it’s an indicator of sustainably-produced palm oil. If you can’t find it, look for the Green Palm logo, indicating products in transition to sustainable palm oil.
  • Check out the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Palm Oil Scorecard to see how your favourite brands are doing
  • Learn the real story of palm oil through this interactive website from the Guardian

And then do your best to make wise choices!

Let the kids walk, bike or take a ‘walking school bus’

A great cartoon makes us chuckle even as it points out an uncomfortable truth – as does this one, by Ian Lockwood, an expert in sustainable transportation by day and a cartoonist by night.

Carpool

Transportation is a huge part of most people’s footprint.  When it comes to driving our kids to school, another uncomfortable truth is that the favour we’re trying to do for them pales in comparison to the environmental damage we’re inflicting upon their generation.  Plus distracted parents can be downright hazardous as they hurry in and out of the school parking lot.

So what to do?

  • If there’s a school bus, let the kids take it
  • Do a rational assessment of risks, and let kids walk or bike whenever possible; outfit them with the clothes they need for inclement weather
  • Consider organizing a ‘walking school bus’ in your neighbourhood, where a group of students accompanied by one adult (or an older student living near the origin of the route) walk to school and are joined by more and more students as they near the school; it could be as simple as making one phone call
  • Consider public transportation where it is available; safe, with well-trained operators
  • If driving is unavoidable, carpool: every shared ride is one less car on the road or congesting the schoolyard
  • In all cases, help your kids develop solid safety habits – habits that will serve them well far beyond school years.

Ever wonder how much land it takes to support your lifestyle?

I often share with audiences the story of when I first completed an online Global Footprint questionnaire a decade ago.  I was shocked when it told me that if everyone lived like me, we’d need four planets.  Four planets.  It was a ‘light bulb moment’ that launched me on a journey to consume less – a journey that continues to this day.

Ever wonder what your footprint on the planet is?  You can find out quickly and easily, thanks to this new and updated calculator developed by the Global Footprint Network.

The downside: you may find your results a bit disconcerting.  The upside: the calculator will show where your largest impacts are, so you can zero in on what actions will make the biggest difference.

My footprint today?  According to the calculator, 2.4 planets, with the largest opportunities for improvement being travel and diet.  The journey continues.

Grace in carpooling

August 28, 2017

Guidelines for a smooth carpooling experience

Recall August 16’s Green Ideas?  Going car-less is one of the best things we can do for the planet.  Alas, for many of us, it’s really difficult too.

But carpooling can make a huge difference in our transportation footprint.  Here are seven simple rules to make it simple, safe, economical and even fun for all:

  1. Select a convenient meeting/pick-up spot that’s central, safe and easy to get to
  2. Show up on time
  3. Make group agreements or ground rules about eating, drinking, music, chatting, phone calls etc. during the commute
  4. Keep a schedule and track driver turns
  5. Agree on a cost per trip for those without vehicles
  6. Take your turn in the uncomfortable seat
  7. Keep your car interior tidy, and take your trash with you when riding in someone else’s car

It’s not quite car-free, but carpooling is a huge step forward – so why not try it with your neighbours and colleagues?

Thanks to Lindsay Coulter, David Suzuki’s Queen of Green, for this Green Idea; a more complete list can be found here.

The Big Four

August 12, 2017

The most important ways to reduce your carbon footprint

There is much fruit on the proverbial ‘tree of sustainability solutions’.  Some of it is large fruit, some of it is small.  Some of it is high in the tree and hard to reach, some of it is low-hanging and easily picked.

Make no mistake: EVERY act of sustainability is a good act.  But if our goal is to make the greatest difference, it’s the large fruit we want.

Unfortunately, it’s usually not low hanging.  A study published last month concluded that the four biggest ways we can reduce our carbon footprint are:

  • Eating a plant-based diet
  • Avoiding air travel
  • Living car free
  • Having smaller families

Uncomfortable?  Me too.  Those are tough.

But perhaps much solace can be taken from the fact that each of these can be chipped away at slowly.  (Even the fourth?  Yes, because large families committed to sustainability can have smaller carbon footprints than small families without such commitment; and perhaps the former can teach the latter.)

Again, to be clear: every act of sustainability is a good act.  But if our goal is to make the biggest difference, it’s good to know where that big difference can be made.