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.

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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?

Choose the most eco-friendly bathroom tissue

Not all bathroom tissue is created equal – in fact, there are huge differences between the most and least eco-friendly types.  Considering how much of it we use, it makes good sense to choose the most eco-friendly.  Here are four tips:

  1. Look for 100% recycled paper with as high a content of post-consumer waste as possible. Post-consumer waste is paper collected from recycling programs (newspapers, flyers, envelopes, etc.), so a high level really means that you are saving a tree.  Paper made from recycled pre-consumer waste (print overruchlorine-freens, trimmings, etc.) isn’t as good, but it’s still better than paper made from virgin fibre.
  2. Look for paper certified as ‘processed chlorine free’. If you can’t find the logo, look for a statement about low or no chlorine use.
  3. Choose large or double rolls over small ones: they mean fewer cardboard tubes and less plastic packaging.
  4. Look for paper wrapped in recyclable #4 plastic, and recycle it with your other soft plastic (IE grocery bags, bread bags, milk bags).

And, don’t forget that the first of the three Rs, Reduce, is by far the most important one!

(Below is a label I spotted on a package recently – not perfect, but pretty good!)

label

Better ways to wrap

Wrapping paper, long a part of our holiday traditions, has an unfortunate downside: it’s not recyclable.  That’s because it usually has a very high ink content, may be laminated with non-paper materials and may have plastic, ribbons and glitter mixed in.

The good news: there are MANY alternatives to wrapping paper that can be as fun and festive.  Here are a few:

  • Paper gift bags that can be used over and over; or even home-decorated lunchbags
  • Fabric bags with festive designs
  • Festive scarves, or a square of seasonal fabric from your local fabric shop
  • Newspaper, especially the comics page; or any page decorated with homemade art
  • Cans, jars, baskets or tins (my wife intercepted a beautiful, large cookie tin on its way to the trash at a recent office event!)
  • Old calendars or maps (which can be big enough to wrap just about anything!)
  • Leftover wallpaper scraps

Seasons greetings and best wishes for 2017!

santa

Two thoughts, many possibilities

I recently read a piece where the author confessed that her most vivid memories of childhood Christmases were not of gifts, but of people and traditions.  The author of another piece wrote that her own transition to a minimalist Christmas was prompted by waking up on too many boxing days with the sinking feeling that somehow, in the flurry of consumerism, the very best of Christmas had been missed yet again.

Two good reasons to aspire to a ‘less stuff’ holiday, and here’s a third: all that stuff isn’t very good for the planet either.

So here are some ideas to help you edge toward a stuff-less holiday:

Happy stuff-less holidays!

Why not use alternatives to glow sticks?

In recent decades, glow sticks have become popular, especially at parties, dances, concerts – and Halloween, of course! It’s no wonder: they’re simple sources of short-term light, available in a range of fun colors.

But the post-glow reality is that they’re really not very eco-friendly:

  • They’re not recyclable: besides the color-producing chemicals, glow sticks contain chemicals to keep the plastic flexible, and those same chemicals make the plastic unsuitable for recycling.
  • We use an awful lot of them: 100 million a year, according to one website on the subject
  • Some end up in the ocean: where they may be eaten by marine life or float for a long, long time.

What to do?

  • Reduce, the first R: strive to go without when possible
  • Use alternatives: for safety, consider reflective strips; for visibility, use an LED flashlight or headlamp. (For bonus points: power them with rechargeable batteries!)

Have fun and be safe for Halloween or your next social event – but strive to do it without glow sticks!