Tag Archives: green living

‘Tis the season… to add a little green to your holiday giving!

Although Christmas is only days away, there are still choices you can make to give to those you love and be easier on the planet.

Out of holiday wrap? Try something different! Maps, calendars, posters, scrap fabric, newsprint, scarves, brown paper bags and a little bit of raffia ribbon or twine, are all very creative ways to present gifts to your loved ones. Unlike conventional wrapping paper, these options don’t create massive amounts of waste and toxins that end up in the landfill or waste stream.

Try giving a gift that doesn’t require wrapping in the first place. Opt out of giving gifts packaged with materials the receiver is just going to toss away. Think about giving gifts that can be put into a simple envelope or can be sent electronically, via email. This doesn’t mean you have to go impersonal with gift cards or cash, but maybe try giving gifts that present them with an experience, such as tickets to sporting events, museums, concerts, or even flight tickets for the extra special people on your list. These gifts don’t require extensive amounts of wrapping (maybe as little as an envelope and a simple bow) or can be emailed to the receiver and printed at a later date. If you choose to email these gifts but still would like to present them with something of substance on the actual day, write a card that lets them know they have a gift they can experience waiting for them in their inbox.

If you are one to send cards to friends and family, try sending or giving cards that benefit environmental causes, health and education programs (UNICEF). Use recycled, organic, and/or sustainably harvested materials (Papororganics, Global Exchange). You will usually be able tell all these things by looking at the back of the card. Better yet, try cards that are handmade by you, your friends, or your children. These tend to be more personal and creative, and don’t require fossil fuels to be delivered to a retailer. The best option, though, is to send an E-card instead. They are waste-free, have zero carbon cost, and are customizable to perfectly suit whatever you want to say, to whomever you want to say it to. E-cards are not only directly environmentally friendly, but often benefit wildlife conservation programs with the profit their companies make.

Although it may be late to put into effect all of these holiday get-green ideas, most are concepts that can be implemented with any holiday or celebration throughout the year, and can be kept in mind for the next Christmas season. Happy holidays everyone!

Fake plastic Christmas trees…

Plastic vs. real is always the question when it comes to picking out a Christmas tree. The common misconception is that plastic is the answer. How very wrong!

Plastic trees: are made in China using PVC (polyvinyl chloride), the worst plastic there is! Vinyl chloride is known to be a carcinogen and creates massive amounts of harmful and hazardous dioxins during manufacturing, and in disposal. Many products made using PVC are stabilized using lead, which is harmful to those who ingest fumes or dust coming from the tree or other product made with PVC. On top of manufacturing and disposal implications, there are the effects of transporting these products from their source in China. Plus, there’s no denying that plastic trees do not have a rich, fragrant smell of outdoors, and certainly struggle to look as healthy and glowing as a live tree.

Real trees: can be bought pre-cut, or, you can cut one down yourself at a local U-pick business. These fast and easy-to-grow trees are grown for the single purpose of being your living room feature during the holidays. Not only do you have the aroma of a fresh tree in your home, you’ve purchased a tree that helped to clean the air of the carbon dioxide emissions from the planes bringing fake trees from China! Real trees of course, unlike fake trees, don’t generate harmful dust or fumes, and so are safe to have in the home.

Your best bet, though, is to decorate a regular house plant or use a real potted tree so it can be re-planted in the spring (and then used again next year!), or just decorate the trees outside your house and have a special area for gifts inside the house.

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.

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.

Green living in the country

Many North Americans realized their dreams of moving to the country to escape the pollution, traffic and crime that goes along with city living.  An article in today’s New York Times proclaims:

“Suddenly, the economics of American suburban life are under assault as skyrocketing energy prices inflate the costs of reaching, heating and cooling homes on the distant edges of metropolitan areas.”

The article quotes Phil Doyle, a homeowner in the countryside of Denver, who says about his daily hour-long commute to the city, “Before it was ‘we spend too much time driving.’ Now, it’s ‘we spend too much time and money driving.’ ”

In less than five years, the average suburban household is paying more than double what they used to pay for their gasoline consumption, amounting to a yearly increase of over $1700.  This contributed to larger and earlier drops in the prices of these homes than those in the city. 

I’m all for city living, reducing urban sprawl and densification if you live AND work there.  However, a lot of infrastructure has already been built out to suburban areas, including multi-billion dollar investments in mass transportation systems to increase access to the city core.
 
Maybe it’s time to start investing in renewable energy technologies for lighting, heating and cooling in these faraway developments, to offset the higher costs of commuting.  It would be an interesting exercise to calculate the household payback of installing solar photovoltaic panels, solar hot water heating systems and geothermal systems for homes in these areas.  I’m sure it’s a lot more attractive than it was just a year ago.  If you also eliminated all the long-distance commuting, you would spend less time and money driving and be doing the planet a big favour too.  

So— my dream house is a net zero energy home in the boonies that’s totally self-sufficient in water use and onsite waste management.  I can grow much of my own food onsite.  And I don’t have to commute anywhere for a living.  :)

Simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint

It’s hard to avoid the buzz all over the place these days about reducing your carbon footprint. Once you quantify your carbon footprint using one of the calculators available on the web, you can buy carbon offsets to “neutralize” your impact. The money gets invested in renewable energy technologies, planting trees or other initiatives designed to reduce the overall carbon emissions impact to the planet. There are good and bad (legit and questionable) ways to do this and still have a real impact. We won’t get into the challenges here.

You can have a more direct, real impact on reducing your carbon footprint by implementing simple changes to your daily life that can really add up. When we all start embracing these simple changes to our
lifestyles, the cumulative effect can be significant. Here are just a few (there are many more):

  • Use those reusable bags for your groceries (usually available in a variety of funky shades of green), instead of plastic grocery bags
  • Buy stuff with less packaging, and packaging that is reusable or recyclable
  • Buy in bulk if possible
  • Buy stuff produced locally or within short transportation distances whenever possible
  • Plant a garden, trees and grow some vegetables and herbs right in your own yard
  • Minimize watering and fertilizing by careful selection of plants and trees for your soil and climate type
  • Try replacing your lawn with a native groundcover
  • Plan your route to do your daily errands most efficiently if driving
  • Be conscious of how much time you spend in the shower
  • Don’t just leave the water running while you’re brushing your teeth
  • Reuse towels at home at least 2-3 times, not just in hotel rooms
  • Air dry your clothes outside on warm, sunny days
  • Replace some of your incandescent light bulbs with CFLs or LED lights
  • Think twice about how often you feel you need to replace your car, electronics and household items
  • And my favourite— work from home at least one day a week!

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