Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Growing a garden this year?

Are you a wannabe urban farmer looking for inspiration and a little confidence? A visit to an online seed catalog is all it takes to have faith that this will be a green thumb year.

Check out Hope Seeds' site for a gorgeous variety of heirloom veggies that are naturalized to our New Brunswick climate. Previously based in New Brunswick, Hope Seeds is now putting down roots (so to speak) in Nova Scotia.

Here's hoping for a bumper crop of atomic red carrots and enough Costata romanesca zucchini to feed the neighbourhood.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Celebrate Earth Hour!

Reducing our home energy consumption is something that we should work at every day but once a year there is a special event that makes it easier to keep that goal top-of-mind. Earth Hour, an initiative of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), challenges people simply to turn out the lights for an hour to draw attention to the impact our energy use has on climate change. The idea is to have fun in the dark and think about how you can inject some Earth Hour spirit into your everyday life. This year’s event is on Saturday, March 26, from 8:30 to 9:30.

Earth Hour is one of those great acts of global solidarity that anyone can take part in. I love how it empowers people (especially children) to be part of something that actually makes a difference. Last year 1.3 billion people took part in Earth Hour across the globe, including more than 10 million Canadians.

This year’s focus is on the role clean energy can play in reducing climate change. It’s an encouraging reminder that there are many ways to tackle the climate change challenge and reducing the energy we consume is just part of the solution.

In New Brunswick we’re on the way to generating a respectable amount of renewable energy. According to the WWF website 38% of the energy we use is renewable, 56% is not (6% is unaccounted for). We’re still burning coal and heavy oil in our power plants but we have a lot of hydro power too. The great news is that 10% of the energy we consume now comes from wind power and there is potential for our province to generate even more energy from renewable sources. But in the meantime a good chunk of our energy is “dirty”: good reason to use less.

Making changes to our energy consumption at home can make a real difference. According to Stats Canada, households contribute almost half (46%) of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions and energy use is the single biggest contributor to a home's carbon footprint. That’s more emissions than our personal use of vehicles. Lights are a small part of a home’s energy use but you’ll be surprised at how sitting in the dark really makes you contemplate your life’s dependence on the grid.

If you’d like to celebrate Earth Hour this year the WWF website has lots of great ideas for marking the event, at work, school and home.

This year we’re having friends over for a lights-out potluck and Twister by candlelight. We’ll turn the lights out early (8:30 is a little late to get started with young kids) or we might not turn them on at all.

However you choose to celebrate consider registering your participation on the Earth Hour website so you’ll be counted (www.EarthHourCanada.org). You’ll see there is a lot of fun to be had without the distraction of a TV or computer.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Don't flush! (your meds)

This has been one of those winters where the flu and cold have run rampant. At the office dozens of people have been out sick and one day at my children’s school 30% of the students were home with the flu.

Along with a busy flu season comes a lot of medication, from prescription antibiotics to over-to-counter cold and sinus medicine. We had our fair share of medicine go through our house this winter, including a prescription change mid-way through pneumonia treatment after my daughter broke out in hives. That left us with a bottle full of Biaxin that couldn’t be used.

What do you do with leftover prescription medications, expired medications or expired over-the-counter drugs? Don’t flush them down the toilet!

Our waterways have enough trouble dealing with medications (prescription and other) that our bodies excrete without having leftover doses washed down the drain as well. Medications can pass through waste-water treatment facilities so trace amounts of prescription drugs (birth control pills, antidepressants, and antibiotics), over-the-counter medications (pain relievers like aspirin and ibuprofen, and cold/flu remedies), and veterinary medicines have all made their way into our waterways.

It’s unclear if trace amounts of medications in our rivers and lakes are dangerous for humans but there is considerable research documenting the negative impact of medications on aquatic life.

Even in concentrations as tiny as parts-per-trillion the effect on fish and frogs is well documented. A body of research from Ontario has shown that when fathead minnows are grown from egg to adulthood in the presence of as little as three parts-per-trillion of synthetic estrogen (used in birth control pills), they are completely feminized. This means that fewer males are available to mate and to fertilize eggs. (Considering the broader implications of this is a bit scary).

Other drugs have their own worrisome impacts. Steroids can disrupt reproductive processes, anti-depressants make fish tranquil so more vulnerable to predators, and antibiotics in waterways contribute to the growth of antibiotic resistant germs.

Trace levels of pharmaceuticals have also been detected the drinking water of several U.S. cities. No one knows what kind of threat this might pose to humans and that’s a worry, especially when you consider the cumulative effect of long-term exposure to mixtures of pharmaceuticals.

The most important thing you can do to help keep drugs out of our waterways (and our drinking water) is to dispose of them properly. We’re fortunate that our local pharmacies participate in “take-back” programs, taking unused prescription and over-the-counter medications and disposing of them safely. Never flush medications down the toilet or pour them down the drain. Keep them in their package and drop them at your nearest pharmacy when you get the chance.

As well, Health Canada recommends that you go through your medicine cabinet once a year and remove all prescription and non-prescription drugs that are old or that you no longer take. That way you can safely dispose of them all in one trip to the pharmacy.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My most exciting discovery of 2011 (so far)

Green Beaver zesty orange toothpaste. Yum!
This is the most refreshing toothpaste ever! The citrusy taste is real, with just enough zing to make your mouth feel nice and clean. It's non-toxic, natural and not artificially sweet like most toothpaste on the market.

Thanks Green Beaver for proving that, in the world of toothpaste, mint doesn't rule.

Two bags or less

How many bags of trash do you send to the curb on garbage day? Could you send less?

There is a great initiative underway at the Fundy Region Solid Waste Commission, challenging residents to commit to generating less household waste each week. By signing up for the “Two bags or less” challenge you commit to keeping your household garbage to two bags, or less, every week (four bags every collection period).

The idea is that if people are given a limit, or volunteer for a limit, then there will be a material reduction in over all trash generated. It’s a way to prepare us for the imposed limit that is coming.

Before starting the initiative the Commission completed a trial with 200 households in Hampton over the summer and into the fall. The results of the study showed that even voluntary limits to garbage can reduce the amount of waste set at the curb.

Most residents are already putting two bags or less to the curb every two weeks but the program is starting with a very generous “limit” to get people thinking. They’ll gradually reduce the amount over time as residents ease into the idea. What the eventual limit will be I don’t know.

There are environmental and economic incentives to diverting waste to more environmentally-friendly channels – like recycling paper and plastic and composting food waste. Composting alone can save a small fortune. Municipalities pay $28 per tonne in tipping fees for compost. But when residents put food and yard waste in the garbage, the tipping fee is $108 per tonne.

Last year the Fundy Solid Waste Commission recycled 6,100 tonnes of recyclables. That saved a lot of space in the landfill, diverted almost $660,000 in garbage tipping fees, and helped to ensure the reuse of our natural resources.

Knowing how to reduce your household trash is the first step in waste reduction.

Simple recycling will reduce your household garbage by nearly 50% and visiting the blue bins is getting easier and easier since you hardly have to do any sorting now that there are just three sorting bins: one for corrugated cardboard, one for paper & boxboard, and another for plastic, metal & milk containers. By the way, corrugated cardboard has the highest resale value of all recyclables so don’t put it in the trash!

Composting can reduce your household waste by 40% and is practically effortless since it gets hauled away for most of us.

Buying less and considering packaging as you make buying decisions are other ways to reduce your household waste.

Only you know how much effort you’re putting into waste reduction but chances are you could be doing more. Whether you sign up for the challenge or not, being mindful of how much you send to the curb is the first step in getting your household trash down to an environmentally and economically sustainable level. We’re down to one bag or less every two weeks and I’m sure there are still more ways we could trim. Visit http://www.fundyrecycles.com/ for more info on “Two bags or less” and fore more waste reduction tips.