The scourge of plastic microfibers

Polyester, nylon and other synthetic fabrics have become mainstays of our wardrobes (including mine – I’m wearing a fleece as I write this).

But every time you wash clothing made from those materials, microscopic bits of fibre break off.  Thousands of these microfibers break off of a fleece like mine every single wash.  They’re too small to be captured by municipal waste treatment systems, so they end up in waterways and eventually oceans.  (Learn more from this recent story from CBC’s The Current.)

So what to do?  Here are 15 ways to help stop microfiber pollution:

  1. Wash synthetic clothing less often
  2. Use a colder wash setting
  3. Use liquid soap instead of powder
  4. Watch the Story of Stuff’s microfiber movie
  5. Most importantly: where possible, buy clothes made of natural fibres like cotton, linen and wool

And read the other 10 tips here.

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The paradox of pickups

March 27, 2018

Obstacles on the road to more efficient transportation

Confession time: the abundance of pickup trucks on our highways is one of my bigger frustrations as an environmental advocate.  Let’s see if I can explain why in five quick points:

  1. Virtually all world leaders and climate scientists accept that the ‘safe upper limit’ for climate change is 2⁰C (and we’ve already warmed about half that)
  2. If we want to stay under that 2⁰C limit, scientists calculate that we can emit no more than about 500 billion tonnes of carbon – our global ‘carbon budget’. Sounds like a lot, but…
  3. At today’s global emission levels, we will use up that entire ‘carbon budget’ in just 15 years – IE before today’s newborns will complete high school*
  4. About a quarter of Canada’s emissions come from transportation, and they’ve been rising steadily since 1990, in large part due to trucks and SUVs
  5. In decarbonizing our world, simply choosing more efficient transportation is the ultimate ‘low hanging fruit’ – yet trucks and SUVs still dominate the vehicle ads I see, the roads I travel and the dealer lots I pass

Arg!!

So what to do?

  • If you’re in the market for a vehicle, try to resist pickup truck marketing pitches and choose the most efficient vehicle that meets your everyday needs. (Besides, if the dealer is offering $10,000 in discounts and freebies, imagine what the price of the truck must be!)
  • If you drive a pickup, strive to drive it as little as possible and replace it with something more efficient as soon as you can.
  • No matter what you drive, you can save significantly on fuel by being easy on the gas and easy on the brake; some good tips from Natural Resources Canada here.

(PS: I’d give an exemption to working trucks – unfortunately, I don’t see many of them out there…)

*Here’s a four-minute video explaining our carbon budget with crystal clarity.

Transitioning, gently, away from meat

A few summers ago, my son took part in a wonderful enrichment and entrepreneurship program for high school students called SHAD.  Together with a team of colleagues, he had to develop a project around the theme of food security: how can we feed seven billion people in an increasingly resource constrained world?

His team’s idea?  ‘Grub Tub’, a system for farming insect larva for animal or human consumption.

‘Grub Tub’ didn’t win the class competition, but I’m thinking they were onto something.  Humans, and North Americans in particular, consume a lot of meat, and, alas, that comes with a big carbon footprint.  With growing awareness of that footprint comes growing interest in alternatives.  Here are two I’ve discovered recently:

  • The humble pea is getting much attention and investment as a highly nutritious plant-based food ingredient. According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 170 new food products containing pea protein were launched in 2015 alone!  Among the investors: movie director James Cameron.
  • Loblaws, Canada’s largest grocer, has started selling President’s Choice cricket powder as an alternative protein ingredient. Eating insects is definitely a paradigm shift for most of us (remember this classic scene from The Lion King?), but insects are an eco-friendly source of protein and are being eaten by more and more people around the world – so why not here too?

As the issue of global food security looms larger, maybe we’d all do well to re-evaluate our meat consumption.  Maybe the above two options can be viable alternatives.  And maybe it’s time for my son and his team to bring back their ‘Grub Tub’ idea!

DIY, the bar soap edition

February 26, 2018

Making your own bar soap is easier than you think

You may remember that in a Green Ideas a month ago, I mentioned my own hesitation about homemade toothpaste, soap and detergent.  How could they be as good as the commercial stuff, and aren’t they a nuisance to make?  But my wife has started making soap and my sisters have started making toothpaste and laundry detergent – so who am I to argue??

So here’s the last of the trio: how to make your own bar soap.

First, two basic rules:

  • Making soap is a chemical process, so ingredients need to be measured accurately, by weight not volume. Chocolate chip cookie recipes may have a bit of leeway, but soap recipes do not.
  • Lye is sodium hydroxide, which can burn your skin, so it must be handled with care. Always add lye to liquid ingredients, not the other way around, to prevent splashing, and do it in a well ventilated area.

Then get a recipe, like this simple one, assemble your ingredients and equipment, and follow the process indicated.  For a ‘second opinion’, here’s the same process from a different source.  And here are a bunch more recipes.

One last tip: don’t get overwhelmed by TMI, too much information; just start simple, and then diversify into new recipes whenever you’re ready.

Happy soap making!

Spreadin’ the love!

February 13, 2018

From flowers to chocolate, spread the love further with Fair Trade

It’s Valentine’s Day – I hope you’re getting flowers and chocolate!  Or maybe you’re the one buying them.  If so, why not look or ask for Fair Trade?

Fair TradeFair Trade is an international certification program that ensures reasonable compensation for the farmers and workers who produce products like cocoa, flowers, coffee and more (nicely explained here).  Fair Trade products are independently monitored to ensure they meet standards of financial and environmental sustainability.
Fair Trade chocolate still only represents a small share of the total market, so you may have to look for it – but Ferrero, Mars, Nestle and Hershey’s have some Fair Trade products.  Fair Trade flowers are still quite rate, but why not ask your florist, to get the snowball rolling?

And why stop at chocolate and flowers?  Here’s a list of Fair Trade products and brands available in Canada.

So off you go, hopeless romantics everywhere – and happy Valentine’s Day!

“Cheap – easy – works very well”

You may remember that in a Green Ideas a month ago, I mentioned my own hesitation 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 my wife has started making soap and my sisters have started making toothpaste and laundry detergent – so who am I to argue??

So here’s my sister’s simple recipe for laundry detergent.  Ingredients:

  • Four bars Ivory soap (or other natural, unscented soap)
  • 1 cup borax
  • 1 cup washing soda (not baking soda – difference explained here; not all stores carry it so you may need to ask for it; quite alkaline so handle with care)

Melt soap in a pot with some water (or grate it in a food processor).  Dump into a five gallon pail, then add borax and soda, and stir.  Top the pail up with water, and let stand overnight.  Then stir (with a big whisk or a paint mixer on a drill if you have one) and pour into jugs.  Shake before using, and use about a cup per load.  My sister’s comment: “Cheap – easy – works very well.”  And she’s a farmer, dealing with tougher stains than most of us do!

If you’re looking for smaller batch options, here are a few alternate but similar recipes from Grist and Mother Earth News.  And since some people aren’t fond of using borax, here’s a recipe that swaps it out for baking soda.  Happy laundering!

PS: Remember to always keep all soaps, detergents and their ingredients safely out of reach of children.

Thanks to sis Jane Duivenvoorden for today’s Green Idea!

Just avoid Bitcoin

Perhaps you’ve heard of Bitcoin – a ‘virtual currency’ not tied to any government, central bank or country, with no actual coins or paper notes.  It exists only on the internet – Bitcoins are created and spent through a complicated system of computer calculations, passwords and cryptography.

I’m thinking I can’t be the only one who finds this all very mind-blowing.

But here’s a disturbing reality about Bitcoins: they are created (or ‘mined’) and transacted by computers processing an enormous number of calculations.  That uses electricity, most of which comes from fossil fuel power plants.  It’s estimated that, globally, Bitcoin mining and usage now consume as much electricity as Bulgaria, and it’s growing exponentially.  (Really great facts here.)

So what to do?

  • Just avoid the Bitcoin bandwagon; stick to conventional or electronic transactions in conventional currencies; and
  • Avoid buying from any merchant that accepts Bitcoin (here’s a list), because a lack of market is the best way to derail what is clearly a huge, looming environmental problem

(Besides, doesn’t Bitcoin sound a little too much like the great Dutch Tulip Mania of the 1600s?…)

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!

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!