Making a difference doesn’t always involve drastic measures. The little things we can do add up. We explore simple ways to be more Eco-conscious at home.
BY JENNIFER HARTLEY
It’s impressive that in 2019, when the United Nations launched its Trees in Cities Challenge, a campaign to encourage mayors from across the globe to mitigate the effects of climate change by planting trees, Victoria was the first city in Canada to join the challenge, with a pledge to plant 5,000 trees. In 2020 alone, the city reported that it increased tree planting by 40 per cent and planted 500 new trees in parks and on boulevards.
Victoria is also a founding partner in the Love Food Hate Waste campaign, a national program designed to reduce food waste in Canada.
Our environmental commitment is, in part, because of the gratitude we feel for the beauty and peace that surround us. The community’s awareness of our impact on the environment is infectious and makes us want to do more as we look for ways in our day-to-day life to have an impact.
Here are some simple ways to be more eco-friendly at home.
From Pollution to Solution: Eliminating Single–Use Items
The United Nations Environment Programme’s recent report From Pollution to Solution indicates there is currently an extraordinary 75 to 199 million tonnes of plastic waste in the ocean. Victorians already know that plastics are the largest, most harmful and most persistent of marine litter, accounting for at least 85 per cent of all marine waste.
While we have come a long way on this front, every day in the City of Victoria, we still throw out over 75,000 single-use items. In a recent report, the City says the most common single-use items found in public garbage are cups (13,000 per day), containers (6,300 per day) and straws (5,800 per day.)
In its curbside waste collection, the city is picking up over 5 million single-use items per year (not just plastics). That is a lot of trash. There are fun ways we can reduce our rubbish.
•Eating out? In case you haven’t heard, Bread & Butter Collective offers the option to purchase an eight-dollar reusable container. Bring it to a participating restaurant and get a new one with your meal. No waste.
•Pack your lunch in fun beeswax bags instead of plastic containers. Beeswax bags are great for the fridge as well to keep your veggies fresh, and they are washable and reusable.
•Try zero-waste shopping. There are many places that allow you to bring your own containers. Zero Waste Emporium is one. Check out their website, zerowasteemporium.com, for a fantastic list of other local shops.
Bamboo Your Bathroom
Who would have thought that bathroom tissue or paper towels were such a big problem? It turns out the daily use of paper products requires a significant amount of resources, including water and, of course, trees. According to some sources, the average Canadian uses upwards of 100 rolls of toilet paper per year, over 6,000 rolls over their lifetime, or the equivalent of 630 kilometres. There is a more sustainable alternative: bamboo.
Some species of bamboo can grow at a rate of three feet in a 24-hour period, so it makes a surprisingly sustainable option for toilet paper — as well as paper towels.
Bamboo also absorbs CO2 and generates oxygen. Not only that, it helps prevent soil erosion and requires no agricultural chemicals to thrive.
•Bamboo is versatile and is a useful replacement to plastic, making it a great toothbrush material alternative. (Find the Bam Brush bamboo toothbrush at the Good Planet Company.)
“Trees are sanctuaries.” Too bad bamboo can’t grow everywhere, but trees do, and the German poet Hermann Hesse was right when he said they are sanctuaries. It’s nearly impossible to be stressed out when surrounded by those leafy giants.
Trees provide oxygen and remove toxins like carbon dioxide from the air, making it healthier. While they are peaceful, tranquil and practical, too, trees also assist in preventing flooding as they filter and help regulate the flow of water from rainfall.
As part of the United Nations’ Trees in Cities Challenge, Victoria is encouraging residents to plant residential trees on private property. It created a special program through the My Great Neighbourhood Grant.
The city says the funding can support a variety of activities including the cost of trees, staking materials, deer fencing, mulching supplies or hiring a landscaping professional to lead a workshop on tree education. (Applications are open until October 31, 2022.)
•Another alternative to paper towels that’s popular in Scandinavia are Swedish sponge towels and cloths. They are absorbent, reusable, compostable and come in lots of fun prints, making cleaning a little more bearable.
Dealing with Dirty: Household Products
Mixing baking soda and vinegar is an eco-friendly, make-it-yourself option, but there are local shops and products that can help, too.
•The Soap Exchange has 100 per cent Canadian-made, biodegradable products, sold in refillable packaging — or, better yet, bring in your own containers.
•West Coast Refill also provides packaging-free bulk cleaning products (soaps, hair products, toothpaste).
•Ash Refillery & Co. carries home and personal care products in their refillable jars, or, again, bring your own container.
•B.C.-based Tru Earth Eco-Strips laundry detergent eliminates plastic containers. It is ultra-concentrated into small, liquidless strips that you throw into your washer with your load. They are hypoallergenic and paraben free as well. They also have a line of cleaning products.
Love Food, Hate Waste
First, the ugly part. The Love Food Hate Waste campaign says that Canadians are among the worst of the developed nations when it comes to food waste, with about 47 per cent of food waste occurring in our homes. An average household throws away $1,300 of edible food per year, and that impacts greenhouse gases. In Canada alone, food waste produces nearly 10 million tonnes of greenhouse gases each year.
Even in Victoria, the City says that every day, over 120 tonnes of materials are disposed of and sent to the landfill. This waste includes uneaten food, plastic, paper packaging, clothing and furniture.
The Love Food Hate Waste campaign aims to encourage positive behaviours around food. Here are a few of their tips:
•Food expiration dates refer to a product’s quality, not its safety. And there’s a difference between “sell by” (the deadline for retailers to sell the product) and “use by” (the date when the product starts to lose its quality and flavour). Food lasts longer than the dates on the packaging.
•Extend the shelf life of perishables by keeping the fridge and freezer 4°C and 0°C respectively — and unpack groceries as soon as you get home from the store.
•The expression that a lost sock reincarnates as a plastic lid that doesn’t fit anything has a solution: non-plastic silicone stretch lids. Not only are they good for the environment, they are good for mental health, saving wasted time looking for matching tops and containers! Repurpose glass spaghetti sauce jars and use the silicone lids as an alternative to plastic ones. (Available at most kitchen stores and local retailers, like the Good Planet Company and Capital Iron.)
•Make a grocery list to avoid unnecessary purchases.
•Get creative with leftovers. The website lovefoodhatewaste.ca has an incredible inventory of recipes, including one for pickled lettuce! Use it in a slaw or in sandwiches or tacos.
•Another great way to decrease waste is by keeping a weekly record of thrown-out items, from mouldy bananas to leftovers. Over time, patterns emerge, and tweaking shopping habits becomes a little easier.
Easy DIY All-Purpose Cleaning Recipe
•1 cup vinegar
•1 tablespoon baking soda
• 2 cups water
• 5 drops (or more!) of your favourite essential oil fragrance
• Repurposed Mason jar to store the product