Monday, April 27, 2009

How to “green” your dream renovation

Ads for home shows are all around, which gets me thinking about my imaginary kitchen renovation. My plans get greener by the day because every time I do a little research I come across new earth-friendly products.

So far my imaginary reno has a near zero carbon footprint – second-hand home decorating magazines from my mom is about it. In reality though, the environmental cost of many home renovations far exceeds the actual price tag.

This is how it adds up: There is the environmental impact of the manufacturing process for mainstream home renovation products. Once they’re in your home these products off-gas, sending nasty chemicals into your air. MDF and particleboard are big culprits as are paints and other sealants and finishes. As well, most of the practices for gathering raw materials – wood for cupboards, stone for countertops – are not sustainable. But with green options everywhere you can reduce the environmental impact of your renovation and create a healthier home.

Since renovations contribute to the landfill, divert your castoffs (sinks, cupboards, windows etc.) by donating them to the Habitat for Humanity Restore. Revenue from the store is used as a steady source of funding for the homes that Habitat for Humanity builds.

The EcoLogo certification program is your friend when it comes to choosing products required for your renovation. Products certified through this program are “environmentally preferable” to standard alternatives. Visit their website to search for paints, wallboard, kitchen and bathroom tiles and more.

If you’re selecting new appliances look for the Energy Star label. Appliances that earn this recognition are among the most efficient on the market.

For painting projects look for low-VOC or VOC-free paints, now widely available. Eco-House is a Fredericton company that manufactures natural paint and wood finishes.

Ask for wood products that are Forest Stewardship Council-certified. FSC wood products come from forests that are managed to strict ecological and social/economic standards. Both Ikea and Home Depot carry FSC wood products.

Ikea cabinetry is formaldehyde-free (unlike most of the options out there). Other eco-friendly cabinet options include strawboard, wheatboard (actually made from straw and wheat) and bamboo. Or choose reclaimed wood. Or paint your existing cabinets another colour and add some new hardware).

Some green choices for countertops include FSC butcher block, recycled glass and PaperStone (made from recycled paper and resins). Canadian quarried slate and granite are other options but keep in mind that heavy things that need to travel far have bigger carbon footprints.

For your floors consider reclaimed or FSC wood (with low-VOC finishes), cork (a renewable resource and by-product of the wine cork industry) and bamboo. Natural linoleum (the real stuff) is another green option. Look for Marmoleum so you can steer clear of anything vinyl.

I noticed that the The Home Depot flyer has an “Eco options” symbol by many of its home renovation products -- proof positive that it gets easier by the day to add “green” to your dream renovation.

This article was previously published in KV Style (

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Packing a greener lunch

When my son was in kindergarten he asked why we didn’t send packaged stuff in his lunch. He was intrigued by the novelty of other kid’s lunch items. And what child wouldn’t be? (That’s why food companies make those mini packages.) But the environmental impact of that extra packaging is anything but small, which is reason enough to consider ways to reduce the amount of garbage generated by your lunch.

Each year we come across new (but hardly revolutionary) ways to help make our children’s lunches easier on the environment. A few years ago we stopped buying individually packaged yogurt and instead serve up portions from our big tub. We replaced drink boxes with refillable bottles. When we started reading about chemicals leaching from plastics we bought the children stainless-steel water bottles. And this year we’re working on giving up plastic sandwich bags in favor of reusable containers and little fabric snack bags. (I say “we” but it’s really my husband, since he’s in charge of lunches in our house.)

Below is a list of ideas for packing eco-friendly lunches, for you and your children:

· Reduce (or eliminate) prepackaged foods. Pack in reusable containers your own cheese and crackers, yogurt, juice, water, fruit, vegetables.
· Pack stainless-steel spoons and forks. I dislike eating with plastic utensils so always assumed that my children would too. And plastic utensils can’t be recycled.
· Consider using stainless steel water bottles. They’re so easy to find now, are durable and easy to keep clean.
· Remember any plastics that you use should have the numbers 1, 2, 4 or 5 on them (inside the recycling symbol). These are the food-safe numbers. Items marked with these numbers are also recyclable. Don’t put food items in any containers marked with the number seven. That’s the plastic that contains Bisphenol A, the hormone disruptor that has been banned from use in baby bottles.
· Don’t heat food in plastic containers, no matter what number is stamped on it. Chemical leaching is intensified when the plastic is heated.
· If you do use plastic sandwich bags ask your child to bring them home. They can be rinsed and reused. As soon as they start to show wear they can be recycled with soft plastics. Or better yet, use plastic containers and fabric snack bags instead of plastic bags.
· Beam Reusable Bags, a local company, offers washable fabric snack bags that come in handy packs of six. They’re inexpensive ($7.50 for 6). Visit
· If your child’s school isn’t set up for composting make sure that compostables (banana peals, bread crusts) stay in the lunch bag to be composted at home. If you want to get composting going at your school The Fundy Solid Waste Commission has a terrific program specifically for schools. If you want to start composting at work they have a start-up program for businesses too.
Packing a greener lunch doesn’t have to be complicated. Making just a few changes will make your lunch a little healthier -- for you and for the planet.

This article was previously published in KV Style (

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Turn Earth Day into a week’s worth of earth-friendly activities

If you’re looking for a great excuse to do something special later this month, consider celebrating Earth Day. It lands on Wednesday, April 22. By celebrate I mean plan something to honour the day.

Last year at work we stretched Earth Day into a week’s worth of earth-friendly activities. It was a great reminder of the simple things you can do to reduce your everyday environmental impact, and having one task assigned for each day made it easy to remember. You can do the same at home.

Here are a few suggestions. You can pick one for each day, or try to do as many as you can in a week. With any luck you’ll keep the challenge going long past April.

· Pack a litter-less lunch that includes nothing that will end up in the trash. Avoid all packaged food and instead pack food in reusable containers or bags. So no mini yogurts and no juice boxes.

· Carpool, take the bus, walk to work or work from home – do whatever is possible to ensure you’re not driving alone to work.

· Plan a 100 mile meal (or as close to a 100 mile radius as possible). Use local food from your freezer, the grocery store or local market. Read packaging and labels to find root vegetables grown in the Maritimes to go alongside your main dish or cook a vegetarian meal. Local cheese and eggs are easy to find too.

· Wash your clothes in cold water and then hang them to dry.

· Turn off lights when you leave a room, and turn off the TV, radio and your computer (including at work).

· Try to go a day (or a week) without getting any bags from stores. Bring your own bags instead or don’t use a bag at all for purchases that are easy to carry.

· Don’t idle your car when you’re parked someplace, whether it’s waiting in your car to pick someone up or running to grab a coffee.

· Forgo a disposable cup when you get your daily coffee. Instead bring your own reusable mug.

· Can you go a day (or a week) without using plastic wrap in your kitchen? Cover bowls with plates or store things in reusable containers.

· At work, can you go a day (or longer) without printing anything?

· Take part in a school or community clean-up. Or plan a walk with your family and take a garbage bag to pick up any trash you final along your route.

The idea is to test-drive some basic eco-friendly behaviour and hopefully start down the path of developing some new habits. With luck you’ll see that it’s no great sacrifice to go without plastic wrap, and turning the dial to cold for a wash doesn’t require a leap of faith.

This article was previously published in KV Style (