Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It’s not good for you, or the environment, to idle your car

Although it’s tempting on frosty mornings to start your car long before you’re ready to hop in it and go, letting it idle in the driveway pollutes your neighbourhood, wastes gas, and isn’t any better for your car than driving away thirty seconds after you start it in the first place.

But warming up the car is a Canadian habit. Based on research by the Department of Natural Resources, in the peak of winter many Canadian motorists idle their vehicles for about eight minutes a day. Nation-wide it amounts to more than 75 million minutes of idling a day, wastes over 2.2 million litres of fuel and produces over five million kilograms of greenhouse gases.

Idling is such a pollution problem in big cities that some, like New York, have passed no-idling laws. Although our communities are not densely populated idling is still a pollution problem and a public health issue since many of the places where people idle are public areas where there are more people around to breath in the fumes. As well, you inhale exhaust if you’re sitting in an idling vehicle.

An idling vehicle emits CO2 (the primary greenhouse gas) and a mix of other gasses that have been linked to increased rates of cancer, heart and lung disease, asthma and allergies. Children and the elderly are more at risk. The environmental Defense Fund calls idling the second-hand smoking of the outdoors.

Warming your vehicle on cool mornings is only one of the reasons why Canadians idle their vehicles. Empty vehicles idle in public places while the driver runs an errand, people sit in idling cars in store parking lots, presumably while someone does the shopping, and people idle while they chat.

If you have a habit of idling, being mindful of its effect on your health and on the environment might make it easier to stop. Natural Resources Canada has some other suggestions too:

- Your car doesn’t need to idle to warm the engine. In fact, the best way to warm your engine is to drive your car at a moderate speed. About 30 seconds is all that’s needed before you put it in gear and drive away. As well, driving your car gets the heater going more quickly so you won’t have to wait too long for the car’s interior to warm up.

- Don’t leave your car running while you run an errand. It will only take a minute for your vehicle to warm up again once you return.

- Instead of sitting in a parking lot with the car idling while someone is in getting groceries, turn off the car and go into the store. It saves on gas, reduces green house gas emissions and you won’t be breathing fumes that leak into the car.

- As a general rule, if you’re stopped for more than 10 seconds, turn off your engine. It has a minimal impact on the starter switch, and idling for over10 seconds uses more fuel than it would take to re-start your engine.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

We’re into New Year’s resolution season

The vow to clean up your diet is a common enough New Year’s resolution but for most it’s easier said than done. While many people want to eat better and feed their families healthier meals, people generally get stuck on the “how” to manage that on a reasonable budget and within the common time crunch that we live under on a day-to-day basis.

But the challenge isn’t insurmountable and it comes with perks. A diet that is healthier for you is also healthier for the planet so your personal health goal can have much broader, positive results.

Easing into a more eco-friendly diet is a matter of changing habits one at a time. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:

This is the year to phase out canned goods. Although cans are recyclable they’re lined with Bisphenol A, a plastic that Health Canada has acknowledged can be harmful to both human health and the environment. While the government makes plans to phase it out you can start now to rid your cupboards of cans that are lined with plastic, replacing them with healthier, more eco-friendly options. Replace canned beans with dried beans. (Cook them in two-cup batches and freeze any you don’t plan to use within a few days.) Replace canned soup with homemade and canned bouillon with homemade stock or good quality bouillon cubes. Replace tinned fish and meat with fresh or frozen versions.

Why buy mini yogurts when you can buy big tubs and make your own snack-size servings with half-cup mason jars or little plastic storage containers. While you’re at it, consider switching from flavoured yogurts, they’re high in sugar and the term “natural flavours” isn’t regulated so who knows what’s in it. Instead sweeten your yogurt with jam, maple syrup and cinnamon or fresh fruit.

Try eating one less meat-based meal each week. It takes about 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat and according to research from Cornell University, beef production requires a ratio of energy expended to protein content of 54:1, compared with just 4:1 for chicken. Substitute meat alternatives like beans for the meat in some of your favourite recipes. Look for organic or naturally-raised meat and reduce the portion size when you do eat meat. Check my recipe section (in the index) for family friendly, meat-free meal ideas.

Buying in bulk reduces packaging so buy large sizes when it makes sense for your family. Many staples like pasta, flour, rice and other grains have a good shelf life and it makes shopping easier when you don’t have to buy them as often.

Consider homemade replacements for processed, packaged foods that you buy often. Making your favourites from scratch will reduce packaging, eliminate many chemical preservatives and flavour enhancers from your diet and could save you a lot of money. Many recipes become quick and easy once you have made them a few times so give yourself a chance to get into practice.

Like any ambitious New Year’s resolution, changing eating habits can be a journey and may set you on your way to achieving goals you didn’t even know you had.