Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Landfill Rescue

In my area, garbage is collected every two weeks, and each house is restricted to three bags per pickup. If you need more than three bags, there are tags you can purchase an put on any extra bags. Twice a year we have what are called No-Tag days, where every house can put out as much garbage as they'd like, bags or large items. On these days my friend and I go around performing a Landfill Rescue. Basically we cruise the streets, and if we see something that we know can be re-purposed, we take it home with us. It's amazing to me the kinds of things that are thrown out on a regular basis. Every time, we see more plastic patio chairs than you can imagine. There's also always a lot of children's toys, and often some lawnmowers (may or may not be working...so far about 80% of them work with a bit of effort). We're definitely not the only ones out on those nights either, you can see pickup trucks piled high with items, often scrap metal. We might be the only ones who specialize in big plastic items, like children's toys. :)

So where does all this stuff end up? Our backyard keeps some of the 'rescued' items. Our patio set is entirely rescued; chairs, table and umbrella - we've actually upgraded pieces a couple of times. We also have a pressure washer, camping chairs, lawnmower, children's jeep (the battery powered kind that two kids can sit in - powered by a battery taken from a lawn trimmer). I'm sure there are a few others, but that's what I can think of off the top of my head. Since there's no way we'd be able to keep everything we pick up (at one point I had four lawnmowers in the garage), extra items find their way out to friends and family, or on craigslist and freecycle. I have a friend that works with an organization that collects furniture for the formerly homeless...I keep thinking that there should be an easier way to connect those who could really use the items with the items themselves but the logistics just don't work.

I actually enjoy the rescued items we have more than the ones we go out and buy. It's odd, but there's something satisfying about going out and hunting down the items yourself. :) I haven't gone so far as to check out a freegan lifestyle....I'm not sure if it's that I don't want to, I don't have the courage, or I'm just not sure which dumpsters to dive!

If your area has a similar dumping night (not all areas do), check it out sometime, you might be surprised at what you find.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Unhealthy Truth - Part I

I've been reading a book called The Unhealthy Truth by Robyn O'Brien (foreword by Dr. Kenneth A Bock). There's a lot of information in the book, so I'm going to do a multi-part book review discussing the book and it's information. For this first part, I'll discuss the Foreword up to partway through Chapter 3.

The author, Robyn O'Brien is a mother of four and a Houston native. She started researching childhood allergies when her youngest daughter had a severe allergic reaction to eggs. As she continued researching, she found more and more information that she thought should be shared with everyone, particularly parents of people with allergies. She admits to not being a scientist, but she's certainly shown a passion for research and is the founder of the AllergyKids website.

The book starts out with a very strong message that the world is changing, and environmental changes are causing numerous ailments in today's children - including autism ADHD, asthma, and severe food allergies. They make a compelling argument that improved diagnostics is not the only reason for a dramatic increase in rates of autism, ADHD, asthma and allergies since adults are not showing the same statistical increase, only the children. Throughout the book they mention that since children are more vulnerable to toxic environments, they are acting as our canaries in a coal mine, and that we should be paying attention to what their ailments are telling us.

These first few chapters are focused on telling the author's story, and how she started researching food allergies. A fair amount of time is spent on the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) as one of the largest not-for-profit organizations. The author's dismay at finding the amount of funding received, but not publicly disclosed, by FAAN from Big Food and Big Pharma companies comes across clearly. Eventually the author decided to start the AllergyKids website to try and share her findings with other parents (and run it as a for-profit business with the proceeds dedicated to funding research into food allergies). Eventually the author starts to discuss food, and what really is the unhealthy truth. This section closes with The Hidden Side of Soy which discusses the fact that soy is a double-edged sword with all of it's isoflavones. Here are a few of her points:
1. Soy is rich in phytic acid, which blocks absorption of essential minerals including calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, copper, iron, and zinc.
2. Eating soy boosts estrogen, for women this could cause estrogen to be too high during pregnancy, resulting in a variety of health risks for both her and the baby.
3. Infants being fed on soy formula had up to ten times higher blood levels of isoflavones than adult women who were taking soy as medicine
4. Monsanto is responsible for producing over 80% of the world’s soy in the form of a widely used genetically engineered soybean

In the next section of the book, she'll be looking at genetically modified foods, and hopefully getting into how she thinks diets should be modified (she guarantees it'll be easy and inexpensive). So far it's an interesting read, and written so that the points are easy to understand. I'm looking forward to the rest of the book. Look for Part II of the review next week!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Throwing a Green Party

There's no web round-up today since I didn't find any articles on the web this week that I needed to share. Maybe because I've been busy getting ready to host a baby shower this weekend! Parties mean people and food, but they don't have to mean an environmental disaster. Here's the steps I've taken to make the party a little greener.

Baby showers mean games, and games mean prizes! Instead of wrapping the prizes in wrapping paper, I used some gift bags that were already at my house. Two of them are for wedding gifts and two are for Valentine's, but I didn't think that mattered. :)

It's been hot around here for the last week, so I needed to make sure I had lots of drinks available for people. On the table you can see a punch fountain (it lights up and the punch cascades from the top down). This fountain belongs to my friend and I borrowed it for the party...definitely not everyone on the block needs to own their own punch fountain!

Also on the table there's a variety of plates and glasses. Parties mean food, and food needs plates! There's three basic options for plates/glasses at a party. First you can go with disposable plates. They're easy to clean up, all you need is a garbage bag, but they're definitely the worst in terms of eco-friendliness. Next you can go with biodegradable plates. They're still single use, but you can get some that are made out of corn for example. Higher up on the eco-friendly chain, but expensive - and like I said, still single use. Last option is to have re-usable plates and glasses, which is the option I went with. We're using our normal plates and glasses, and I'll throw them in the dishwasher when the party's over. Remember, the dishwasher is green! This is a little more work for the hostess, but the most eco-friendly. I didn't have enough matching plates and glasses for everyone, but I thought that the important thing was that everyone had a plate, not that everyone had the same plate!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Food Waste Friday

Every Friday I'll be posting a picture of any food that's being thrown out in our house that week. Kristen at The Frugal Girl started Food Waste Friday a while ago. The idea is that by tracking the waste weekly you'll be more aware of the food you have and will hopefully remember to use it before it needs to be thrown out.

This week I really thought I'd have my first no waste week ever! Until I went to put sour cream on my perogies. Sour cream isn't supposed to be green. :( I'm hoping for no waste next week....which means I'd better find something to do with the leeks, green onion and homemade breadsticks in the fridge!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Another Reason to Reduce

It seems like lately I've been coming across all sorts of reasons to reduce our garbage. First there was the fact that for every dollar spent, half a litre of petroleum is consumed. Now we're starting to see the impact of not collecting garbage on a daily basis for the city of Toronto. For those of you who aren't aware, Toronto's city workers are on strike, and that includes the waste disposal workers. The strike started on June 22 and it didn't take long for tension to mount. It's also not taking long for piles of garbage to show up anywhere and everywhere. Below is a picture by erinleah off of flickr.

Politicians are saying that they won't rush in to end Toronto's garbage strike, so it'll be interesting to see whether Torontonians will save their garbage, use the depots set up around the city, or dump anywhere they won't be caught. I'm sure that new flickr photos will be appearing daily chronicling the city streets. One reason the strike won't be legislated back to work is that Windsor has been dealing with a garbage strike for 11 weeks now. How are they dealing? One Windsor man has found that private disposal facilities are inexpensive and well run.

If my city's garbage collection went on strike, I think the worst impact for me would be the compost, especially in a hot summer! We have two large compost containers, and I'm guessing it would take 6-8 weeks to fill them both (maybe a little longer if I can get some no-waste weeks going for Food Waste Fridays). Our four recycling containers would fill up faster, but we could always use some cardboard boxes for the masses of junk mail and flyers we receive, plus, now that I've given up pop that should remove a lot of cans and cardboard from our recycling. Our one garbage can should last us 6-8 weeks of normal use as well. If I knew I was about to be involved in a long garbage strike, I might look into backyard composting or vermicomposting; other than that I think I could last at least two to three months before I had to find something to do with my garbage/recycling. What impact would a garbage strike have on your lifestyle?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Dollar Spent

I ran across an interesting piece of information in a book I was reading recently. In a study done by Charles Hall, a professor at Syracuse, he determined that for every dollar spent (American dollar) a half-litre of petroleum is consumed. His study looked at worldwide spending, so it's not just determining the impact of spending in America, or North America. The half-litre of petroleum takes into account the full lifecycle of the product; resources, production, transportation, etc. Obviously not every dollar will have the same impact, the half-litre is averaged out over all types of spending. I'm fairly certain that spending a dollar at your local yard sale, bake sale or Goodwill store doesn't have the same ecological impact as spending a dollar on, say, oil for your car. This study shows how a green lifestyle and a frugal lifestyle are often closely related, and gives us another way of looking at our purchases.

The book Your Money or Your Life asks it's readers to consider purchases in terms of 'life-energy', or how many hours you'd need to work (trade away) to purchase a $400 iPod for example (based on how much you actually clear after all your work expenses are taken into account). Thinking of purchases in terms of hours worked really lets you decide how badly you want/need the item. Now I'll be thinking in terms of petroleum impact as well. Here's a few examples of purchases along with the petroleum impact. For fun, I also included how far I could drive on that many litres of gasoline.

Night at the movies (for 2)
Cost: $40
Environmental Cost: 20 Litres
Trip in my car: 260 km

New 40" television
Cost: $1099.99
Environmental Cost: 550 Litres
Trip in my car: 7150 km Enough to drive from BC to Newfoundland!

Basic cable
Cost: $30/month
Environmental Cost: 15 Litres/month
Trip in my car: 195 km or three trips to my parents per year

Haircut (women's, no colour)
Cost: $35
Environmental Cost: 17.5 Litres
Trip in my car: 227.5 km

Definitely a new way for me to look at purchases, and another good reason to try and reduce!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

1000 Empties Update

Today I officially pass the 10% mark for my 1000 empty beer cans/bottles found. The past couple of days I've gone for a bike ride and brought along a cloth bag in case of beer cans. The first day I found 42, the next 7. I think I'll keep bringing bags along when I bike, but I don't expect to see another 42 can day! This brings my progress to 106 cans, or 10.6% in 16 days. It's a little scary how much litter you see at the sides of the road, it might not take as long to get to 1000 as I'd originally thought

Meatless Meal - Macaroni and Cheese

According to a lot of research, eating meat is far more resource intensive than eating plants. That makes sense when you realize that for every kilogram of beef produced, a cow needs to eat 15 kg of grain and 30 kg of forage. There's also the fact that cows produce more greenhouse gases than human transportation. With all that in mind, it's easy to see that reducing the meat in a typical North American diet is one way we can lower our ecological footprint. I'm not planning on becoming vegetarian, but I would like to ensure that meat isn't the main focus of every meal we eat, so I'm going to be experimenting with some meatless main courses. This could be a bit challenging since my husband believes that vegetables are 'food for food'!

I thought I'd start with something easy like macaroni and cheese, even though I know that mac and cheese alone is not a balanced meal. I grabbed a recipe from the book Frozen Assets Lite & Easy and got to work. The meal didn't take that long to prepare, though I had to make a couple substitutions (I didn't have skim milk or fat-free cream cheese so I used 1% milk and Philadelphia Garden Vegetable cream cheese). Total prep + cooking time was about 1 hour.

I'm not sure if my tastebuds have been corrupted by KD, but we found this dish to be a little bland. As it is, I'd give it three stars out of five. After tasting, there are a few changes I'd make to the recipe. First of all, you need about four times the topping....we all know the topping is the best part. When reheating, the taste was improved by sprinkling extra grated cheddar on top, and also by adding some garlic/parmesan sauteed mushrooms. I think that salsa or hot sauce could be used as well. I'll make this recipe again, but will definitely add a bit more spice to make it a little more interesting.

Three Cheese Mac-n-Cheese (6 servings) - original recipe


3 cups elbow macaroni, uncooked
1/4 cup flour
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 1/2 cups skim milk
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups reduced-fat cheddar cheese, grated
2-oz fat-free cream cheese, cubed
1/3 cup Italian flavoured bread crumbs
1 tablespoon margarine, melted

1. Cook and drain the macaroni
2. Combine flour and pepper in large saucepan. Add 1/2 cup milk, whisk until smooth.
3. Gradually add the rest of the milk, stirring briskly. Cook over medium heat until mixture just barely begins to boil.
4. Remove from heat; add cheeses, stirring until melted.
5. Stir in macaroni. Pour mixture into 9-inch square baking dish.
6. Mix bread crumbs with margarine. Sprinkle over top of casserole.
7. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees farenheight, or until golden brown and bubbly.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Giving up Pop

A bit ago I wrote about how I felt that reducing was better than recycling. Looking around my house, there are a few single-use items that shouldn't be part of my lifestyle. Like pop (coke/pepsi). I don't feel too bad about the cans, since I do recycle everything, but reducing would have an even lower eco-footprint. The ecological impact wasn't enough to change my habits on its own. The fact that I noticed I was getting caffeine headaches if I went a day without pop wasn't enough to change my habits. Put the two facts together, and I'm motivated to get pop out of my house. Since a single can seems to have around 10 teaspoons of sugar I'm sure my teeth will thank me for kicking the habit as well.

I've never gotten into drinking tea or coffee but I have had a problem with caffeine addiction through pop before. I know that in three or four days I won't have the headaches anymore, the real problem will be in breaking the actual habit of having a can of pop. Until a few months ago pop was reserved as a treat, but somehow I ended up in the habit of one a day, even if I wasn't really craving a coke. If there's anything sillier than drinking a bunch of empty calories with no nutritional value simply for the sake of a habit.... Since this isn't my first time quitting pop, obviously restricting myself to moderation doesn't work - it sneaks back in slowly. So, from here on out, no more pop at home. I'll still allow some if we're out at a restaurant, but I won't be buying more for home use. At home I plan on replacing pop with water, and some juice. The planet will thank me, my pocketbook will thank me, and my body will thank me!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Web Round Up

For green and frugal entertainment, check out any festival's going on in your town. We walked down to one in our area yesterday (no fuel, and frankly it would take forever to find a parking spot anyways). It's always fun to check out what the local artists have on display, and you can't be festival food for an indulgence!

http://earlyretirementextreme.com/2009/06/thefeeling-of-time.html This was an interesting post from Jacob at Early Retirement Extreme. Thinking back, there's definitely times in my life I remember WAY more vividly than others.

http://greenupgrader.com/4262/one-million-beer-bottles-later-and-its-a-buddhist-temple/ And I thought finding 1000 empty beer bottles would take awhile! Check out this buddhist temple made out of beer bottles, it looks great.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Food Waste Friday

Every Friday I'll be posting a picture of any food that's being thrown out in our house that week. Kristen at The Frugal Girl started Food Waste Friday a while ago. The idea is that by tracking the waste weekly you'll be more aware of the food you have and will hopefully remember to use it before it needs to be thrown out.

This week I've got an entire loaf of bread, and the remains of some whipping cream. I'm annoyed by the bread since I picked it up on the reduced rack at the grocery store, but when I opened it at home there were moldy spots on all the pieces. :( I'm getting closer to zero waste...maybe next week!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Biking for Transportation

A few years ago I thought I could be green and get in shape in one fell swoop by using my bike. After a long and tiring ride to and from work followed by days of sore muscles, I gave up that idea. But my memory is short and the next year I tried again - after buying the biggest, cushiest gel seat I could find. My husband and I got the bikes out and went to the grocery store. It was grueling, but I kept up fairly well. The way back was more uphill and I arrived home a little after him, tired but triumphant. Somehow he seemed to guess that I hadn't ridden my bike to school much as a kid...my grueling ride was him trying to ride slow enough for me without going so slow he fell off the bike. :) Again with a few days of very sore muscles (which my husband didn't seem to have, darn him!) and the bike was abandoned for the year.

This year I have a new strategy, and it's working much better. I've still got the cushy gel seat, and I took a quick lesson from my husband on how to use my gear shift to make my ride easier - such a difference! I head out on my own and without putting pressure on myself to maintain a pace the rides are way more enjoyable, and with little soreness! So far I'm using the bike on nice days when an errand is around 3 km one way. I'd like to work up to not using a car for anything less than 5 km away, unless we need to transport something large. I've noticed a few things about biking.
1. The bigger the gel seat, the better. Why be uncomfortable?
2. Jeans get caught in the chain and tear. :( Tuck them inside your socks or wear something tight fitting.
3. Gear shift down on a hill. It makes a bigger difference than I thought.
4. Don't push your speed...you want this to be fun, not a chore.
5. Wear a helmet! You might feel a bit silly at first, but I like my life and don't want to forget it because I took a fall and knocked my head.

Maybe eventually I'll get to the point where the bike is my main mode of transportation during those nice Canadian months (both of them) and the car is alternative transportation.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Reduce, Reuse or Recycle?

There's been a lot of publicity about recycling lately, especially with Tim Horton's announcing recycling of it's coffee cups. I like recycling, I think it's important, but I think it's the LEAST important of the three R's. In order to get to the recycling stage, you've already created the object and now you're using more resources to turn it into some other object to buy again. The disposable coffee cups is a great example of this. On the ecorenovator website, I read "The energy expended to recycle a paper coffee cup is extremely difficult - they are coated with a polyethylene. It takes 4-5 times more energy to collect, transport, reconstruct — i.e. recycle - than to simply make a new one". Recycling the cups is still better than letting them sit in a landfill, but think how much better off we'd be if we reduced the need for the cups (14.4 billion disposable coffee cups are bought each year in America). Yes, there are expenses and resources used up in making a non-disposable travel or china mug, but those mugs are reused countless times before they break for some reason. And each reuse saves the effort of making a disposable cup and the landfill space or cost of recycling.

In my opinion we should reduce as much as we can, reuse as much as possible and only then turn to recycling. Last option of all is the landfill of course. I'd love to try a zero waste challenge like that undertaken by this family in the UK. I really like the idea of voluntary simplicity and decluttering, which also works well with the idea of reducing our personal consumption. I still need to work on it in my own life. My husband is not impressed when I read blog articles that encourage me to declutter like this one or this one. I've figured out why though....I need to stop trying to get rid of his stuff and focus on my own :)

I think my best bet will be to adopt a one-in, one-out strategy for non-consumable/non-gift items. Of course, since I just bought 68 books at a yard sale last weekend.....but they're not staying! Once I've read the ones I'm interested in (they came in a box, I couldn't pick and choose) they'll be posted on freecycle or at a used book store. Today is Day One of my one-in, one-out policy. Let's see how it goes!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Why Didn't I Think of This??

Since I've been posting food waste photos on Fridays, the plastic bags I've been throwing out have really been bothering me. I realize that even if the food wasn't wasted, the bags still would be, but I thinkg the fact that I'm seeing all the bags at one time is what's really making me think about the waste. Since plastic bags are a petroleum product, they're created from non-renewable fossil fuels. I thought there had to be a better use for fossil fuels than carrying my vegetables home from the grocery store and then spending eternity in a landfill. A quick Google search showed some retail solutions where I could buy a reusable mesh/fabric bag for produce. That seemed like a good idea but a little pricey, so I kept searching. This forum was also looking for bags, but some members pointed out they'd be easy to make and all you'd need is some sheer fabric and a drawstring. Now, no one would ever call me an expert seamstress but I was confident I could manage the (max) four straight(ish) lines this would required. :)

I immediately went to the basement to look for a sheer curtain I thought might be down there - which is when I realized I need to clean the basement. Temporarily defeated, I went to the Salvation army the next day (by bike, not car!) and picked up one curtain and two things that might have been related to a curtain.

A few minutes with the sewing machine (alright, more like an hour, I had to read the manual again to figure out how to work the machine) and I have an awesome selection of bags, enough for all my grocery needs. I made three different sizes to suit apples/onions/bakery, peppers/broccoli, and mushroom/beansprouts. I figure three large, six medium and three small will be more than enough for my grocery needs. Here's a picture of the large and small bags in use. The large is holding 10 apples with no sign of strain, and the small is actually holding a couple of peppers...the bags are roomier than I thought they'd be.

No more plastic bags for me, I'm one step closer to being able to go plastic free! And with enough leftover fabric that odds are good some people are getting bags for Christmas.

Another bonus...as I picked to and from the grocery store, I added five more empties to my collection.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Web Round Up

http://www.thesimpledollar.com/2007/06/03/a-guide-to-eating-well-without-spending-a-fortune/ Want to lower your environmental footprint without going vegetarian? Start by getting rid of the excess packaging in convenience foods (not to mention the preservatives and other chemicals!) and start cooking. Trent provides a few tips on getting started in the kitchen

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20026873.100-how-kangaroo-burgers-could-save-the-planet.html An interesting look at the impact our meat choices have on the environment. I'm not sure if flying kangaroo in from Australia would be lower impact than eating homegrown beef. I think I'll be looking for a few vegetarian alternatives.

http://earlyretirementextreme.com/2009/06/how-to-spend-very-little-money.html Jacob at earlyretirementextreme talks about how to live without spending much money. This post could just as easily have been called How to Live With Less Environmental Impact.

http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2009/06/09/fuelly-2/ JD uses Fuelly to track his mileage for financial purposes. I track my mileage on a spreadsheet for the same reason, and so that I can notice if something's going wrong with my car. As a result of the data we've collected, we've switched to using my car instead of my husband's when we can, despite the fact that his car is four years newer! Better mileage = less gas = less gas expenses = less emissions! Maybe I should switch to Fuelly to see how we compare to other drivers.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Food Waste Friday

This Friday's post is a little later than last week because I was called in to supply teach today, with a whole 20 minutes notice to get to a school that's 45 minutes away! Let me tell you...grade 8's at the end of the school year on a Friday go a little crazy.

Every Friday I'll be posting a picture of any food that's being thrown out in our house that week. Kristen at The Frugal Girl started Food Waste Friday a while ago. The idea is that by tracking the waste weekly you'll be more aware of the food you have and will hopefully remember to use it before it needs to be thrown out. I think it's helping - I made heroic efforts to use up the cherries and strawberries mentioned in last week's post before they went bad. :)

This week looks bad, but the trail mix, sunflower seeds, peanuts are all from a long time ago. I found them when I was looking for trail mix for our hike. This stuff was too far gone to use, but I did find some newer trail mix that I now know to use before it gets too old! The bags have a pepper that's growing mold and some wild plants I picked to use for salad and didn't use all of (dandelions, violets and trout lilies). The plastic container is some couscous salad I bought from a local market that looked a lot better than it tasted. Once again, all the food went into the compost, the plastic container was recycled and the bags went into the trash. The bags going into the trash bothers me the most...I'm going to have to find a way to avoid that, and it would happen even if I wasn't wasting the food.

Check out the other Food Waste Friday participants in the side bar of The Frugal Girl. She's having the kind of food waste week I aspire hope to reach!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ode to the Library

I returned home from a hiking trip to good news on the answering machine! Four of the books I wanted to read from the library came in and are waiting for me to pick them up. In my opinion, there is no greener building than the public library. Each library serves thousands or tens of thousands of patrons, and each library patron is likely to take out a lot more than just one book. If we all had to buy each book we wanted to read....think of the resources that would have to get used! Not to mention the fact that I'd need to have bought a 10,000 square foot house so that I'd have room to keep all my books.

Frankly, a lot of the books I've read I don't really need to read over and over again. I have a few that I keep around for reference, more that I just really liked and will re-read, and a few more that I couldn't wait for a reserve to come in at the library (I was one of the people at the bookstore at midnight when Harry Potter came out). The library lets me check out a wide variety of books, and if I find some I particularly like, I can start looking for them on bookmooch or at Chapters. Right now, I have eight books out from the library:
  1. Cook for a day, eat for a month: frozen assets lite & easy; by Deborah Taylor-Hough
  2. The dinner fix: cooking for the rushed; by Sandi Richard
  3. Edible garden weeds of Canada; by Adam F. Szczawinski
  4. Frozen Assets: how to cook for a day and eat for a month; by Taylor-Hough, Deborah
  5. Green for life: 200 simple eco-ideas for every day; by Gillian Deacon (coming to me soon through bookmooch!)
  6. Instant immersion American sign language (a computer program)
  7. Into the Fire; by Suzanne Brockmann
  8. Walden; by Henry David Thoreau
As you can see, I'm going through a cooking phase right now. Mostly I look for cool recipe ideas, but I don't want to actually keep that many cookbooks around with all their recipes (I have no interest in remembering how to make Crab Quesadillas, Crab Rice Chowder, Crab Quiche or any of the other Crab recipes). Most of the time when I want a recipe I just go to allrecipes.com and it's there in a printable format, with a lot of reviews and suggestions for tweaking the recipe.

When I go to pick up my four new books, I may even make my trip a little greener by biking or walking down to the library. At our library you have to check out your books yourself using a self-checkout, and you also have the option of not printing a receipt with your due dates. Since I use the internet to check when my books are due (usually I remember to check before I go overdue), I'll skip printing the receipt as well.

Check out your library - it's been in the reduce (your book buying) and reuse (book-sharing) since long before reduce and reuse became fashionable.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Boots Across Canada

If you enjoy hiking, or being outside, you've got the chance to have Keen Canada donate $5 to a trail in your area. This year $75,000 is available for donation, all you have to do is upload pictures of your boots on a hiking trail before October 31, 2009 and they will donate $5 per pair in the Boots Across Canada program (maximum 10 pairs of boots per picture). They'll also enter you in a draw to win some Keen merchandise, including shoes! Any pictures uploaded by Ontario residents will result in donations for the Bruce Trail. When I uploaded our boots, 1271 pairs of boots had been uploaded - 1094 from Ontario trails. This is a great program, and an easy way to support hiking trails in your province. More donations means more money for trail improvements, and more chances for the trails to acquire land for conservation purposes. So get hiking!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

1000 Bottles of Beer by the Road

When I met my husband, I became a hiker. I'm pretty certain I wouldn't have been allowed to marry into the family if I hadn't developed a love of hiking. :) The motto of most hikers is "Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints". After my first few hiking excursions, I started to notice that no matter where we went, it seemed that someone had been leaving beer cans and bottles in their wake. This bothered me on a couple of different levels. First off, the environmentalist in me was disgusted that people couldn't bother to take their trash back out with them. I mean, they carried it in with them, and the bottles and cans are a lot heavier when they're full! Secondly, my frugal heart hated the fact that each of those cans and bottles was worth 10 cents!

I decided that I should start bringing bags with me when we hike, so I could pick up those discarded empties. Sadly, I've only rarely been able to come home with an empty bag, and my hike yesterday was no exception. My habit of picking up the empties became so well-known that it made it's way into no less than THREE speeches at our wedding (my parents, his parents, the best man...thanks go out to my husband for not including it in his speech!). I call it environmentalism with a kickback; it's definitely not a hobby I'd recommend if you're really trying to increase your income, more of a bonus for the warm-fuzzy feeling you get while helping to keep the world greener.

In Ontario, 98% of beer empties were returned to The Beer Store (the only place in Ontario that sells beer and handles the deposits). This is an amazing return rate. According to their press release, over 2 billion empties were returned for deposit in the 2007/2008 year. Which means that over 40, 000 empties were NOT returned; either going to a municipal recycling program, a landfill, or our streets and hiking trails.

Since I enjoy tracking numbers, I thought I'd see how long it takes me to collect enough empties to return for $100. At 10 cents per empty that's 1000 beer bottles or cans....I prefer the cans, they're a lot lighter to carry while hiking! Why $100? It's a nice round number. So is $10, but $100 is 10x more impressive. :) I'm hoping that it will take a LONG time to find that many empties that were just discarded into the environment, but it'll be interesting to see what the exact amount of time is. Starting June 8, 2009 I'll be keeping count of my empties, and you can view my progress in the side bar of this blog. Any guesses on how long it'll take? Keep in mind I don't go hiking every weekend, but I'll be including anything I pick up on walks around my neighbourhood as well.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Community Yard Sales - the Ultimate Eco-Shopping

I'm lucky enough to live in a high-density part of town (you can see our part of town mentioned in the documentary The Death of Suburbia...you can even see our neighbours' house!) I'm luckier still in that the ratepayers association sponsors advertisement for a giant, community-wide yard sale once a year. Yard saleing is the ultimate in eco-shopping. Everything is re-used, and the odds are pretty good that anything you buy that day is being rescued from a landfill; the rule at our house was 'if it goes out for the yard sale, it's not allowed back inside'.

A community sale is even greener than just regular yard saleing since once you're there you often don't need to drive anywhere. My friend and I spent a profitable morning wandering our neighbourhood shopping at a LOT of different sales. We both did fairly well. I spent a grand total of $13.50 to pick up gifts for four different people for Christmas (I can't say what they were or I'd ruin the surprise for some of my readers). This doesn't finish their Christmas shopping, but it's all stuff I know they'll really enjoy. My friend picked up 12 board books for her daughter for a mere $2, not to mention clothing and toys. You just can't beat that for a morning's work! After the sales were finished a lot of people left what hadn't sold outside with a sign saying "FREE", which is where I picked up a personal finance book. :)

You can probably tell by this point that I'm a fan of the yard sale. However, there are DANGERS associated with yard sales, or as some call them gar(b)age sales. If you end up buying a bunch of stuff you don't need, that doesn't count as eco-shopping. If you don't need it/won't use it, don't buy it. It's easy to get carried away with the thrill of the hunt. I have bought way too many board games that we've never used. I always picture a nice party with everyone hanging out, having fun playing a board game, so I pick them up. It's never happened....my husband calls them bored games, which tells you how enthusiastic he is about my vision. Eventually I'll bring myself to part with some of them instead of letting them take up space in my basement. Maybe I'll have a yard sale!

There are some items that yard sales are absolutely perfect for providing. Children's clothes go for a song at most yard sales, I've bought pants and shirts for as little as $0.25 each, though $1 is more common in my area. These are perfect; for the most part kids outgrow the items well before they're worn out. Just be careful to check for marks or tears before buying, there's no return policy at a yard sale! Really, anything child related is usually a great buy at a yard sale. How can you go wrong for a playpen costing $10? (yes, it was clean and safe) I've seen a lot of car seats available, but since you don't know if they've already been in an accident or been roughly used, I'd be a bit leery of purchasing one. If you or someone you know is into cooking, odd kitchen items are also great at yard sales. There are a lot of people around who *thought* they'd like cooking or baking and only find out after they've purchased all the equipment that it's really not their favourite hobby. I picked up a mini-muffin pan just like this one for only a quarter! (And I do like cooking and baking so I use it). I was also really tempted to buy a karaoke system but restrained myself by picturing the look on my husband's face when I brought it home. Books can also be a really great bargain at a yard sale, but unless you plan on reading them multiple times or use as a reference, I'd just get them from the library.

If you've never been yard saleing before, give it a try this summer. You might find a great treasure, but make sure it's something you'll use! I've been yard saleing since the summer before I went away for school. We outfitted our entire first apartment with yard sale finds (bed, sofa, pots, dishes...everything a student needs, at a students budget!). Best of all, you'll know that whatever you purchase isn't using up additional resources. It doesn't get any greener than that! (Photo by eraut off of flickr)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Web Round Up

I'm still working on the cherries and strawberries, but I'm confident they won't show up on next week's Food Waste Friday. It's been a busy weekend already, with a HUGE community wide yard sale in my area. I can see a post on the eco-ness of yard sales coming up. :) Meanwhile, here's a few of the interesting articles I've read this week around the web.

http://www.google.org/powermeter/ Is there anything Google can't do? Currently in Beta test with a few power providers, Google is going to give you the ability to see exactly how much power your house is using at any time, from any computer with internet access! You need to have a smart meter installed, and your electricity provider has to be on-board. The only Canadian company in the beta test is Toronto HydroElectric, but I've signed up for the email announcements to find out when this will be available for all.

http://www.doughroller.net/green-living/3-gadgets-cut-energy-costs-30-percent/ Doughroller looks at a few gadgets to help cut power costs. I've never used the thermal leak detector, but I love my programmable thermostat and the Kill A Watt tool.

http://myyearwithoutspending.blogspot.com/ Can you be stylish and green without breaking the bank? Angela at My Year Without Spending says yes and proves it by featuring pictures of her readers wearing stylish second hand outfits.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Food Waste Friday

I've been following a blog called The Frugal Girl for quite a while now. Every Friday Kristen (the frugal girl) posts a picture of any food she's throwing out that week. The idea is that by posting publicly, and keeping a record, you're more likely to be aware of the food in your house, and try to avoid wasting any! This seems like a good idea to me, so I'm going to join the group of people who post with Kristen. After all, not wasting food has got to be good for the environment, right? Not to mention the pocketbook!

I went through my fridge and found asparagus, broccoli, a bit of yogurt, and a few cherries and strawberries that needed to be thrown out. I'm not someone who thinks that after the best-before date the food turns to poison...but the yogurt was best before April 15, and had some really interesting yellow and green mold growing on it. There was maybe one serving of yogurt left in the container. As for the produce...I just forgot about it for awhile and now it's not edible (unless you happen to like slimy and gross-smelling asparagus....I don't). However, since I went through the fridge I was able to see that a few of the cherries and strawberries were starting to go bad, and that inspired me to clean the rest of them and get them in ready-to-eat format in the fridge. Food Waste Friday is going to save me from wasting the rest of the fruit! And now I'm having cherries for dessert after lunch instead of Mr. Christie Chunky Chocolate Chip Cookies. It's probably for the best. :)

Here's a picture of my food waste. All the produce went into the compost, and the plastic yogurt container was recyclable. The only items that went into the garbage were the produce bags.

I couldn't find any specific studies showing how much food Canadians waste on average, but I did find an interesting article in the Toronto Star. It seems that 27%-33% of food is thrown out in America and the United Kingdom, with similar amounts seeming to hold true in Toronto. Some food waste is inevitable (apple core, melon rind, etc..) but they're saying that 1/4 to 1/3 of the food thrown out is untouched or unopened, and 61% of the food waste could have been eaten if the consumers had planned better (like what I'm throwing out this week). That's a lot of energy to grow the food, ship the food to consumers, package the food, and then dispose of the food (and if it ends up in landfills instead of compost, that's how methane gas gets created).

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Green Dishwasher Detergent

I've been reading Green For Life and was inspired to try out the green dishwasher detergent recipe she's written about. In fact, there's so much information in this book, that I've decided I want to own my own copy (right now, I have the library copy). Luckily there's one available on bookmooch right now, so hopefully I'll have my own copy soon.

The Recipe
Mix equal amounts of Borax and baking soda. Use 2 tablespoons per dishwasher load in place of commercial detergent.

She also suggests using distilled white vinegar in place of a rinse agent (like JetDry), but since I still have rinse agent in my dishwasher, I didn't try that out this time. Maybe next time.

The detergent was easy to make, and I happened to have Borax and baking soda at home, so I didn't need to purchase anything! But...the real test....are the dishes clean?

Now, I know what some of you are thinking; "the dishes can't be clean if you're not using a lot of harsh chemicals and getting a lemon-fresh scent" Wrong! The Borax and Baking Soda combination is commonly considered to be an excellent substitute for toxic cleaning chemicals. Don't believe me? Search on Google, you'll find tons of articles including this one which says the same recipe can be used for laundry detergent. I'll have to do some more research to make sure it'll work in a high efficiency washing machine before I try that out though.

Ok, so now you're convinced the soap substitute is ok, but is it environmental to wash dishes using the dishwasher compared to washing by hand? And can't you get the dishes cleaner by hand? Absolutely it's environmental, and no, you can't get them cleaner by hand. This excellent summary shows why dishwashers are the right choice environmentally speaking: "Scientists at the University of Bonn in Germany who studied the issue found that the dishwasher uses only half the energy, one-sixth of the water, and less soap than hand-washing an identical set of dirty dishes. Even the most sparing and careful washers could not beat the modern dishwasher. The study also found that dishwashers excelled in cleanliness over hand washing." Keep in mind that the dishwasher can use much hotter water than your hands can stand, and that hot water is great for killing bacteria. The key for environmental use of the dishwasher is that you must only run full loads, let the dishes air dry, and you shouldn't pre-rinse all the dishes (really, that's why you HAVE a dishwasher, so you don't have to wash the dishes!). Scraping food off before loading the dishwasher is recommended, but rinsing wastes water. You don't have a family of six that makes enough dishes each meal to run a full dishwasher? That's ok, neither do I! I speak from experience when I tell you that the dirty dishes aren't going anywhere, you can let them sit in the dishwasher for another meal or two until it's full enough to run. It doesn't take long. :)

So, environmentally speaking I should continue to use my dishwasher, and I should switch to a Borax/Baking Soda detergent mix (possibly with vinegar instead of rinse agent). Does it make sense financially? For my analysis, I used the prices available right now at my local No Frills grocery store. Yes, I could probably get detergent cheaper by buying on sale, but I can probably get baking soda cheaper by buying in bulk and on sale as well, so I figure it probably evens out. Since I couldn't get exactly the same sizes of everything, I'll break it down into a price per 100g to compare costs.

Traditional Detergent
1.8 kg of No Name lemon scent dishwasher detergent @ $3.29
Cost: $0.18 per 100 g

Earth-Friendly Detergent
2.13 kg of Seventh Generation Eco-Friendly dishwasher detergent @ $7.99
Cost: $0.38 per 100 g

Borax & Baking Soda mix
2 kg of Borax @ $5.27 or $0.26/100 g
500g of No Name baking soda @ $0.99 or $0.20/100g
Cost: $0.23 per 100 g (50 g Borax, 50 g baking soda)

So the Borax and Baking Soda mix isn't quite as economical as No Name dishwasher detergent, but significantly less expensive than some of the earth-friendly alternatives. I suspect I could probably bring the price down a little by looking for Borax and baking soda at a warehouse club like Costco to see what bulk pricing can do. Even if I can't, the price difference isn't that big (and I'm not using No Name detergent right now). I'm going to call this eco-experiment a success, and homemade dishwasher detergent will have a place in my house! (and hopefully this means I'll never run out of detergent again...so annoying when that happens....)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Introduction to The Green Canadian

This blog is going to be my informal way of tracking what I do to make my life greener. I think that we are all caretakers for the world, and should do our part to ensure that future generations have a green world to live in. Welcome to my battle to create a greener life for myself and my family, without going broke in the process!