Saturday, May 26, 2012

Are e-readers eco-friendly?

I got an e-reader for Christmas a couple of years ago and I love it.  It doesn’t replace the feel of a great book, but for everyday reads that you don’t care to keep on your shelf I think they’re the ideal solution. Or at least I thought they were a great, green innovation. It turns out though that they’re not as green as they seem.

If you’re only comparing an e-book to a printed book the e-book comes out on top, environmentally speaking. But to do a true comparison you need to factor in the e-reader too. And by e-reader that can mean a Kindle, Kobo, iPad or tablet.

I found a very thorough analysis comparing e-books and printed books written by Nick Moran, an editor with the literature review site The Millions. After reading it I came to the conclusion that the eco-footprint of an e-reader has as much to do with its owner as it does the device itself. Here’s why…

The carbon footprint of a book includes production of the paper, printing, and shipping to stores. For an e-book you need to include the energy consumed while you read the book, but you also need to consider all that goes into creating the e-reader required to read the e-book in the first place. When all of this is factored in, the average carbon footprint of an e-book is 200 to 250 times that of a printed book.

The ratio gets even worse when there are multiple e-readers in a household, upwards of 650 times worse when compared to the carbon footprint on a home library where you can have more than one family member reading the same copy of a book.

If you hang onto your e-reader for five years or longer it all evens out. But the problem is people tend to upgrade devices every two years.

So in the end, the answer is really that an e-reader can be very eco-friendly. It’s all in how you use it. Do you plan to keep it for a good long time? Do you plan to give it away to someone who will continue to use it if you’re dying to upgrade, or will it get stuffed in a drawer? Are you a voracious reader? If you read a tonne of books (way above the average 6.5 books a year) then the equation is different for you anyway. Do you share an e-reader in your house? Have you switched any subscriptions (magazines, newspapers) to electronic versions? How you answer these questions will determine if your e-reader is a better environmental choice.

If you’re a reader, by far the greenest route is your public library. Remember to check there first for the next book you’d like to read. You can also borrow e-books from the public library.

Share your books among family and friends, borrow books when possible and be sure to cart any unloved books off to one of the local second hand book stores for someone else to enjoy.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Green grilling: how to be safe and eco-friendly around the barbeque

Marinating your meat and adding herbs & spices are two of the simple ways your can make grilling safer.
My dad enjoyed his role as king of the barbeque. Not that he had any choice. No one else in the family was prepared to go near the gas grill since he always had some part of it jury rigged. In those days I thought that grilling was dangerous because of dad’s booby traps but come to find out there are things more worrisome than flames shooting out of the wrong places.  

It is now well understood that carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) form when meat is cooked at high temperatures and research has connected these compounds with higher rates of colorectal, stomach, lung, pancreatic, breast, and prostate cancers. It isn’t just the charred, crispy bits that are unhealthy. These chemicals form in the fatty juices all over the meat. Hamburgers appear to be the worst. 

As well, the fatty smoke from flare ups coats your meat with another family of carcinogens called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).  

Even though this is more than a bit alarming, there is no reason to give up on grilling. Knowing what you can do to limit the formation of these compounds will make your grilling safer. 

Research has shown that certain herbs and spices can reduce HCAs. In particular, rosemary, tumeric and ginger scored the highest in their ability to somehow inhibit the formation of these compounds. (A 2009 report in the Journal of Food Science found that rosemary extract reduced HCAs by 60 to nearly 80 percent.) 

Marinating your meat can reduce the amount of HCAs that form by as much as 99 per cent according to The American Institute for Cancer Research. Adding rosemary, ginger root or tumeric to the marinade is even better. Basting your meat with barbecue sauce helps too. 

Don’t char your meat, and don’t eat the charred bits, no matter how tempting. 

Cook your meat or fish on foil, on a soaked cedar plank or on indirect heat wrapped in parchment paper. 

Pre-cook your meat so it doesn’t have to spend as long over a flame. Or choose small cuts of meat that cook quickly. 

Cook over indirect heat. (One of my all-time favourite recipes is for chicken cooked on indirect heat. It takes a while but is moist and delicious.) 

Trim visible fat off your meat to avoid flare ups (choosing leaner cuts of meat will help) and keep a spray bottle of water handy to douse any unwanted flames.  

Clean your grill racks well. Soak them overnight in hot water and baking soda. If you’re rushed for time, scrub them on the lawn with a paste made out of baking soda and water. Then hose them down. 

Keep the bottom of your grill clean too (to minimize smoking fat). 

If you like to grill with charcoal choose natural charcoal or wood briquettes. Conventional charcoal is made with coal dust, sodium nitrate, sawdust or petroleum products. And the easy-light stuff is treated with lighter fluid. You don’t want those toxic bi-products coating your food.