Monday, December 22, 2008

Cut Christmas waste and make room for more joy

Twenty-five percent more waste is generated over Christmas than during any other time of the year. If you have children your excess household waste this time of year might be even higher, thanks to the excessive packaging of children’s toys. With that in mind I think this is a good time for some recycling reminders. If you work at it recycling can cut your household waste in half – any time of year.

Before the deluge begins think of a Christmas morning system. That way you won’t be as tempted to stuff every scrap of wrapping and packaging into garbage bags and toss it out the back door. We try to sort as we go, creating a few different piles, so we don’t have to deal with one big mound that’s a mixture of trash, recyclables and reusable ribbon, bags and paper. I’m not saying it’s a tidy process but it does the trick.

Remember that wrapping paper is not recyclable. Not much of it is reusable either, that’s why I think gift bags are such a great idea. They’re practically indestructible, come in every size imaginable and help keep last minute shoppers (or wrappers) from going off the deep end. Tuck your’s away to be reused next year.

Cardboard boxes and packaging, as long as they’re not soiled or waxed, can be recycled. Some boxes might be worth saving to reuse at another time. Flatten the boxes you’re going to recycle for easy storage.

On rigid plastic packaging, look for the recycling symbol with a number in the middle. Any plastic with a number between 1 and 7 can go in the blue bins. They’re few and far between on children’s toys but it’s still worth checking.

Don’t get lazy over the holidays when it comes to basic household recycling and composting. Sure it’s busy and there’ll be more of everything, but just set it aside and deal with it later if that’s what it takes to keep it from going in the trash. If you’re hosting a gathering and using disposable plates, buy paper plates and toss them in the compost bin for an easy clean up.

While you’re thinking about ways to reduce trash here’s another idea to help reduce your household stuff in general this time of year:

Each year before Christmas we put an empty box in our playroom and ask our children to fill it with toys to be given away. It takes a bit of coaxing to get the momentum going. But the box gets filled and together we deliver it to Romero House or The Salvation Army. But listen to this, after Christmas we put another box in the playroom and it gets filled almost without comment. You can try the same thing with your stuff too.

Christmas is a season of abundance in so many ways. Doing a little extra to reduce the trash can only make room for more joy. Enjoy the Holidays!
The blog was previously published in KV Style (

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Break the idling habit

Now that the weather is cooling down we’re getting into what seems to be the “idling season”. By no means is this problem limited to winter. It’s just that this time of year idling is much more obvious. The exhaust billowing out of tail pipes is a visible and smelly reminder that cars do a lot of polluting.

Whether you’re in line for the ferry to the Peninsula or waiting to pick up your kids from school, remembering to turn off the ignition can have a big impact on the environment and your fuel budget. If every driver of a light duty vehicle in Canada could reduce their idling time each day by just five minutes, each year we’d save 1.8 million litres of fuel and keep 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere. In New Brunswick we’re rarely idling in traffic which means we have more options when it comes to breaking the idling habit.

Here’s an easy rule: If you’re going to be stopped more than 10 seconds (unless in traffic) then turn your car off. Idling for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel than starting your engine. So that means if you’re in your car and not moving, turn it off.

It means a quick warming of your car on a frosty morning. Avoid using a remote car starter. It’s way too easy to start your car long before you need to. Instead, bundle up and give yourself a few extra minutes to scrape the car. Or try this: mix in a spray bottle three parts vinegar, one part water and spray it on your car windows at night. The mixture will keep your windows ice and frost-free and save you time when you’re rushing in the morning. Keep the mixture under the kitchen sink so it’s always ready.

Turn your car off when you’re waiting to pick up your kids from school. (The added bonus is that kids don’t end up inhaling your exhaust fumes as they walk by.)

Avoid the drive-thru. Park and walk into the restaurant instead.

For every litre of gasoline used, the average car emits about 2.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide. You do the math for your car and then think about these additional tips to improve fuel efficiency and pollute less:

Avoid rapid acceleration and aggressive driving. If this is your driving style chances are you’re using up to 40% more fuel then you would if you were a little more relaxed and driving the speed limit.

If you’re lugging heavy stuff around in your trunk unload it. Same goes for roof carriers that aren’t in use. These things contribute to higher fuel usage.

Make sure your tires are properly inflated. Low tires make your car work harder to get from A to B. Check your tire pressure more often in winter, since cold temperatures decrease air pressure.

Walk more drive less.

Whether you’re looking for ways to save on gas or are concerned about pollution (or both) changing your driving habits a bit can make a huge difference.

This article was previously published in KV Style

Doing everyday things a little differently

It’s easier than you think to live your life a little “greener”. Even if you have a busy household (and who doesn’t?), getting into the habit of doing everyday things a little differently isn’t that complicated, especially since all sorts of helpful resources are available nearby.

This article offers a few quick hints, things that you can consider doing -- or doing differently – to make your life a little more eco-friendly.

Book an energy audit for your home. Efficiency NB subsidizes the bulk of the cost so your out-of-pocket expense can be as little as $50, which you’ll make back in energy savings before you know it. If you’d like to get some free ideas contact NB Power and ask to speak with an Energy Advisor. The Advisor I spoke with was so helpful it’s all I could do not to invite him over for supper by the end of the call.

Eat locally grown food. From July through to the end of October locally grown produce is right under your nose. Buy your produce at the small local markets (to find the truly local stuff) then cram as much of it as possible into your freezer (or preserve it in one way or another) so you can savour it through the winter.

Wash your clothes in cold water (or start doing some of your loads in cold water). 90% of the energy used to do a wash goes into heating the water. But it takes no more effort on your part to switch the dial to “cold”.

Hang your clothes to dry. A clothesline is cheap and easy to install, the sun a natural bleach and September winds wick clothes dry quickly. Wooden drying racks are easy too and you can use them indoors year round.

Turn off lights when you’re not in the room. Turn off the computer, TV, radio stereo and any other powered device that’s not in use and remember to turn off the outside lights before you go to bed.

Pack your own bags when you go to the grocery store. We leave ours in the trunk of the car so we don’t forget them. You’ll be amazed how liberating it is to be free of those mounds of plastic bags that once cluttered the broom closet.

Drive less, walk more. Take the Comex bus, carpool, or if your job is suited for it, see if you can work from home one day a week. A monthly Comex pass is tax deductible.

See if you can make some of these tips part of your new Fall routine.

This article was previously published in KV Style

Keeping the cold out

It’s only October but already my feet get cold just thinking about January. Fortunately our home is much cozier now that we have completed just about all of the recommendations from our energy audit.

Over the past two years we have reduced our home’s production of greenhouse gas emissions by 4.3 tonnes a year. So our 90 year old house is now in the same efficiency range as a conventionally built new home. Great for us but not so great for owners of newer homes that could have been built much more efficiently.

For those of us who don’t live in R-2000 homes (they’re 30% more energy efficient than your average new home) there are many things you can do to save energy and leave more money in your pocket. An energy audit is a good place to start. It will provide you with a plan to work from and ensure you’ll qualify for funding if you decide to make some improvements, from insulating your basement to changing your furnace. There is provincial and federal funding available, depending on what upgrades you choose to make. Contact Efficiency NB for details on how to find a licensed energy advisor.

Your audit may recommend some significant upgrades. But it will also be full of cheap, do-it-yourself ideas that will do their part to help keep you warmer this winter.

Here are a few:
Insulate your light switches and outlets. There are special foam gaskets that fit neatly behind your light switch and outlet cover plates. Child-safety outlet plugs help keep drafts out too.

Install programmable electronic thermostats and set them at a constant heat for when you’re home. Set them a bit lower for when you’re sleeping or not home. You can save up to 2% on your heating bill for each degree that you turn the heat down. You’ll save even more if you put on a sweater.

Caulk around window and door trim, caulk the top and bottom of your baseboards and quarter rounds. No crack is too small to be sealed. We went through more than a dozen tubes of caulking in our home. Be sure to use indoor caulking.

Check your weatherstripping around windows and doors and replace any that isn’t doing its job. Use a feather to see if drafts are coming in (or heat is going out).

If you don’t use your fireplace, or don’t use it that often, consider insulating it. A fireplace without a proper insert will suck your hard-earned heat right up the chimney.

This isn’t rocket science. In an older home up to 40% of energy loss is due to air leakage. A visit to the local hardware store is all you need to get started with the suggestions above.

Another note on R2000 homes: With all of the building going on in the Valley I’d like to think that people are choosing the R-2000 option. But according to the Canadian Home Builders Association website, there are no R-2000-licensed builders in Greater Saint John. Visit for a list of builders in Fredericton and Moncton. Or better yet, ask your local builder to get certified!

This article was previously printed in KV Style

The dirty dozen

Tips for choosing between organic and non-organic produce

I used to have a difficult time navigating the produce section at Sobey’s and The Superstore, especially in the off-season. Availability of organic produce is still limited and can be inconsistent. So what to do when you want apples for the kids’ lunches but there are no organic available? How bad is non-organic produce? Let me tell you it was a happy day when we discovered “the dirty dozen” and the corresponding list of fruits and vegetables that are relatively safe when it comes to pesticide residue.

The list was developed by The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit organization in the States. EWG has done extensive research on common fruits and vegetables to determine how much in the way of pesticide residues make it all the way to our tables. I hope you’re sitting down for this.

Here are the worst (in order of highest pesticide load):
1. Peaches
2. Apples
3. Sweet bell peppers
4. Celery
5. Nectarines
6. Strawberries
7. Cherries
8. Lettuce
9. Imported grapes (from outside Canada & the US)
10. Pears
11. Spinach
12. Potatoes

The “best” (in order of lowest pesticide load):
1. Onions
2. Avocado
3. Sweet corn (frozen)
4. Pineapples
5. Mango
6. Sweet peas (frozen)
7. Asparagus
8. Kiwi
9. Bananas
10. Cabbage
11. Broccoli
12. Eggplant

The “worst” tested high for both residue levels and multiple pesticide residues. You might like to know that research that helps to determine “safe” levels of pesticide residue tests each pesticide in isolation. But the worst crops are sprayed with multiple chemicals. For example, peaches and apples tested positive for nine different pesticides – that’s on a single piece of fruit. Sweet bell peppers were worse, with 11 pesticides detected on single samples.
You can come out from under the covers for the review of the “best”. About 75% of the eggplant, broccoli, sweet pea and cabbage samples had no detectable pesticides. The fruit results are even better. Less than 10 percent of pineapple, mango, and avocado samples had detectable pesticides on them.

This is not airy research. It’s based on an analysis of nearly 43,000 tests for pesticides on these foods, conducted from 2000 and 2005 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. It takes into consideration how people typically wash and prepare produce.
There is considerable undisputed research that connects pesticide exposure to nervous system damage, cancer and reproductive effects. The impact of multiple pesticide exposure is less clear because it’s so difficult to study. It’s also well understood that children are most vulnerable to pesticide toxicity (even in the womb).

Fortunately there is a bit of a silver lining to the gloomy research. You now have some helpful guidance when it comes to balancing your grocery budget and the availability of organic produce. Visit for the full list of products tested.

This article was previously printed in KV Style