Enough for the new year

Enough for the new year

It seems fashionable to be talking about intentions rather than resolutions, and I’m not fully sure where these ones fit. But here’s a little of where I’m heading in the next year, and some blogs I’m finding inspiring on that front. While this isn’t about journalism or science, I am posting here because I do think these relate directly to living better with a smaller footprint. Have more space And by this I mean, have less stuff. There are a lot of reasons for this, here are two. I pay a substantial chunk of my income toward mortgage on my Vancouver home. It’s a condo, but of ample size, and I want it to feel ample to us. Does x piece of stuff really deserve a square foot in a housing market where each square foot runs $300 to $400? (As much as I like numbers, I don’t actually calculate each belonging’s owed rent, but it is a way to think about it.) The other reason is less practical, but just as important. When I’m travelling, I really enjoy how everything that makes it in the backpack really deserves to be there. (It fits, looks good, works, whatever.) I’m not going to reduce my belongings to a backpack, but I’d rather feel that way looking around my home. Lately, I’ve found Vancouver blogger Minimalist Mom inspiring on this topic, and I still think about some lessons learned from the Clean Bin Project people. Cook more We already cook, and eat out seldom, but I’d like to have less stress around getting home from work and wondering what’s for dinner…without...

The dirt on clean: avoiding antibacterials

With all the talk about swine flu and handwashing, I decided to take questions from parents to an expert in public health, Dr. Bonnie Henry with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. (CBC story here). Dr. Henry just published a book on preventing disease spread, called Soap and Water & Common Sense, and has been on the front lines of media-messaging around the swine flu virus. The piece of advice that’s yielded the most discussion online, and in our newsroom, is about avoiding antibacterial soaps with ingredients like triclosan. As Dr. Henry noted, they can lead to drug-resistant strains, and do nothing against viruses like the flu. Pros and Antis I’ve seen two camps of reaction: people who are surprised antibacterials are considered harmful, and people who have known that for years and are surprised anyone is surprised. (As a recent post on yoyomama notes, triclosan was one of the chemicals the authors of Slow Death By Rubber Duck loaded their systems with.) Dr. Bonnie Henry says ad campaigns are adding to confusion: People think that having ‘antibacterial’ on it means it’s more healthful and it’s going to protect myself and my family. And they honestly believe that because of the advertising. When in reality it may cause harm, and it’s certainly not needed.” I’m happy to hear a prominent health official talk about this. I’ve long avoided antibacterials, not because I’d researched them carefully, but because past biology-student roommates had ranted about their damaging effects on the environment. It was an easy decision because I’m not remotely germophobic. But it’s nice to see what’s good for human and...
Talking trash with the Clean Bin Project

Talking trash with the Clean Bin Project

I spent yesterday morning with the people behind The Clean Bin Project, Jen and Grant. As I showed in my CBC story (video link) last night, they haven’t taken out the garbage in seven (!) months. They’re buying almost nothing, except food, and even with edibles they’re following strict rules to reduce packaging and waste. If you’re interested in reducing waste — and, like me, bored with stories about green living that encourage buying stuff — it’s worth checking out what they’re up to. Sure, they’re on the far end from most people in the enviro-commitment spectrum. Taking the garnish home from the restaurant to put in the compost is, even in Grant’s words, “a bit silly.” But other things they’re doing could suit the semi-committed: Make it harder to throw stuff away. The garbage bins they used to have around the house (bathroom, office) are gone. Make recycling easy. They have 10 bins, so everything has a place, and they’re all within reach. Don’t wait until you finish a food item to figure out whether its packaging is recyclable. Check it in the store. We’ve been doing a bit of this at home, on the recycling front. I realized last summer that I was throwing out toilet paper rolls just because the garbage was easy to reach. So, I put a paper recycling bin in the bathroom, and now it fills up faster than the garbage. Do you have any tips to reduce waste that you’ve used in your own...
Could composting be the new recycling?

Could composting be the new recycling?

We started composting at home about two years ago. I had been resistant: the smell, the slop, the fruit flies. My only previous compost experience was a big rotting pile at the back of a Kits rental that itself seemed to be returning to the earth. But a friend who goes through a lot of dirt in his garden offered to take our kitchen scraps, and we happily started collecting them. Now, we make way less garbage, and have sorted the smell and flies out. But, I’m not surprised that composting rates are so low in British Columbia. According to Stats Can: Only 31% of B.C. households compost (99% recycle) Composting rates are far higher in places like P.E.I. (92%) and Nova Scotia (71%) where there are government programs to handle organic waste. B.C. is the only province where composting rates have been declining since the 1990s. It’s a bit of a problem for a region with landfills that are filling up — where (according to Metro Vancouver) up to 300,000 tonnes of the stuff we dump each year could be composted instead. So, the region is right now making plans for two large-scale compost facilities. That doesn’t yet put composting in the easiness category of recycling (with, say, curbside pickup) but it is a first step. Here’s my CBC TV story on this, if you’d like to check it...

Cleaning the peanut butter jar

Update: Thanks to @marklise, @nolanzak, @davejohnson, @ChrisParry and @eco_smart for their suggestions via Twitter! If you have a suggestion, let me know. I’ll admit it, I was a little resistant to taking on what are generally called “consumer stories” on my beat as an environment reporter. (Find out why after the jump) But my editors have been keen on them, and I have to say they were right — gauged by audience response, at least. Some of the topics I’ve tackled so far: What difference would it make if we stopped using plastic bags? How do you find a greener Christmas tree? How clean should your peanut butter jar be to get recycled? Do you have questions about reducing your footprint, that you want answered? (Or at least asked?) Leave a comment. What’s my beef with the consumer story? They can be overly obvious, like the post-Thanksgiving stories that recommend refrigerating turkey leftovers. I also had the impression that a lot of “green living” pieces can boil down to the story line, “don’t buy this, buy that.” As if a sustainably-sourced bamboo end table is going to save the planet. So, my editors and I agreed I’d aim to steer clear of stories that fall into those categories. Which is why I’m always looking for new questions to take...