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!

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.)

Save on paper by using both sides

True story: I can’t remember when I last bought a package of printer paper for my home office. Why?  Because I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping paper that’s just been used on one side, and then using that for ‘internal’ purposes like:

  • Printing anything that’s for my use only (like meeting agendas, speaking notes, outlines, drafts or working copies)
  • Printing anything destined for a file cabinet (like tax e-receipts or project documents)
  • All faxes
  • Scribble sheets for note-taking (in place of notepads)

And more!  In fact, I’ve discovered that very little of my printing actually requires clean, new paper.

Interested in saving on paper in your home or workplace?  It’s easy – just place a small bin beside your printer and/or fax machine for paper that’s been only used on one side (be sure there’s no sensitive info on the side that has been used).  Then encourage everyone to take from that bin when they need to print or scribble, and contribute to it with their own ‘half-used paper’.

(And please recycle paper after it’s been used on both sides!)

Inspiring words from Ray Anderson

You’ve probably never heard of Ray Anderson – but the world would be a far different place if all corporate leaders thought, and then acted, as he did.

Ray Anderson was the CEO of Interface, the world’s largest commercial carpet manufacturer.  In the summer of 1994, he had an “an epiphanal experience, a total change of mindset” about sustainability.  That began a process that has made Interface the world’s most sustainable carpet company in the world, with a plan to be net-zero in everything by 2020.

But instead of me writing about it, why not hear it straight from Ray, in this powerful video? It’s well worth the four minutes.

Then read about Interface’s progress on its Mission Zero plan here.

Toothpaste, soap and a moisturizer/fragrance

A few years ago, our family went on a four week backpacking vacation.  If you’ve ever backpacked, you know ounces count – so one of our weight-saving strategies was to limit our toiletries to one tube of toothpaste, a small bar of soap, a bit of moisturizing cream and some sunblock.  Light and simple, they suited our needs perfectly.

Akamai, a new personal care company, suggests that most of us could live on just three personal care products: toothpaste, soap (for skin and hair) and an oil spray for fragrance and moisture. So that’s all it offers.

Akamai’s motivation isn’t weight in your backpack; it’s sustainability and simplicity.  In the words of the co-founder, “Typical personal care product companies want you to consume more of their products, so they say wash your hair and body every day.  We have been led into this false sense of what is required to have healthy skin, teeth and hair.”

Plus – more products mean more chemicals, water, packaging and transportation.

So why not consider simplifying your toiletries cupboard?  Good for you, good for your wallet, good for the environment.  And, if you travel, good for your back!

Straws suck

June 6, 2017

Plastic straws? Just say no.

A plastic straw seems pretty small and innocuous.

But consider this: 500 million of them are used in just the US every day. Few are recycled; many end up in the ocean. They’re one of the top 10 pieces of trash collected in beach cleanups around the world, according to the Surfrider Association. And they’re hazardous for marine mammals, as is obvious in this video (warning: graphic) of a straw being pulled from the nostril of a sea turtle.

The Town of Tofino, BC, has launched a campaign, Straws Suck, and most of the town’s restaurants have stopped serving plastic straws. Thelastplasticstraw.org aims to get restaurants to stop serving straws, and NoStrawPlease encourages people to pledge to go without straws, and help spread the word.

In your own small way, you can help too. For most of us, straw usage is more habit than necessity – so, the next time you order a drink, why not just say no when it comes to plastic drinking straws?

Our incredible potential for keeping waste out of the landfill

This pie chart from the US EPA represents the waste profile of a typical municipality.

Waste profile

Do you notice what I notice?

  • Over a quarter of our waste is organic (food or yard trimmings), which is completely compostable
  • Another quarter is paper, which is almost entirely recyclable
  • 8% is plastics, much of which is recyclable
  • 1% is metal, which is recyclable
  • 2% is wood, which can be composted or repurposed for fuel

Add up those numbers and you can see that if we recycled, composted or otherwise diverted everything possible, we could keep at least three-quarters of our waste out of the landfill (and that’s not including glass, which is recyclable in many places).

That would greatly reduce the need for fresh resources; and vastly extend the lives of our landfills.

So – what’s in your trash bin right now?  If you’re not diverting everything you can, why not make a commitment right now?

Take a minute to imagine the potential if we all recycled and composted everything we could – then do your part to make it happen!

Bottled water? Just say no.

Oops… during a presentation to a high school audience last week, I let it slip that one of my greatest environmental frustrations is bottled water.

Why bottled water?  Because:

  • Most bottled water is not natural spring water, but merely filtered tap water.
  • Most bottled water is not local; it’s trucked long distances and has a huge transportation footprint.
  • The Maritimes have plenty of clean, clear water; surely it’s the last thing we should be sending our money out-of-province for!
  • Most empty water bottles are not recycled; instead, they end up in landfills, roadsides or waterways. A recent study warned that the world’s oceans may contain more plastic than fish by 2050.  Yuck!
  • The water bottles that are recycled don’t come back as bottles; they’re ‘downcycled’ into products like carpet, which eventually end up in a landfill anyway.

You can make a difference, with one simple choice: seek out a tap or fountain, and, whenever possible, just say no to bottled water. On the tree of environmental solutions, it’s hard to find lower hanging fruit.

A truly green thumb!

March 28, 2017

Use compostable or biodegradable pots for your spring plantings

If you’re like me, the longer days and warmer sun have you digging out seeds and potting soil.  When starting plants indoors, why not consider using compostable or biodegradable pots instead of plastic ones?  Here are a few options:

  • Peat pots: very common commercially
  • Cardboard: egg cartons work really well; so do empty paper towel or toilet paper rolls trimmed to size (picture here).
  • Newspaper: ever tried origami? With a bit of folding, you can easily make your own pots; here’s a nice video showing how.  (It’s a good idea to avoid coated or heavily coloured paper.)

Another advantage over plastic: no need to remove them or risk damaging roots when transplanting, because they’re completely biodegradable!

More and more commercial nurseries are moving away from plastic pots; so why not you and me too?