As some of you may know, I've been living in Ottawa for the past 2 years. I had a great time there and gained a lot of experience in the environmental industry, however it was time for me to move back to Whitby.
I had moved to Ottawa only months after creating the DERG. Now that I'm back, I plan on starting things back up.
If you care about sustainability in the Durham Region, please make sure to like the Facebook page and invite your friends. We will be holding events, discussions, and more! Everything we do is connected to the Durham Region and promoting a sustainable way of living.
Come to get educated or share your knowledge with like-minded individuals. Now more than ever, with the current political climate, we need to come together and make sure our voices are heard.
I really can't believe it's already the middle of March! Spring is so close we can taste, and yet still feels so far away in this bitter cold weather. One thing that always makes me feel better is getting rid of winter clothes that I didn't wear all season (because that means you're probably not going to wear them ever again), and getting some new spring clothing!
However, Facebook helpfully reminded me of this video from Grist that I shared a year ago. This made me think a lot more about the choices I am making with my clothing.
Reuse and Recycle
While reducing is the most important of the 3 R's, here's some ways to deal with what yu already have. Donating old clothes is the easiest answer. You'll find a donation bin in many, many plaza parking lots. I do donate a fair amount of the clothes I'm getting rid of, but that only works for items in good condition. What about my favourite sweater that finally has too many holes? Or the pile of jeans that have worn out in the thighs? (And if you don't know what I'm talking about... you are so lucky).
Luckily, in Toronto and some of the surrounding cities, textile recycling is actually a thing. In Markham, there are several drop-off locations for worn-out clothing that can be recycled, but not re-used. See the full list of Markham locations here. Also most charities with clothing bins like Salvation Army and Diabetes Canada will take worn-out clothing to sell overseas and be reused elsewhere. And apparently H&M and American Eagle accept old clothes for recycling purposes in all of their stores (though I would call first to confirm).
Making Better Choices
I am aware I could probably avoid those thigh holes in my jeans if I bought higher quality denim instead of the current "stretchy" jean trend that uses elastene or spandex in the cotton blend. But I was in denial for a long time. As someone with "curves", I thought I needed stretchy jeans to be able to wear jeans. I'm finding that is absolutely not true, and that jeans with less stretch actually do fit better.
But buying clothing that doesn't wear out as fast is just a piece of the puzzle. There are some hardcore effects of denim dyeing polluting places like India. Trying to buy sustainable, ethical clothing may be hard, but not impossible. Skip the mall and look for boutiques near you or Canadian made clothing online.
Everlane is a US brand that is a shining example of ethical production and 100% trasnparency. Additionally, a quick search will yield you with brands like Miik Inc. And yes, with sustainable or hand-made clothing, the items are going to be at a higher price, but they will last longer. The key is to buying pieces that you will also want to wear for a long time.
Life would be easier if we all just wore bland 100% hemp outfits, but I guess that's probably not realistic.
Instead, maybe this spring, try buying one thing that is ethical and sustainable. See how it makes you feel. See how long it lasts. And maybe you'll have found a new way to style your wardrobe.
The struggle is real. The struggle I'm talking about is the fight to be environmentally friendly. (Wow, general enough?)
Today, I'm specifically talking about the inner turmoil I've been recently facing about my vegetarianism. There are many different reasons for going vegetarian. Animal welfare is a big one, and was one of the first reasons I ever considered vegetarianism. Another reason is health (though it doesn't make a big difference when you still eat junk food like I do), but red meats have been linked to cancer and some studies suggest clean eating can reduce your health problems. However, the biggest one for me was the environmental impact.
In university, my environmental science program was very "doom and gloom". Everything was awful, and there was no way to fix it (really great, right?). Anyway, many of my classes talked about the impact of farming on our water and atmosphere. Chicken and pigs send tonnes of ammonia into our stream, rivers, and lakes. Cows produce a lot (like A LOT) of methane which is an even worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
For me, going vegetarian was a way for me to do something, to try to make a difference. I've been a vegetarian for six years but sometimes you have to wonder.
Is being a vegetarian really helping the environment?
Now, regardless of the answer, I still don't know if I'd ever eat meat again, solely because of the whole it was a living, breathing animal thing.
However, I think it's important to evaluate.
Firstly, one of the biggest problems is factory farming. I have absolutely no doubt, if everyone reduced the amount of meat they ate, and got their meat from sustainable farmers, there would be a huge reduction in environmental issues associated with this industry. I've heard the argument many times, "if we didn't eat the cows, there would be too many!", and I want to throttle those people, but I restrain myself. This is not a chicken and egg issue. There is no question about what came first. At no point in our history did we have too many cows that we had to kill them and eat them to control the population. The amount of cows in existence is directly related to how much meat the population will buy.
While factory farming is certainly making this issue worse, the problem still exists in small animal farms as well.
So what about the food I do eat as a vegetarian? Knowing where your food comes from is extremely important. For example, I just learned my favourite tofu brand is actually manufactured in Vancouver and Toronto (awesome!). The packaging used, how far it travels, how it travels, and how much water and energy is used to produce it all impact the footprint of your food.
In most cases, a vegetarian diet will require less water to produce (and this website is a great resource for checking water usage for a lot of things, not just food):
Tofu: 302 gallons of water per pound
Lentils: 704 gallons of water per pound
Chicken: 518 gallons of water per pound
Beef: 1,799 gallons of water per pound
But what about transport? While trying to eat local is a great idea, it can also be very difficult. When you've grown accustomed to having the same fruits and veggies all year round, it can be hard to adjust to seasonal foods (and no, I have not been able to do it). So is buying local meat more environmentally friendly than eating imported fruits, veggies, and other proteins?
Well, I'm not the first question to ask that, and most studies are inconclusive as there are so many factors and variables. It's not even as easy as saying local is always more environmentally friendly than importing the same food, because it still depends how the local food is grown and how far the imported food is transported (complicated, right?).
So unsurprisingly, I am no closer to an answer, but I am also no closer to abandoning my vegetarian ways. I still believe in abolishing factory farming, and that being a vegetarian helps me be more environmentally conscious.
If you're not a vegetarian, that's ok, but I urge you to reduce your consumption and think more about where your food comes from. If you don't think you're quite committed enough to cut meat out of your life? Check out this website.
Being environmentally conscious can be hard enough with finding the resources you need, and finding the time and energy to commit to reducing your impact on the earth. When you're living with anxiety, it can feel impossible.
For example, it is easy enough to recommend taking public transit or biking instead of driving to work. For many people the knowledge they aren't contributing to the massive amounts of carbon in the air each time they leave their car at home is enough motivation to make a change in their lifestyle and stick to it.
But let me tell you, as someone who has had panic attacks on busses and trains (and planes for that matter, but that's not quite relevant to this point), it is not so easy.
I envy people who can bike to work. And I don't mean people who are close enough that they're able to bike to their workplace, I mean people who are able to do so without being self-conscious and paranoid for the entirety of their day.
Some people would love to bike to work, but have anxiety about sweating or smelling all day. Maybe you think you would worry a bit about this too, but the difference is that when you're dealing with constant anxiety, it can be crippling. It is not a brief thought that you can shrug away. It can stop you doing from things you have to do, let alone things you want to do.
Believe it or not, I have anxiety about anxiety. I am embarrassed to even share that anxiety holds me back from practicing my own ideals, and how hypocritical it makes me feel. It's frankly exhausting having so many negative thoughts and worries in your head telling you that everything you're doing is wrong.
I've been at my new job for almost a year now, and I have a document on my computer almost a year old. The document is a list of improvements that could make our office more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Have I shared this with anyone? No. Why? Because the anxiety is always there, telling me there will be rejection and embarrassment involved if I do. Is this rational? Probably not, but unfortunately anxiety isn't logical.
This is only one example, the tip of a giant iceberg that never seems to get smaller no matter how much you try to chip away at it. This post is not meant to gain me pity, but to bring awareness to this struggle. It is a message for anyone who has had a similar struggle.
I haven't given up on my list. I still look at it, edit it, and plan how I might one day bring it up. My message to you is simple:
Do what you can. Keep trying.
I just read an article about something called The “Do Something” Principle. The article lists a few examples of this principle in different forms that I’ve definitely heard before, but it was never laid out as such.
The idea that action creates inspiration creates motivation hit something for me.
As he mentioned, a lot of advice for writers will say something along the same lines. Write a couple hundred words every day and it doesn’t matter how bad it is or starts out, usually it will inspire something better and motivate you to write more.
Lately I’ve been struggling with the big question: “What am I going to do with my life?”
I, like most people, want to do something meaningful with my life. I don’t need to find the “meaning of life” or anything so vague, but I need to feel that I’m doing something positive. Creating positive change is what I have often though of it as. I’m not sure where I want to make this change, as long as it’s positive and I’m helping create it.
It is hard for me to focus on just one problem that I’d like to fix. With my background in environment science, I’m overwhelmed with all the world’s environmental issues, let alone animal and human rights that I also care about deeply. Overwhelmed is the key word here, because that is truly how I feel. Seeing so many problems on a daily basis can make it difficult to find the one you want to focus on. Will I be a part of the solution? What can I even contribute? Is this problem too big? The questions build up, making the problems look larger still.
So how do you focus on just one?
Beats me. If you figure that out, please let me know. For now, I will try to keep the “Do Something” principle in mind. Maybe if I do enough “somethings”, I’ll find one that works or at least gives me some focus.
Sustainable development has become increasingly important to me, as I have grown up seeing farm land and fields turn into more and more new housing. (I even held a meeting with the DERG about sustainable development). Of course, populations grow and people will always be moving to up and coming areas.
There are many companies out there that deal with upgrading homes to be more energy efficient and home-building companies that put a focus on making your home "solar ready", LEEDs certified, or R2000. The government has put a great focus on energy saving.
However, a big issue that is being too frequently missed is water consumption. The amount of clean, potable water that a household wastes is, quite frankly, insane. For anyone who has seen my posts about the DERG meeting I held, you may have heard of the name Greyter.
Greyter is a company that deals with grey water systems, which harnesses rain water and "lightly used" wastewater and reuses it.
Many people still think of water as an infinite renewable resource, but that is simply untrue. Take a look at California's drought, or the clean water issues of countries all over the world. Canada is extremely well-off in the water department, but that does not mean we should be flushing several litres of clean water down the drain to be even further contaminated along the way.
If there is a way to harness the water you just washed your hands with and flush the toilet with it, why wouldn't we use it?
The issue is that there are so many developers that make hundreds of similar homes, with only cost-saving for themselves in mind. Of course if you are building your own home, you could buy the Greyter system and have it installed, but there are much more people buying homes in developed subdivisions.
The DERG (or Durham Environmental Responsibility Group) was a side project of mine that I started almost a year ago. Unfortunately is was very short-lived as a few months later, I got a job offer and moved to Ottawa.
Lately I've been thinking about the time I spent organizing the DERG meeting I held in Whitby in February. While it was a little hectic and a lot nerve-wracking, it went quite well. A smaller turn-out than I had hoped for, but with excellent feedback. I finally felt like I was making steps in the right direction. When I got a job offer to move to Ottawa in April, to start working in my field of environmental sciences, it was an easy choice to make. While there were a few personal obstacles, it was also very hard to say goodbye to the DERG.
As an environmental science student, I admit that I've become somewhat pessimistic about the world. To battle this, I have been trying to do what I can to improve the environment and improve my own outlook on our planet's future. And while I know that the planet itself will live on long after we're gone, why not TRY to keep our planet beautiful and healthy so that we can enjoy it longer? The DERG had become my personal way to spread knowledge and awareness; to try and create positive change (my personal goal as I've mentioned before).
It has now been more than 8 months since the DERG meeting. I've had a lot to deal with in that time, but my focus has often been coming back to this. I would love to be able to start something similar in Ottawa, but I face a few problems:
1. I had connections in Whitby.
It was very helpful to have family friends and connections with local government when I was in Whitby. In Ottawa, I will be starting fresh. I don't know anyone here personally, and have only a very small network through my job.
2. Other environmental organizations.
It's Ottawa. It's not exactly a small community like the Durham Region was. Ottawa has plenty of environmental organizations, so would a group like mine be of any use or gain any traction? While I don't know the answers, I have tried to find a group that I think is similar, and haven't found anything.
3. I don't know the city very well.
I haven't been here long and I don't know its problems. I lived in Durham Region my whole life and knew a lot of the problems, experiencing them first-hand on a daily basis. While I should expect some of the issues are transferrable like sustainable development, others are not (like the public transit system which is severely lacking in Durham, but not in Ottawa). To me, the idea of finding more issues to focus on here seems daunting. I will have to search them out instead of just knowing them. But I believe this is a task I can manage.
All-in-all, I want to keep my last post in mind. I need to Do Something. Even if I don't get any members, I should still make a group. Even if I can't put together a meeting like before, I can still figure out what I'd want to have a meeting about. While this may sound like I just have low expectations, I believe this will be the key to not getting discouraged. I am hoping this will lead me in the right direction and give me some more purpose here in Ottawa!
I am finally able to check another goal off my list of things to get accomplished at Brooklin Home Hardware. I have been in contact with someone at ReGeneration for many months now as they've gotten the program up and running in Ontario. Paint recycling is something I've been struggling to find a solution to for quite some time.
It is unfortunate that the government works very slowly and seeing as this is a government funded program, it took some time. However it has been very successful in some other provinces (especially British Columbia) and I'm excited to say we are now a drop off site for paint cans.
We still try to donate any use-able paint to Habitat for Humanity, but we now have large metal drums that we can keep outside. These will house our purged colorants, or paint that isn't any good, or unusable for one reason or another.
ReGeneration works with several different recycling companies that will come and pick up the drums and drop off empty ones once they are full.
Remember: Don't throw out those old paints cans you have! They can cause harmful run-off in landfills.
As the new year begins, lots of resolutions are being made and many will be hard to keep. How about making one of yours to reduce your ecological footprint!
Like many resolutions, it can be quite overwhelming and disheartening to think about all the habits you want to change at once to be more environmentally friendly. So much, in fact, that it may divert you completely so that you don't have to think guiltily about all the things you know you should be doing, but aren't. I've fought this internal battle for years, but let me tell you from experience that it is much better to start slow and with small steps than not to start at all.
One of the only things I've ever done immediately is going vegetarian. It might not have even been a quick decision if I count the years between trying it for a day and when I actually decided to go cold-turkey (no pun intended).
But since that decision, I have been slowly testing myself and trying to cut out other things. I've made vegan cookies and eggless pancakes. At this point in my life, I don't know if I will be able to go vegan, but it's something I aspire toward, and I am trying it in baby steps.
I'm not telling everyone to go vegan or even vegetarian, but to test yourself. A while ago I made Vegan Nuggets, and my Unwilling Test Subject (who is very much not a vegetarian) loved them. Buy a carton of almond milk or soy milk and see if you can eat it with your cereal in the morning (I still can't drink a straight glass of almond milk even though I love it in my cereal). Baby steps. If you hate it, you haven't lost much, and if you like it, maybe it'll be something new you can feel good about.
Food we eat is just one way of having less environmental impact, but how we get our food is another way you can take small steps to reducing your footprint. I'm sure that like me, many of you have heaps of shopping bags piled in a corner somewhere in your house. Bring a large portion to your car so that you can take them in with you when you go shopping. "Large portion" being the important part here, as it is easy to forget to bring the bags you've used back down to your car the next time you go out. Keeping a larger amount means you can forget one or two times without needing to buy those pesky extra bags.
Walk more. We've been lucky to have mild weather so far this winter which means bundle up and get outside. Make time to walk to a coffee shop or even to get your groceries. If you're going out for lunch, try looking for some place within walking distance instead of driving.
I am definitely not trying to preach, as I have still not mastered some of these things myself. But all we can do is try our best and maybe together we can improve ourselves (and the planet).
Well it's October 25th: the end of waste reduction week!
Let us please remember that this only means it's the end of a week to promote and encourage people to change their wasteful habits and not the only week you should care.
Overall, I think I had a pretty successful week in lowering my waste. It is definitely made easier just by bringing attention to it. It's very easy in day-to-day life to think 'hey I recycle and compost sometimes, I'm doing okay'. But when you have to keep all the waste you make for one week, you see how all the little unnecessary things you are putting into landfills adds up!
So first of all: to the left is my bag of waste! Keep in mind this was with trying pretty hard to cut down on my waste. The amount of waste you make weekly without putting effort into actively lowering it would probably be a lot more. Mine fit into a medium-sized ziploc bag and mostly consisted of a milk bag, two rice packages, a Mr. Noodles package, plastic film from a microwave meal tray, and some plastic from breakfast shake bottles. It really makes you think about things like: why do we have milk in plastic bags anyway? (I mean sure Canada, it's cool at first but really, why?)
One of the main ways I changed my habits this week (or tried to) was bringing better waste-free lunches to work. I made sure to wash and cut up my lettuce and store it in an air-tight jar: this helps keep lettuce fresh for longer. Then each day you can take whatever amount of lettuce you want and put it in a smaller container for your lunch. I also cut up other vegetables and mixed them in a mason jar with my salad dressing so I could add them together later. My downfall with lunches was bringing Uncle Ben's 2 minute rice, or a Lean Cuisine meal, giving me unnecessary waste. I plan to start making pasta or rice at night before work so I can bring them in reusable containers.
Another thing I changed is rather small, but important to note. I went to the grocery store (making sure to bring my own bags) and told myself not to use any plastic bags to put my fruit and veggies in. What's with our fear of fruits and veggies touching other things? Wash them before you eat them, and ta-da! You can also bring some of those pesky plastic bags you end up with somehow to put wet or more awkward things in. The one frustrating thing here is how things like iceberg lettuce and english cucumbers already come in plastic packaging. I think the solution here might be changing which types of these veggies to buy or where I'm buying them. The truth is I'd love to buy all my produce at a fresh farmer's market, but this just isn't feasible.
Another problem I ran into is that while buying bulk is good so that you don't waste as much and don't buy as much packaging, you need to put everything in those pesky plastic bags. In America, a lot of bulk food stores let you bring in containers to be filled, but it's not allowed in Bulk Barn (which is Canadian) and I don't think you'd be allowed to in the Superstore either, but that's something to look into.
Next on my to-do list is to try making some (vegan) homemade granola bars! I know my Unwilling Test Subject and I have a habit of bringing granola bars to work so I had some of those wrappers were in my waste pile as well. Making your own granola bars is far healthier and reduces a lot of unnecessary waste. I will definitely be posting how those turn out for me.
Thank you if you've read this far and consider my challenge from the last post. Try going one week with collecting all your waste and see what you can reduce!