Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thoughtful consumption

Last year we turned my children's artwork
into note cards that they gave as gifts to
their grandmothers.
 I love Buy Nothing Day, an annual event that encourages people to take a break from consumption. The event, now in its 20th year, falls on that wild shopping day known as Black Friday, (the day after American Thanksgiving and one of the busiest shopping days of the year in the U.S.)

Black Friday or not, it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of spot sales, buy-one-get-one-free offers and the lure of discount prices.  People come home from weekend shopping trips with heaps of stuff that they just couldn’t pass up because the price was so low. (Mind you, even Frenchy’s and Value Village shoppers fall prey to the same bug. They just spend less in one shot.)
Consciously going a day without buying anything can inch you toward what I call thoughtful consumption -- carefully considering what you purchase (Is it necessary? Will it get used? Do I already have some of these? Is there a bit too much plastic packaging for my liking?) It’s a helpful mindset as we all dive into Christmas shopping.  

Like most people, I’m happy to buy or make gifts for those on my Christmas list. But buying for the sake of buying or purchasing something, anything, just to check a name off a list can take the fun out of Holiday shopping. I can sympathise, finding just the right gift for someone can be exhausting and sometimes impossible.
How do you avoid the stress of searching for the perfect gift or buying something just to get it over with (only to have it sit in a closet some place)? I aim for the practical with a touch of pizazz.  Practical is great because it means the item will get used and the pizazz makes it a little special, just right for the Holidays.
I splurge on good wool socks for my husband, the kind that he’d never treat himself to. I treat my mom and sisters to high quality cooking ingredients and they often do the same for me. All of this stuff is enjoyed, and used. 
Here are some other ideas for thoughtful (and useful) gift giving:
Is there someone on your list who loves tea, or coffee or chocolate? Create your own gift basket full of their favourites or some you know they’d love to try but would never buy for themselves. Another idea - baskets of locally-made goods are fun to give, and to receive.
Restaurant gift cards, museum memberships, tickets to sporting events, concerts or the theatre, tucked in a gift bag and tied with a pretty bow are thoughtful gifts that will get used. So are donations to community charities, made in the name of someone special. Can you think of a non-profit that the recipient has a connection with, whether through volunteer activities or direct care?
Thinking before you buy is a good lesson for all of us. It might mean that we come home with fewer things, but less clutter is a gift in itself.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Celebrate Buy Nothing Day!

Black Friday or not, it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of spot sales, buy-one-get-one-free offers and the lure of discount prices.  Instead, spend the day unshopping, unspending and unwinding.

Watch the Do The Green Thing video

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fracking costs outweigh the benefits

Fracking puts our waterways at risk, not to mention
 our drinking water and air quality
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" comes to mind as I follow the issue of fracking in New Brunswick. My eco-mind weighs the rosy economic picture that dominates the debate against the fact that fracking is considered one of the top five environmental challenges facing the globe today.
No issue garners that status without some scientific weight behind the worry.
More and more research is coming to light suggesting that the economic cost of fracking (not to mention the social and environmental cost) might far outweigh any economic benefit we could ever hope to realize from the industry.
With just a little bit of digging you'll find more info on what all the worry is about. As an example, the Drilling down series includes months worth of investigative journalism by The New York Times that exposes the key concerns about the industry and shows what it's like for communities living with the fallout of the shale gas bubble.

To form a fair opinion on the issue, New Brunswickers need an honest assessment of the costs and benefits of shale gas extraction. But we're not getting that. Aside from the fact that the Provincial government's online information reads like it was cut and pasted from industry fact sheets, its nothing-bad-could-happen tone is naïve. Governments in many areas have either banned or suspended fracking and others are labouring over whether or not to allow it because a mountain of evidence is accumulating demonstrating that the economic, social and environmental cost is too great to make it worthwhile.

We all need to weigh in on the debate and, regardless of where you stand on the issue, here are some things you need to consider:

* Each well could use up to 80 million litres of fresh water to extract the gas (according to government data). And the government has no idea how many wells could be developed in the province. Our supply of fresh drinking water isn't bottomless.

* For each well, the fracking water could contain up to 800,000 litres of fracking "fluid," a mixture of known toxins. Fracking water is further contaminated with radioactive residue naturally occurring in the rock.

* Contaminated fracking water - that's billions and billions of litres of untreated waste water - will work its way into the Kennebecasis River, other nearby waterways and drinking water.

* There are significant air quality issues associated with fracking. New research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found breast cancer rates were increasing in counties in Texas with the highest natural gas air emissions. Meanwhile rates were declining in all other counties.

* The government speaks highly of a new regulatory framework under development to protect our air, water, livelihood - everything we know and love about living in Southern New Brunswick. But how do you build any trust or confidence when an exploration company snubs exploration regulations?

All economic development requires compromise but with fracking the trade-off might be more than you bargained for. If it sounds too good to be true...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Make your own carbonated drinks, with tap water!

Carbonate tap water and nix the store
bought (often imported) mineral water
and club soda.

I love carbonated water with a slice of lemon or lime, may be a sprig of mint in the summer, or poured half-and-half with homemade rhubarb juice in the spring. It's refreshing and thirst quenching. But I don't like the mounds of bottles that accumulate in our recycling bin. I'm happy to cart the empties off to the depot, but since recycle is the "R" of last resort, I'd rather avoid the bottles altogether.  

A friend introduced us to Sodastream, an easy way to carbonate tap water. It's a countertop gadget with CO2 cartridges that are refillable (at Sears, among other places).

Carbonate to your liking -- lots of bubbles or a few -- and nix the cans and bottles of mineral water and club soda.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

EcoLogo certification helps you find safe cleaning products

Look for the EcoLogo symbol
 on cleaning products to be sure that they're safe.
Sometimes when I mention to people how toxic most household cleaning products are they get a little overwhelmed. After all, homes need to be cleaned and if you can’t trust that your favourite products are safe for you and the environment what do you do? And how do you know if the product next to it on the grocery store shelf is any better?

I could print a list of harmful ingredients to look out for but when it comes down to it, ingredient lists on most household cleaning products are nonexistent. The back label is usually filled with poison control information and other warnings. Interestingly enough the products that do list ingredients are the eco-friendly options.

If you’re in search of less-toxic, eco-friendly cleaning products, going the unscented route is the simplest place to begin. But that only addresses one part of the problem (albeit a significant part).

To save all the stress and worry of figuring out if a cleaning product is reasonably safe and effective, I default to products carrying the EcoLogo symbol. This very recognizable seal consists of three interlocking doves in the shape of a maple leaf, surrounded with the words “Environmental Choice”. (Some certified products use a variation of the seal that simply says EcoLogo Certified.)

Founded in 1988 by the Government of Canada but now recognized world-wide, EcoLogo is a meaningful, trustworthy certification standard that is earned only by products that are healthy, sustainable and eco-friendly.

The list of products that carry the EcoLogo certification is very broad, including everything from household cleaners to paint, flooring, garbage bags and rechargeable batteries. In the household cleaners category you can find multipurpose cleaners, oven cleaner, dishwasher detergent, dish detergent, tub & tile cleaner, carpet cleaner and more.

The standards are often revised and were recently strengthened for household cleaners. To be certified, household cleaners must now limit the use of chemicals known to trigger or aggravate asthma (asthmagens). The EcoLogo program also excludes other unsafe ingredients, including ammonia, formaldehyde and phthalates, all hazardous chemicals commonly found in cleaning products.

Products that fall under the new standards are general purpose, bathroom and glass cleaners as well as dish detergents, degreasers and cleaners for cooking appliances. (The standard also includes industrial, vehicle and boat cleaners.)

The simplest way to find EcoLogo certified products is to look in the natural food section of major grocery stores. When I checked in the general cleaning aisle I wasn’t able to find any products with the certification, although there were a few products that “looked” green. But when they aren’t third-party certified, you can’t be sure.

If you want to avoid looking at labels altogether you can switch to vinegar. It’s a non-toxic, all-purpose cleaner that cleans drains, deodorizes rooms, removes stains, cleans toilets, and the rest of the bathroom. Use it to scrub floors, sinks, counters and as a general laundry aid.  For more information on the EcoLogo program and to search out other EcoLogo certified products visit ecologo.org.