A few ways to reduce paper waste

Mailbox with flagI’ll admit that I get more mail than I’d like in my mailbox. While I look forward to receiving my favourite magazines every month, and it’s a treat to get notes from friends, I also get notices, statements, bills and offers. While I’ve moved just about everything I can to digital billing, my partner and I still seem to make use of the shredder fairly often. (Hey, shredded paper makes great mulch, according to Homemakers.com!)

While I’ve moved some of my bank statements, magazine renewals and utility bills to digital notifications, and I pay my cell phone bill through ePost, I think I could do more to give a few more a reprieve. It’s time I called a few of the letter senders to see if I can get on an e-mail list instead of receiving so much paper. I’d love to be removed from some lists altogether, which always seems difficult, but Canada Post has a suggestion.

There’s addressed mail, and then there’s pure junk mail. While I have a note on the inside of my mailbox lid saying no to junk mail, it’s hard to catch the neighbourhood kids who deliver pizza fliers and the like – they’re quick!

At Homemakers magazine, you can sign up for your subscription online, and change your address renew your subscription digitally as well.

If you would like to see how much you could conserve in resources per year by cutting your paper mail, try this calculator at Pay It Green.

Have you been battling your analog inbox? How have you reduced the amount of paper mail coming your way?

October 28, 2009 at 1:36 PM 1 comment

Ripening tomatoes, the last of summer’s fruit

ripening_tomatoesIn mid September I shared an image of the most perfect (and just about the only) tomato to come out of my garden. My doting on the little red fruit must have stirred something within the plant, because not long after, much fruit sprang forth. Well, about a dozen green tomatoes appeared on the vine. And that’s how they remained, until I picked them a week ago, fearing frost.

I tried ripening the tomatoes by wrapping them in newspaper. I tried leaving them in mild sunlight. Finally, I tried wrapping them in newspaper, then putting them in a plastic bag. Presto, they began to ripen overnight. And as this University of Minnesota fact sheet says, “To speed up ripening, place green or partially ripe fruits in a bag or box with a ripe tomato.” That’s because ripe fruit emit ethylene gas. Yes, I think the first to ripen will lead the way for the others.

Did you have some fruits and veggies left on the vine as the temperatures began to drop? Did you find a way to ripen them for one last summery feast?

October 27, 2009 at 11:12 AM 4 comments

Don’t forget to feed the birds!

iStock_cardinal_at_feederIt’s migration season, and as many species of birds are winging their way across the landscape, no doubt they could use a bite to eat and some clean water to drink. So far I’ve had visits from a downy woodpecker, juncos, lots of house sparrows and a pair of mourning doves. Last winter I had a pair of cardinals at the feeder as well.

I have a large hanging feeder (with anti-squirrel features, thanks Aunt Sue!) and a wire cage for a seed cone hanging in my backyard. I put a seed mix in the feeder that includes peanuts, sunflower seeds, corn and millet. I like to put thistle / niger seed bells in the wire cage, although the last one was greeted so enthusiastically it’s all but gone, so I better go shopping.

I’d love to attract other types of birds, such as nuthatches and chickadees, so I’d better go looking for a suet ball. To protect the birds from the legion of cats that prowl through our yard, I hang all of the feeders from a clothesline, away from the reach of fences and branches.

I’m sure that the little guys build up a thirst after flying hundreds of kilometres, so although it’s been wet lately, I have a couple of dishes of water out. I’m keeping my eyes out for a larger black dish, something that will heat up a lot in the warmth of the sun, so there’s water for the birds even on sub-zero winter days.

A bird’s life can’t be an easy one, but they are so darn cute, they’re fun to watch. A sack of bird feed makes for some very affordable entertainment, and hopefully supports the little guys through the cold months.

Have you seen any interesting birds visit your feeder lately?

October 26, 2009 at 3:16 PM Leave a comment

Water conservation comin’ down the pipe


When it comes to saving water, I think we can use all the help we can get. Although I haven’t tried it for myself, I really like the concept behind this new “Dorsey Eco-Performance” water-saving kitchen faucet. Moen has built in three water-volume modes. When you just need to give something a rinse or a gentle soak, there are two lower-flow rate modes, including one with an aerated spray, that run at 6.6 litres per minute, but are designed to wash better than simply opening your tap part-way. But for those times when you need to fill a pot or blast some icky scrap of food off of a pan, there’s a high-volume mode at 8.3 litres per minute.

No doubt water-saving showerheads have saved Canadians loads of water from being wasted. It makes sense that the kitchen tap would be the next in line.

October 23, 2009 at 2:27 PM Leave a comment

Cities Alive tour showcases green roofs

I just found out about a tour of green roofs on in Toronto this week, part of a program called Cities Alive. The tour is part of a push to show how helpful green roofs can be in reducing resource use.

Green roofs and green walls absorb heat (reducing cooling costs in summer), insulate (reducing heating costs in winter), capture carbon dioxide, emit oxygen, and even create a sense of serenity among the hard surfaces of urban landscapes. While planning a green roof may be easier in creating new buildings, the Cities Alive tour features the YMCA’s green roof retrofit project. Thanks to a $250,000 grant from TD Bank, as well as thousands of hours of volunteer time, the YMCA was able to build a new green roof as part of their running track at the Metro-Central YMCA at 20 Grosvenor Street, Toronto. YMCA members will be able to go for a run or take a yoga class on the green roof, a little green oasis in the city!

To read more on how the YMCA green roof came together, have a look at the project blog.

October 21, 2009 at 12:07 PM 1 comment

Great green choices now available in tissue and toilet paper

iStock_tissueLast night I breathed a sigh of relief as I walked down the paper products aisle of the grocery store. It wasn’t because I was about to sneeze — it’s ’cause in every category, from paper plates to toilet paper to paper towels to tissues, green options are now available.

Considering the volume of paper we use in our kitchens and washrooms every year, backing off our need for trees by switching to products made from 100 per cent post-consumer waste will make a huge difference in preserving forests, and thus habitat, not to mention the carbon savings. I’ve been buying PC Green toilet paper for years, but in the last year or so I’ve found that many other companies are stepping up to the plate with 100 per cent recycled, sometimes even EcoLogo certified products, including the Canadian company, Cascades, Seventh Generation, Selection, White Swan and now Kimberly-Clark brands including their “EnviroCare” line of Cashmere bathroom tissue, Scotties tissues and Sponge Towels. Now that it’s really easy to make a good choice (and even a soft, cushy choice!), let’s just hope that everyone does.

The next step: changing over entire product lines to EcoLogo-certified products, rather than considering them an option.

Are you also finding it easier to find green paper products?

October 20, 2009 at 2:25 PM 1 comment

Fall planting: blowing in the wind

iStock_milkweedOut for a walk in the Thousand Islands area last weekend, I noticed what looked like a light snowfall drifting across my path. Except it was around 10 degrees C outside. Much (much!) better than snow, it was wafts of milkweed silk, seeds in tow, tumbling across the tops of the shrubs and grasses.

Considering how much anxiety goes into planting fall bulbs (when I do it – how deep should they be? How do I protect them from squirrels?) it amazes me that milkweed’s lofty white drifts result in well-planted seeds. But, having seen telltale bits of the white fluff attached to people, pets and most anything that moves, milkweed seeds do get around.

And that’s a good thing, considering that milkweed is a principal source of food for the monarch butterfly. As I noted in an earlier post, I didn’t see many monarchs this year. I resolved to plant some milkweed in my garden in an attempt to be a small part of the solution. So right now, as the milkweed pods dry out and pop open, releasing their tufts of silk and seeds, it’s time to put some of those seeds in the ground. I planted several seeds this weekend, and of course a few got away.

I hope the neighbours don’t mind. After all, with “weed” in its name, perhaps milkweed isn’t valued by everyone. But it does produce bright pink flowers – and entice our orange and black friends.

Have you tried to help out birds, butterflies or other species? For more tips on doing just that, check out this article on Homemakers.com.

October 19, 2009 at 9:46 AM 2 comments

Need a vacation? Win some ecotourism ideas!

Clean BreaksA lot of books come in for review here at Homemakers magazine. I recently received a copy of “Clean Breaks: 500 new ways to see the world.” Penned by Rough Guides Richard Hammond and Jeremy Smith, the travel book featuring international destinations promises to share “…unusual holidays and alternative ways to travel that make a real difference to the lives of local people and the planet.”

The book offers a nice mix of volunteer opportunities (help monitor whale and dolphin behaviour in the eastern Mediterranean), unusual accommodation (dome homes in Patagonia) and hundreds of ways to see interesting global communities (follow an arts and crafts route in South Africa) and natural spaces (the Tarkine region of Australia).

The first person to comment with an idea for traveling more sustainably wins the book!

October 16, 2009 at 12:26 PM 2 comments

Ocean Wise: help prevent overfishing

ocean wise text-icon white2 [Converted]Thanks, but I'll pass on the swordfish

Thanks, but I'll pass on the swordfish

The Vancouver Aquarium’s conservation program, Ocean Wise, now has over 2,000 restaurant partners who use the Ocean Wise logo on their menus alongside better fish and seafood choices. It can be hard to make a good menu choice — after all, if it’s on the menu, how can a species be threatened? But according to the Vancouver Aquarium website, about 90 per cent of large predator fish from the world’s oceans have been harvested. So much depends on the interrelationships of species within the ocean, from healthy conditions for plankton and zooplankton growth all the way up the food chain to responsible, sustainable fishing practices. I think that if we make good choices for dinner, whether at the supermarket or at the neighbourhood bistro, we can steer the food industry to better practices.

“Sustainable seafood can be defined as species that are caught or farmed in a way that ensures the long-term health and stability of that species, as well as the greater marine ecosystem,” says the Aquarium site.

Bottom trawling and dredging are two of the most harmful fishing methods, because they produce a lot of bycatch and can harm the ocean environment, including damage to coral reefs. But improvements to seafood farming techniques, including inland farms that are closed to natural waterways, are offering better fish options. Looked for farmed tilapia, sturgeon, rainbow trout and Arctic char.

October 14, 2009 at 6:27 PM Leave a comment

Corn HarvestSunday’s Toronto Star featured a story by Margaret Webb, author of
Apples to Oysters: A Food Lover’s Tour of Canadian Farms
. Webb’s piece, linked here, shows the connection between food grown as inputs for low-cost, low-nutrition fare and unsustainable agriculture practices.

“…the demand for cheap food also puts pressure on farmers “to work every corner, every square inch” – eliminating woodlots, wetlands and buffer strips near vulnerable waterways. He knows that current farming techniques – growing too few crops in limited rotation, with chemical fertilizer, and returning too little organic matter to the soil – is mining his land of fertility, and that the current methods will not feed increasing populations.”

The causes – and solutions – are complex, but one thing seems clear to me: individuals need to face paying more for food, and demand nutritious food over fare with shelf life. And farmers need to get a bigger portion of the money that individuals fork out.

October 13, 2009 at 1:14 PM Leave a comment

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