Category Archives: Water

Safely dispose of your prescription drugs

Many people make New Year’s resolutions to get their home more organized and clutter-free. Regularly cleaning out the medicine cabinet and getting rid of old, expired or unwanted prescription and over-the-counter medications, vitamins and supplements is important. In the past, we were encouraged to flush these down the toilet or put them in the garbage. Well, it turns out that neither of those options is generally good.

Our municipal sewage treatment plants were not designed to remove many of these chemicals and antibiotics, steroids and all kinds of other drugs are turning up in low levels in our lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater. The number of different kinds of drugs, hormones and chemicals that we use and discharge into our watersheds is growing— not just from medications, but also from personal care products. Even the drugs that we use that aren’t completely used by our bodies are excreted and passed into the wastewater stream. All of this is starting to increase risks to our ecological systems and aquatic life in unforeseen ways. Although there don’t appear to be any adverse human health effects yet, the long-term effects are not clear and this is the subject of all kinds of research.

When drugs are tossed directly into the garbage, there’s a risk that kids and animals can get them— that can be a really bad thing, depending on what’s in there! These drugs can leach from landfills into our ground water and come back to haunt us.

For the best option to dispose of your prescription medications, talk to your doctor or pharmacist or call your city’s waste management service to find out if there’s a community drug collection, take-back and disposal program. If there isn’t one in your community, follow these steps from the
Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet or drain unless the label or accompanying patient information specifically instructs you to do so. For information on drugs that should be flushed visit the FDA’s website.

To dispose of prescription drugs not labeled to be flushed, you may be able to take advantage of community drug take-back programs or other programs, such as household hazardous waste collection events, that collect drugs at a central location for proper disposal. Call your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service and ask if a drug take-back program is available in your community.

If a drug take-back or collection program is not available follow these steps from the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s guidelines :

1. Take your prescription drugs out of their original containers.

2. Mix drugs with an undesirable substance, such as cat litter or used coffee grounds.

3. Put the mixture into a disposable container with a lid, such as an empty margarine tub, or into a sealable bag.

4. Conceal or remove any personal information, including Rx number, on the empty containers by covering it with black permanent marker or duct tape, or by scratching it off.

5. Place the sealed container with the mixture, and the empty drug containers, in the trash.

Save Water with Rain Barrels for Garden Watering

If you’re a gardener that has access to an unlimited supply of water, consider yourself lucky. There are many of us who live in drought zones where the garden and lawn watering rules are very constrictive to the healthy growth of gardens and plants.

Many people just give up when they find out how few gallons of water they are permitted to use, but some of us have just found ways to cope with less water. There are many ways to optimize your garden to conserve water while still keeping it lush.

Some of the ways include drip irrigation (the use of a pipe or hose with small holes to allow water to gradually seep into the root zones of plants), the placement of plants in groups with equal watering needs (to prevent wasting water on plants that don’t need as much), and using compost or mulch to minimize evaporation and runoff of the water.

Occasionally a period of drought will be forecasted far in advanced, or those already experiencing a drought will be given a rare reprieve, with heavy rains.  To take advantage of this, you should set up one or more rain barrels. Many people think this would be a time consuming, silly thing to do. But it can save you many gallons of water, and hardly requires any work.

Finding the barrels will probably be the hardest part. You can use your own garbage cans, or head to your home improvement store to get 55 gallon plastic drums. These can be expensive and difficult to transport, so keep that in mind before you go to the store. You will want to cover the top of the barrel with a screen of some sort to filter out any unwanted leaves or debris that might fall off the roof of your house and to prevent mosquitos breeding in any standing water.

Once you have your barrels ready, you’re faced with the decision of where to place them. Usually during rainfall, there is one corner or segment of the house that most of the rain tends to pour off of. If you are taking the simple approach to barrel placement, just place the barrel under all the downspouts where you see large amounts of water drainage. However, while this might be the easiest way to place them, you won’t see very high volumes of rain in the barrels.

If you’re open to taking a more complicated approach, you should consider tweaking your roof gutter system a bit. If you remove each individual segment and place it at a very slight slant so that all the water is diverted to the nearest corner of the house, you can place a rain barrel at each corner. So essentially your entire house acts as a catcher for the rain, instead of just a portion of the roof. This will help to maximize the amount of water your rain barrel will catch.

After a heavy rainfall, each individual barrel probably won’t see very much rain. If it looks like it won’t be raining more any time soon, it’s a good idea to empty each barrel into one main central barrel. Seal it and save it out of the way, for whenever you may need it. Then the next time it starts to rain, you’ll be able to quickly put all your catching barrels into place without having to lug around all the water you’ve accumulated so far.

The use of water barrels might sound like an antiquated idea. However, when you’re in the midst of a drought and you’re able to spare that extra couple of gallons for your garden in addition the city allotment, you’ll be grateful for every bit of time and money you spent on collecting all that rain. All it takes is a few trips out in the backyard every time it starts to sprinkle, and you’ll be a very happy gardener when water isn’t so abundant.

If you’re not a do-it-yourselfer, you can always buy and install the many rain barrel or rainwater harvesting systems designed for residential use.  It’s a simple, easy way to be good to a planet where the looming water crisis is sure to overshadow even the climate change crisis.

Sustainable Off-grid Homes

Notwithstanding the references to “poisoned city water” and terrorists, this is an excellent video that demonstrates the integration of sustainable practices and technologies to create a mass-produceable off-grid home. The home is Robert Plarr and Michael Fulton’s Angel’s Nest/WorldNest Telsa research home in New Mexico.  It’s self-sufficient in energy, water, waste management and to some extent, food production. They use recycled and low-impact materials as well as improving indoor air quality.

They touch on a lot of different areas of sustainability and some of the controversial choices. I especially like their concept of creating a rainforest inside the home which is irrigated by treated grey water from the shower, creating humidity in the atmosphere, which, in turn, is extracted to generate drinking water. I haven’t seen their book, “The Secret of Sustainability” on Amazon yet, but it is available on the WorldsNest website.

 

Green your landscaping practices and reclaim your life!

Over the years, it’s become harder and harder to motivate myself to regularly mow, fertilize, weed and water my lawn and garden. With all the extreme weather that seems to be the norm these days, even my best efforts seem to be wasted. Some years, the only reason I dragged myself out to do it or paid someone to do it is to avoid the occasional evil eye from my neighbours. I’ve become acutely aware of how much water, air and noise pollution is generated from conventional mowers, fertilizers and pesticides, in our society’s quest for the most lush, green, weed-free lawn. I used to look at the bags and bags of yard waste waiting for collection day, and wonder how fast the grass clippings were filling up the landfill before we got our municipal composting program.

According to the EPA, 30% of water consumption in urban areas in the eastern United States is for watering lawns, and an average 1-acre lawn costs $700 and requires 40 hours of labor each year to maintain. Not that my lawn is anywhere close to 1 acre… but I’ve decided to reclaim that wasted time and money and do a good turn for the environment by switching to more sustainable landscaping practices.

Slowly, but surely, I’m replacing some of the lawn turf with attractive, low-growing, traffic-resistant groundcovers and my garden beds with a greater variety of native, non-invasive, drought and pest-resistant plants. I like the natural, “woodland” look, which blends naturally with the mature trees in my neighbourhood without looking overgrown and unruly.

I use a push mower for the remaining small patches of lawn, having traded in my old gas mower and storing away my electric mower which never did do a great job, even after it was fully charged.

I dropped off all the leftover pesticides in my garage and garden shed to the hazardous waste depot. I spend just a few minutes every few days monitoring and physically dealing with any signs of disease, pests or weeds.

I compost my grass clippings and most of my yard waste right on site and use it to replenish the soil in the garden and I use almost no soil amendments, fertilizers or plant food.

I’m looking into installing a simple irrigation system with a timer, soil moisture sensor and controllers for more efficient watering, before dawn or after dusk. I’m sick of seeing water from the sprinkler running off my neighbour’s lawn and driveway straight into the storm sewer.

I used to cringe whenever my neighbour picked Saturday afternoon to mow his lawn, just when my guests arrived for a barbecue and a relaxing evening. We couldn’t hear each other speak over the din, with the nasty smell from the gas mower overpowering the tantalizing aroma of whatever was on the grill.

But I have the last laugh, because I’m spending only a fraction of what he’s spending on fertilizers and weed control. I figure I use about 35% less water than he does for his lawn and garden. Not only that, I now delight in the fact that I’m lolling around with a tall, cool drink watching the butterflies attracted to my perennial wildflower garden, grilling freshly picked vegetables or dreaming of a quiet, peaceful warm day in the neighbourhood during my nap (with earplugs on), while he’s hard at work on his lawn.

Water, water, not everywhere…

Few things are taken for granted as much as clean water. We see downtrodden nations fighting for it to survive, and the mere mention of a power outage has people running into stores hoarding bottles of it. However, as the world is busy fighting over other natural resources and developing fuel alternatives, we are letting our most precious natural resource go down the drain (pun intended).

Did you know?

  • A water-efficient washing machine uses only one-third the water of an inefficient model?
  • An old-style single-flush toilet uses up to 12 litres of water per flush, while a standard dual flush toilet uses just a quarter of this on a half-flush?
  • A standard shower head uses up to 25 litres of water per minute, whereas a water-efficient shower head uses as little as 7 litres per minute, which is less than a third?
  • A standard faucet aerator on your taps can reduce water consumption by 25 – 50% per tap?

Water heating is the second largest energy user in the average home, just behind operating appliances. With higher hot water usage, come higher energy bills. Even the inefficient use of cold water can cost you, since we still pay water and sewer fees—and believe me, these costs will only continue to rise as the scarcity of our clean water supplies dwindle with time.

In the meantime, here are a few simple steps that will help reduce your water consumption, and consequently bring down your monthly energy and water bills:

  • Install a low-flow showerhead. At a cost of approximately $30/shower head, a family of three can easily save $200/year in energy costs alone.
  • Aerators are a great way of adding bulk to your water, without compromising the flow and/or pressure. At a cost of between $2-4, these can quickly reduce your tap consumption by half, and do not require a handy-man to install. In fact, here’s a great article on how to install aerators yourself.
  • Replace that old 6- or 12-liter toilet with a dual-flush toilet. Switching from a 12-L to a dual flush will save you almost 70% water consumption, while the switch from a 6-L to a dual flush will save an additional 26%–of course translating into more money in your pocket. A quick scan of online forums seems to suggest Toto has the best brand of dual-flush toilets—and here’s a nifty comparison of Toto toilets based on a variety of factors, even letting you see the toilet in full 360 degree rotation!
  • Consider a front-loading washer instead of a top-loading version. Not only will you save $50-90/year in direct water costs, you will use less laundry detergent because the rinse cycle is more efficient and less water is needed to wash your clothes. Clothes come out of the washer with less residual moisture, cutting your drying time in half and saving you more money on your electricity bills.
  • Consider running your dishwasher with fewer, larger loads, instead of frequent, emptier ones. If you wash your dishes manually, turn down the water to a gentle, laminar flow and enjoy how easy it is to remove the soap instead of allowing water to gush down the drain needlessly.
  • Water your lawn in the late evening instead of the morning or afternoon. This allows the water to actually seep into the ground instead of evaporating from the heat and sun. Your plants will thank you for it!
  • Install a rain barrel—I bought one for $50 from a local vendor and have enjoyed watering my plants all summer without having to turn on the tap! There are many new versions being introduced into your local hardware store that incorporate planters and exquisite designs that mask that “cylindrical” look.

REBATES:
Municipalities are always offering rebates and programs for interested water-conscious consumers (here’s an example of one in Canada, and another in the U.S.) Contact your local authorities to find out if you can receive some money back for investing in a water-saving device, and reap the rewards of saving even more money!

Bottle or tap? Income, education influence choices: StatsCan

A report released by StatsCan has correlated how family income and education levels influence whether we choose tap or bottled water. To read the full article on CBC News, click here. In summary, it states the following

  • Higher-income households and those with children were most likely to drink bottled water.
  • The higher bottled water consumption among high-income households was driven by households where no one completed a university degree.
  • Households where at least one member had completed a university degree drank less bottled water than their counterparts who had no post-secondary education.

Surprising? I think so. As a university-graduate myself, I never would have thought to correlate education with bottled-water consumption, but it does provide me with some relief. I always wondered whether I was just a nagging “logicalist” or perhaps a perturbed environmentalist—and now, I can claim neither. I’m simply a university graduate. Yippee!

In all seriousness, bottled water just doesn’t seem to make sense. It costs over 1000 times more than its municipally-treated counterpart from the tap, is regulated and tested far less (read: in some cases, never), and is leaving an environmental disaster in its wake. With hundreds of tons of plastic basking in our landfills, and now reports about the plastic additives leaching into the bottled water, why are we still apprehensive to switch to the tap?

Leave it up to the marketing gurus and today’s age of overconsumption, and you have a match made in the French Alps. Consumers believe that bottled water is cleaner, tastes better, and even looks better. Why? Because it’s being sold in brightly lit, clean supermarkets, has a crisp, colourful label on it, AND they’re paying more for it—feeding into their appetite for exclusivity and luxury. The marketing hype convinces consumers that this stuff is better for you than good ol’ tap water. With social thinking dictating that “we get what we pay for”, it’s no wonder consumers believe that bottled water is “better” than the infinitely cheaper municipal tap water.

Check out this rather telling (and somewhat potty-mouthed) video comparing people’s perception of tap vs. bottled water. Then come back with a tall glass of water (I won’t tell you which), and give me your thoughts on the subject.