More New Year Reflections

I thought I would continue with some more anticipated themes for 2011. Most of these things are already underway and I anticipate that they will strengthen as the year progresses. So here goes!

  • Recycling – we are horrible recyclers in this house. It is starting to change but we have a long way to go. We also have way too much stuff in our house. At times, it threatens to overrun us. I see a few purges happening in 2010 and many donations to VAST. I also think I will stop and think before I buy something. I am pretty much an impulse shopper and that needs to stop. I consume far too much stuff. We will also continue with the Swamp Zero Food Waste Policy as much as possible.
  • Music – listening to music is one the things that gives me great joy. It is the foundation of self-care for me. I already listen to music during my commute, at least 1.5 hours round trip. I am also trying to listen more at home. I have a rocking iPod dock so there are no excuses. Plus, it is easy – I have 2 iPods, one for the car and one for home. Along with listening to more music, I want to continue to find new artists and rediscover older ones.
  • Tech – I am really looking forward to the tech releases that will happen in 2011. First up is the Mac App store next week. The release of Lion for the Mac in the summer is also high on my list. I am sure it will be another great year for devices and software!

That’s it for now. I am sure more themes will emerge. Now, I just have to brace for January. I hate January. It’s the month that never ends. We are well into winter and spring is too far away for comfort.

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Published in: on January 2, 2011 at 4:11 pm  Comments (4)  
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Stainless Steel Straws

Ever since I was hospitalized in November of 2009, I have had a thing for straws. I use straws in all of my drinks. If I have them to go I take a straw for those ones too. Don’t ask me why but I like straws. For a while I was pretty good about re-using them but that got old fast. On a normal work day I would go through about 4 straws a day. I would have one in my ensure thermos on the way to work and one in my tea. I would use one at work for cold drinks and then one more when I got home. All of that added up to an astonishing 1460 straws per year! Clearly unsustainable.

I was reading a blog called Plastic Manners. I am not sure how I came across it. I found a lot of the information there quite compelling. First there are all of the plasticy chemicals going into my system when I used a straw. I can only imagine how many were released when I used the straw for hot tea. Then the other thing that really got me is the fact that plastic does not breakdown in landfills. Recycling it is better but only marginally. All of this got me thinking about the amount of plastic in my world. Everywhere I look I see plastic. Whether it is my frozen mugs for pop or the toothbrush or all the plastic packaging on just about everything you buy. Plastic is everywhere. It would not surprise me if one day all of the plastic in the world melted and encased us in our own stupidity.

The problem with plastic is that is so damn useful. Different types of plastics for different things. It is so versatile too. I look at my NeilMed Sinus Rinse bottle – it is made of a very pliant, soft plastic so that it can be easily squeezed. Staying in the shower, our body wash from the Body Shop is in a much harder plastic bottle that makes it hard to squeeze. How would we get all of our shower products if it were not for plastic?* Our cooking utensils are plastic so they don’t scrape our teflon coated pans. We are literally drowning in chemicals.

So, taking one step at a time,** I have ditched the plastic straws for stainless steel ones. The ones I ordered were a bit too long so Lynn cut them down a little for me. So far so good. I like my stainless steel straws. If you want some you can get them from noplastics.ca. They have other items as well. I may start to slowly cull some of the plastic containers I use for lunch. Or something to replace the little ziploc bag I put 2 pieces of bread in and then throw it out after. I am also trying to be a little bit more conscious about microwaving food in plastic containers. I didn’t use to think this was a problem now I do. Who knows maybe my health problems will improve a little with a little less plasticy goodness entering my body.

*I know you can get some of it in bars from Lush.
**Because honestly in my world that is all I can manage.

Published in: on September 11, 2010 at 6:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cloth Grocery Bags

I have noticed lately that I have not been as vigilant in bringing my cloth bags to the grocery store. I was doing really well throughout the winter and sprint but for some reason I don’t seem to remember them anymore. Part of the problem is that I don’t know where they are. I am sure Deb has put them away never to be found again.

I don’t think it is just us though with regard to forgetting the cloth bags. At Save-On today I noticed that only 1 person I saw had a cloth bag. I am not sure what is happening with the cloth bag movement. Perhaps economic concerns have supplanted the green bandwagon. Or maybe people don’t really see the benefit of using cloth bags versus the energy and thought required to bring them to the store.

I think until grocery stores charge an exorbitant amount for bags we will continue to use plastic. It is easier, cleaner and many people re-use those bags.

Any thoughts? Did you use cloth bags? Are you still using them or do you forget them like me?

PS: Don’t tell the Our Green Year People!!!

Published in: on August 16, 2009 at 9:30 pm  Comments (4)  
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The ‘Greenwash’

Back in December, I think, I was basically told that I was no longer welcome to comment on the “Our Green Year” blog. It seems that they did not like my comments and questioning of what they determined to be ‘green’ acts. They felt I was negative. My goal was to engage in some critical thinking around some of their supposed ‘green’ acts, ask questions and seek clarification. Apparently this was too much for them. In my opinion, I think this is lazy blogging. Part of the reason people allow comments on their blogs is so that readers can engage in a discussion about an issue. Comments give the blogger the chance to think about their points from a different perspective and to clarify their beliefs. Getting rid of the ‘challenging’ readers only demonstrates, to me anyway, that the blogger is lazy and is not interested in engaging in further discussion. If you only put comments up that show everyone agreeing with you or if you ban difficult commenters your blog lacks validity. I still read the blog but I have not been able to comment so I feel I must do so now before my head explodes.

I do not have a vendetta against Craig and Layla Baird. I believe that they believe they are trying to do something good. The green movement is like any other bandwagon issue that has come along. Everyone jumps on, proclaims they are good for doing it and everyone who asks questions or criticizes the movement is the enemy. The bandwagon effect turns people, who can normally think critically, into the slavish masses for the issue. In fact several times the only arguement they could come up with was to tell me that what they were doing was really hard and that I should do it too, which completely misses the point.

So, let’s begin:

Here is the latest post on being green while staying in a hotel:

Sometimes we all need to travel, and when we travel we usually stay in hotels, motels, or inns. In hotels, we use towels and they are washed after one use (although not in all hotels), we sleep once in beds and the linens are cleaned, and generally the overall process is quite wasteful. That is not even considering those little shampoos, soaps and more that are individually wrapped. As well, glasses are wrapped individually in plastic.

This is a big waste.

As a result, when Layla and I have to travel and stay in a hotel, we will not only bring our own towels, but we will bring our own toiletries. This way, we do not use what the hotel provides, we do not waste plastic, and we use what we already have and which is environmentally friendly because we try and buy only green toiletries.

First off, they ignore (or are ignorant) of the fact that many hotels have implemented ‘greener’ practices when it comes to doing laundry. Every hotel I have stayed at for many years gives you the opportunity to not have fresh towels every day. Then there is the fact that they are now going to lug their towels and toiletries to the hotel. Now, if they are flying or driving they are going to be increasing the weight of their luggage – thereby increasing the amount of jet fuel required to get them to their destination. Then they are going to take home the wet towels. To what purpose? Again there will be increases in fuel required to get their baggage home with wet towels. Why not just pick a green hotel, recycle the little plastic bottles and use your towels more than once if you are staying longer than a night?

Another major issue I have with this blog is their engagement in slacktivism as a way of going green. This entry sums it up nicely:

Over the course of Our Green Year, we have signed several petitions. We have signed petitions to stop the seal hunt, save animals and today, to save tiger habitats.

Tigers are one of the most endangered species on the planet, but they are also one of the most recognizable. It is feasible that within the next few decades, we could see the complete loss of this amazing animal due to habitat destruction. This would be a huge loss for our planet.

In Sumatra, only 400 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild. Once they are gone, that is it. This is due to illegal logging that is destroying their habitat, and the practice of clearing forest for palm oil and pulpwood plantations. In the past 22 years alone, 50 percent of the forests in Sumatra have been lost.

So, to help stop the logging of tiger habitats, we are signing the petition to do something about it (we hope).

You can do the same at: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/275606122

They have signed many petitions on the internet to save everything. What good does this do? Petitions in general are not all that effective. But at least petitions that are signed, by someone going door to door, at least have some validity and can be used in the political process. Seriously, what good do they honestly think they can do by signing a petition in Canada to save Tiger habitat in Sumatra? I am sure there are many things contributing to the loss of habitat for all sorts of species all over the world. It is not simply a matter of the people living their not knowing what they are doing. Likely, they are trying to eke out a living. This one in particular interests me. My favourite coffee at the moment is Starbucks Sumatra. If some information had been presented about habitat destruction being linked to coffee consumption, ‘my coffee consumption’ in particular, I would feel compelled to research it and if the evidence was compelling change my consumer habits. They missed a big opportunity here.

All of their homemade ‘green’ toiletries’ have truly made me laugh! Here is a recent one:

Way way way way back near the beginning of Our Green Year, man it seems so long ago, we made a sugar scrub as a way of making our own type of body wash that can be used in the shower.
Today, we are going green with another body scrub, and this one is one I like. For me, nothing beats the smell of coffee in the morning, I love to drink it but I have never thought of using it in a body scrub. Turns out, you can and it is good for the environment because you are recycling the grounds.

Typically, we compost coffee grounds, but on occasion we are going to try making a coffee grounds body scrub. It is quite easy to do.

All you need is five teaspoons of ground coffee that has been used (recycling!), one teaspoon of sugar and two teaspoons of essential oil. Mix it all together and when you are in the shower, put it on with a circular motion. Leave it on for five minutes and then rinse it off. By putting a catch int he drain, you can then get the coffee grounds and compost them afterwards!

Not much more to say!

I loved this post because it is clear that it has not been investigated very well:

At the ranch, we have a fire pit in the front yard where we can sit and relax during the summer evenings. Well, this summer that fire pit is going to serve another purpose beyond just providing us heat. We will be cooking on it.

Layla and I love to go backpacking, and when you backpack, you have to cook your meals on a fire. There is nothing like it and we decided that this year, we will cook more food on the fire and less in the kitchen.

There are a lot of trees in the area, and some have fallen down. As a result, we will be using that wood (as long as it is not serving as a habitat for something) for our firewood. We are also getting our firewood from a sustainable source. Then we can cook our food over the fire, rather than in the kitchen on the stove.

It is not perfect, but it is just another solution that we can use to go green in our cooking, no different than how we use the fireplace inside to heat the house up so we don’t use the furnace as much.

Burning wood spews pollution into the air. I have recently read about some small towns in the north where they have pollution and smog days due to wood burning stoves. How can think it is more environmentally friendly to light a fire outside and cook over it? It is fun and enjoyable but not green. It is far more green to use electricity produced by hydro-electric damns than to burn wood and add particulate matter to the atmosphere.

This next post is hysterical and obviously written by a man:

Well, the next one is about going to the bathroom, but it is going to the bathroom outside. Now, this is only for ‘number one’ and not all the time (it gets to -40 here…..). However, by going outside to pee on occasion, there is less in the toilet and that means less flushes.

We are on a ranch, with no neighbors around, plus lots of trees so there are no chances of someone coming across me in the middle of my business.

Sure this is an odd one to do, and an unconventional green tip, but going green involves a lot of things, some of which we don’t always think about.

So, for me at least, when I am outside I will use nature as my bathroom to help conserve water in the indoor washroom

How the hell is it green to have untreated human waste going into the ground? They live on a ranch where animals graze. This makes no sense to me. Many countries in the developing world suffer greatly from being surrounded by untreated sewage. Why on earth would they want to turn their ranch into their bathroom. I am also pretty sure it is only the guys who would be doing this as it is so much more difficult for women.

Here is another rather lame post about visiting National Parks. I love how Craig spins it to make it seem green but he forgets a few things:

If there is one thing Layla and I enjoy doing, it is hiking and snowshoeing. There is something about being out in the wild, being a part of nature and listening to the sound of silence wafting through the trees. We love nature, hence the reason why we are trying to do our part to save it with Our Green Year.

Today, we are asking that if you want to do something to help nature, you can visit a national park. Here in Alberta, there are plenty of national parks and we are going to be visiting several of them this year (including on our proposed two week hike from Jasper to Banff this year!). The reason visiting a national park is green is that not only does it help you learn more about the nature that we all seem to be somewhat removed from, it is also because you pay money to be in the national park. That money then goes to help keep the national park going, helping it expand and helping to keep the animals (some of them endangered) safe in their national park home.

Recently, Layla and I, plus two of our friends went snowshoeing on a trail in Elk Island National Park. The money we pay helps that park, and by extension helps nature.

Visiting a National Park may be good for the soul but it does not do much for the park. Craig points out that you pay money to visit the park. Why do you pay money? Well, to clean up after all those visitors. People leave their garbage, they damage sensitive ecosystems and disturb animal habitat and migration patterns. Plus there is all that gas burned to get all those people to all those National Parks to pay money so it can all be cleaned up. Not so green after all when you think about it. If you are backpacking it is usually prohibited to build a fire. I know this from experience. We used to backpack 200 miles a summer when we were kids. My Dad always had his naptha stove and pointed out to us how to preserve the environment we were in, why we could not build fires and why we had to stay to the path.

I could keep going. So, stay tuned as I will focus the critical thinking lens on the ‘Our Green Year’ blog again. Plus I am sure you will all be able to buy the book they intend to publish. I have also wondered what happened to the “Our Green Year Journal” which has not been updated for a long time. I felt this was an integral companion to the blog as it discussed how they were implementing their new found green ways.

In the meantime if you would like a great green blog to read I recommend “A little Greener Every Day.” Robin Shreeves gives practical tips, with solid reasoning behind them. She is also honest about how difficult it can be to choose to go green.

OMG – Who would have thought it?

I am listening to “On the Coast” and Stephen Quinn is talking to Simone List from the Better Business Bureau. Surprisingly, (note the sarcasm here) she says that products and services promote themselves as being green but they are not as green as they often claim.

I read a few green blogs. Most are very good. For example, A little Greener Everyday by Robin Shreeves is excellent. She brings a good mix of ideas and reality to her blog. I highly recommend it. The other thing Robin has going on her blog is critical thinking. She does not assume that just because something says it is green or organic that it is necessarily better for the environment.

In fact, some organic products use more fossil fuels and are worse for the environment than conventionally grown stuff. If you have not read it, I highly recommend the Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. He chronicles how some organic growing operations (think the nice organic ‘field greens’ comes to mind) is kept at a constant 36 degrees Fahrenheit from the moment it is picked until it arrives at your grocery store. Now, this product may be organic but it is certainly not green.

The bottom line is that one must question what makes a product or service green and there needs to be a rigorous evaluation made.

Pet Peeve: Control Freak Bloggers

I keep running across (or into, as the case may be) with bloggers who heavily censor or don’t post comments. I posted before about a blog I was banned from because of comments posted that did not agree with what the author had to say. Another blog I read, Our Green Year,  which chronicles the journey of Craig and Layla Baird as they undergo a personal green tranformation. They have started a companion blog called the Our Green Year Journal where they catalogue the green things they do on a daily basis. They are not allowing comments on this blog as they state it is only a ‘journal (look towards the end of the entry).’

This makes no sense to me. The point of this blog and I assume the accompanying journal is to educate and to provide an example of all the green things they do everyday. I began to notice some inconsistencies between what they say they do on the main blog and what they list they do on the journal. The first major thing I noticed was the reference to chicken, turkey and ham deli meats when they said that they if they were eating meat it was bison. So, I asked the question about the deli meat and questioned how green it was and if they thought it was sustainable. Instead of posting my question they just added it on, in red, at the bottom of the post. It does not matter that, according to Layla, they are only using these ‘deli’ meats to ‘supplement’ their diet. The bottom line is they said they were only eating bison. Besides assuring me that the deli meat is organic they did not address the question of sustainability.

I also have other questions. For example they say that they are going to reuse everything before they recycle it. Yet in their journal posts they just talk about recycling packaging materials. They also talk about bringing plastic containers for things like take out – why don’t they do this for their deli meat that they have wrapped in paper? On Day 39 they talk about reusing items that can be recycled first. Yet almost every entry on the Journal says ‘packaging materials recycled.’ Where is the reusing? On Day 49 they talk about re-using receipts before recycling them yet the Journal does not indicate this activity either.

The burning question I was really hoping the journal would answer is how they find time to do all of the ‘green’ things they have stated they have incorporated into their lifestyle – here is a list of only some of the things that have yet to show up on the Journal:

Day 7: They volunteered with the Green Party. With a Federal Election underway the Journal has not reflected this activity.
Day 11: Layla started to make tin can pen jars to sell through the blog. Has she made any since the Journal started?
Day 21: Apparently the Bairds receive lots of books in the mail and need to recycle (or in their case, re-use first) a lot of packaging material. The Journal has not been up for that long so perhaps they have not received any books or reused any packing material.
Day 23: The Bairds commit to mowing the lawn with a manual push mower. Perhaps their lawn does not need to be mowed even though it is still quite warm.
Day 26: Craig and Layla commit to 5-minute showers with an egg timer! They dutifully record their showering times on the Journal (although, I have to secretly wonder if one of them ever cheats and takes a 6.3 minute shower, but I digress…). They also commit to catching the water that is run before the temperature is correct in a bucket and using it to water the garden. This activity is not recorded. What are they going to do with that extra water in the winter?
Day 27: Are the Bairds still drinking coffee the ‘green’ way?
Day 28: and what about that dandelion tea?
Day 29: composting inside – is this still happening?
Day 34: Saw the end of the dryer in the Baird household. Yet the journal does not indicate them hanging their clothes out to dry. Perhaps they haven’t done laundry yet as they were going to wear their clothes a little longer as they explain in a future blog.
Day 48: Have we been doing any container gardening in the house to clean the air inside?
Day 49: Perhaps the Bairds are not eating much bread. They committed to making their own on this day and this activity is not reflected in the Journal.
Day 56: are they still carrying around their portable bottle composters wherever they go?
Day 60: Craig posted about making their own soda pop. I guess they don’t drink that much as they have not made it yet according to the Journal.
Day 64: I guess you don’t use that much body wash if you only take a five-minute shower.
Day 69: How are they doing on the ‘one-bag’ challenge?
Day 72: I guess they don’t eat much yogurt either.
Day 82: One of my favourite days! I think the Bairds jumped the shark here…now they are going to wash their clothes by hand!!!! But they are having trouble finding a washboard. There has not been any laundry being done on the Journal. I guess they have a lot of clothes!
Day 85: Have they had the scythe out lately? Or maybe the grass and weeds don’t grow.
Day 90: Craig and Layla are now collecting the morning dew!!! Are they doing this every day? You sure can’t tell from the Journal.
Day 100: For people who claim not to eat much meat, almost every entry into the journal sees them buying some sort of meat. None of it was bison.
Day 114: Another post on how little meat they eat. Personally, I don’t care if you want to eat meat. However, when you say you are not eating much meat because of its impact on the environment and then eat meat almost every day there is a bit of a credibility gap. The claim to be almost vegan yet they buy locally sourced eggs and organic cream for butter. Why the disconnect?
Day 122: Eating cold food and another reference to deli meat.
Day 129: Having given up potato chips on another day, the Bairds are now making their own pita chips.

Now, here is my question, with all those ‘green’ tasks they have undertaken when do they find time to work or sleep? I am not sure what their goal is besides writing a book. It is certainly not education as evidenced by their refusal to publish reader comments and questions on the Journal blog. I have also posted similar questions to the main blog and they have not been posted either.

I began reading the Our Green Year blog as a way to learn about some things we could possibly do in our house to reduce our impact on the environment. Many green blogs out there are great. They talk realistically about the challenges and pitfalls of going and staying green. It is a shame that the Our Green Blog and the Our Green Year Journal do not fall into this category.