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It’s March Break and I just had to purge.   I don’t know how it happened, but things just started overflowing out of my closet.  I don’t even remember getting much stuff lately.  A fair bit of it is stuff that I hoard because I can’t bear to throw it away – office supplies, gift bags, plastic containers, plant pots.  I can’t bring myself to recycle perfectly good stuff, and it’s not the kind of thing that you can take to the local thrift shop.  So I keep collecting them and don’t know what to do with them.

So, how do you dispose of things without actually disposing of them?  Well, for those who haven’t discovered them yet, Craigslist and Freecycle could be your ticket to clutter and landfill freedom.  Craigslist is essentially the largest free online classifieds, started as a hobby by Craig Newmark in San Francisco.  I use Craigslist when I have something decent that I know someone will want to buy.  If it doesn’t sell in a couple of weeks or so, I consider Freecycling it.

Freecycle, of course is free.  Their misssion is to keep things out of landfill.  If someone wants what you have, they are pretty quick to pick it up too.  It’s so great having people come to your door to take your stuff away for you!  I’ve picked up a few things this way through the generosity of others as well.  I think it’s pretty awesome that people are giving away stuff freely through Freecycle.  And free doesn’t mean it’s just junk.  Most of it is completely good stuff that people just want to get off their hands.

This week, I’ve moved a fair amount of stuff out the door – my daughter’s outgrown toys, her bicycle, skates, excess craft supplies.  I passed on a huge pile of office supplies that I’ve been hoarding, sold an all-in-one inkjet printer I never used, the cart it was sitting on, gifts that were never used, baby clothes that were never used, items that I bought that I never used, some shelving, you name it!  All taken away either sold or gifted.  Now I have a bedroom that is almost empty, with only a small box to take to the thrift shop, one bag of paper to recycle and one bag of garbage to show for it.  Incredible!

Now if only I could find someone to come and make all the paperwork on my desk disappear!

For those of you who don’t know David Suzuki, he is Canada’s foremost environmentalist.  A scientist, author, and prominent media figure, he has been educating Canadians about science and the environment since the 60’s, mainly through his long-running series of more than 30 years, The Nature of Things, which is also well-known internationally.  When CBC had their Top 10 Greatest Canadians vote in 2004, David Suzuki came in 5th, after Tommy Douglas, Terry Fox, Pierre Trudeau and Sir Frederick Banting.  That actually put him, an environmentalist, as the No. 1 Greatest Living Canadian.  Yeah!

Back in October, I took my daughter to see David Suzuki at Harbourfront give a talk about his latest book, The Legacy.  I heard him speak a few years ago at U of T, and I wanted my daughter to have a chance to hear and meet this amazing person.  She is only 7, but I have heard that there may be fewer opportunities to hear him speak in person, not because of his age or health, but because he feels it’s about time he reduced the environmental impact of his flying around the world.

With 'David Suzuki' at the Green Living Show, 2007

It was special for us because I took along a a picture I had of my daughter with ‘him’ (a cardboard cut-out) at the Green Living Show from a few years ago to show him. He laughed when he saw it, and was more than happy to have her take a picture with the ‘real thing’.   My brother had also given her one of his children’s books, There’s a Barnyard in my Bedroom, for one of her birthdays, so it was nice to get that signed as well.

Hearing David Suzuki speak is unlike watching his show, The Nature of Things. He is far more passionate and free to talk from the heart.  He has such a gift for simplifying science and the environment and making it captivating and easy to understand.  Even my daughter seemed to follow a lot of what he was saying.  I know I have had many epiphanies listening to him talk or reading his books.  The man is truly brilliant.  Meeting him, you can also feel his kindness and warmth.  You feel he is truly a person who cares about the planet and its people.

I am sure many of you have fond memories of watching The Nature of Things, and of David Suzuki growing up.  I remember the first time I saw his show in my Grade 6 class almost 30 years ago.  His image has been firmly implanted in my brain ever since, as I am sure it has in every Canadian.  David Suzuki has changed the way everyone in this country thinks about the Earth and our balance within it.  His influence is immeasurable.

Getting book signed by the real thing at Harbourfront, October 2010

On March 24th, 2011 David Suzuki is turning 75.  If you have fond memories of David Suzuki, and appreciate how much he has dedicated his life to educating us, and to protecting us and our planet, help celebrate his 75th birthday by making a donation on my sponsor page.  It’s part of a campaign to raise money for The David Suzuki Foundation in celebration of this remarkable man.  Show your support for David, and help the foundation continue to make changes to help protect the diversity of nature and the quality of life in Canada.  Sponsor me today.

Happy 75th Birthday, David Suzuki!

One of the events that motivated me to start this blog was participating in the Great Canadian Shoreline Clean-Up.  I have always wanted to join a group clean-up event with my daughter, but always seemed to miss them.  This year, we were able to catch the tail-end of the event.  Luckily, there was a site nearby, so we set off on the morning of September 25th to Taylor Creek Park, at Coxwell and O’Connor.  Taylor Creek is a tributary of the city’s Don River, branching east from Don Mills along O’Connor and then southeast to the golf course at Victoria Park.  It is a great spot for walking, and this was the first time we visited the park since moving into the area last year.

We met up with the organizers, who happened to be members of the Toronto Field Naturalists.  We teamed up in pairs (three for us with my daughter), equipped with a garbage bag, a recycling bag, a box for sharp objects, working gloves, and a clipboard to tally the objects found.  We decided what sections of the river we would tackle, and off we went.

I was not sure what to expect when we got to the river bank.  I was kind of picturing a lot of water bottles, food wrappers and such.  I was surprised by what we found.  A lot of plastic bags.  A lot.

Removing entangled plastic bags from roots and trees.

And they weren’t floating around or washed up on shore for us to easily pick up.  They were twisted and knotted in branches and the roots and trunks of trees everywhere.  At times, they were tangled in branches many feet above the water, probably washed ashore during higher water levels in spring  We spent a lot of time just picking away at the bags, giving up on some and some just disintegrated, becoming tiny bits that would float in the water and eventually be eaten by poor, unsuspecting fish.

We didn’t find a lot of the garbage that one would find at the beach – water bottles, cigarette butts, food wrappers, etc.  This was probably because Taylor Creek is a pretty quiet park.  So it was obvious the plastic bags did not originate there.    Seeing all those plastic bags I could really understand the message in the video, The Majestic Plastic Bag, and see how damaging a plastic bag can be.  It can fly.  It can float.  It can travel great distances from it’s origin.  And for all intents and purposes, it will break down, but never biodegrade, left forever to poison our fish.

I also found a lot of suspicious bags that had been knotted.  You guessed it, poop and scoop bags.  How ironic, that our poop and scoop laws designed to keep feces from contaminating our public spaces and water system, is actually also creating more pollution.  Since this clean-up, I’ve been noticing discarded poop and scoop bags everywhere.  Time for Toronto to rethink this bylaw.  There are other municipalities that have more effective ways to deal with dog poop problems.

Being a small park, there were only about 8 volunteers at this site.  In three hours, we didn’t even cover a kilometre of shoreline, that’s how much garbage there was.   Next year, I want to inspire my high school students to join this event.  Our youth need to see the reality of the problem of pollution for themselves, and our shorelines need all the help they can get.

I can’t express how saddened I was to see the sorry state of the river bank.  Plastic has become a permanent part of its landscape.

I’ve listed local clean-up events under Environmental Action.  Spring is coming.  Find a local event and sign up for it.  Or organize something in your area.  Involve young people.  Hopefully, t will inspire them, and us, to be more responsible.

Okay, two posts in one night!  I’m on a roll.  I do need to stop being a perfectionist and just blog when I feel driven to say something though.  I’ll get the hang of it, and am committing myself to blogging at least once a week.

Well, tonight I was motivated by comments on another blog.  Comments that said that climate change is still being debated.  Climate change is not a debate.  In the scientific community, it is a consensus.  According to Al Gore, in  An Inconvenient Truth, out of 928 peer-reviewed articles published in scientific journals in the previous 10 years (this was 2006), there were no articles that doubted the cause of climate change.  NONE.

However, out of 636 articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the LA Times, and the Wall Street Journal, 53% of articles were in doubt as to the cause of global warming giving the impression that scientists were still debating its existence. What are these journalists doing?  Where are they getting their information?  I’ve met a few journalists, and I know that the truth is not really what they are always after.   If you want the truth, the paper is the last place to look.

Of course, this illusion is also fostered by those that benefit from ignoring global warming – those profiting from fossil fuels.  In his book, Gore reveals that an internal memo from these companies, discovered by a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, stated that their objective was: “to reposition global warming as theory, rather than fact.”  Gore further states that the Bush administration in 2001 hired a lawyer/lobbyist whose job was to edit and censor the official assessments of global warming from the federal government, taking out any mention of the dangers global warming poses to the American people.

Gore equates these disinformation campaigns to the one the tobacco industry used over 40 years ago.  They had a memo in 1960 that stated “Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public.  It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

No wonder everyone is confused.  Are you still?

It’s been a month since I’ve been keeping track of my garbage, and I was pleased to find out that I am averaging less than 1 grocery bag of garbage and less than one box of recycling a week.   Compost however could get as high as 4-5 produce bags a week, or as low as 2-3.  I was disappointed and frustrated to find out that 90% of my garbage and recycling was food related.  Not that I was surprised.  But why has food, something that should so easily be sustainable, become such a huge contributor to waste in our society?

In one word, plastic.  Even though I feel good about reducing disposables in my home, when I do throw something out, I think about how I can avoid it in the future.  For me, not using disposable paper products is easy.  But trying to avoid packaged food….  There are some ‘necessities’ that I’m not sure I could give up.

Here are some of the regular things I buy that I would have to give up if I went on a Non-Disposable food diet:

  • enoki and other mushrooms that only come pre-packaged (don’t ask me why I listed that first!)
  • chips (oh no!)
  • crackers (yikes!)
  • cereal (unless I made my own)
  • meat (why do they have to package it in those damned styrofoam trays???)
  • chocolate (gasp!)
  • soy milk (why did they introduce the plastic cap on the cardboard milk carton???)
  • orange juice
  • English cucumbers
  • fish
  • frozen fish & seafood
  • deli meats
  • instant noodles (my emergency food!)
  • cat food (ok, not for me, alright?)
  • cakes
  • any take-out food
  • any fast-food
  • frozen corn & veggies
  • tomato sauce
  • ketchup
  • mayonnaise
  • salad dressings
  • sauces
  • gourmet tomatoes instead of the mealy field tomatoes
  • strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries
  • frozen berries
  • what about beverages?

That’s what I can think of so far that I buy on a regular basis and can’t get at the bulk store.  This list is not as long as it may be for the average person because I have already weaned myself off of many processed foods, due to my daughter’s past allergies.  But even when you are trying to eat a whole-food diet, you still run into packaging, some of it unnecessary.

Where to draw the line?  Already today, I bought a bag of apples when I could have chosen unbagged ones, and was debating over a bag of organic avocadoes or regular ones that weren’t packaged.  I bought another bag of tortilla chips and three cartons of beverages.  The grapes came in its own bag that you can’t reuse.  I bought chicken, and soup bones packaged in such small quantities that I had to buy three.  That’s four more styrofoam trays and plastic wrap.  I really hate going down each aisle and adding more potential garbage to my cart.

There used to be a day when plastic didn’t exist and packaging was reusable or compostable.  We need to find a way to live without disposable plastic packaging, and non-reusable packaging.  It was possible once.

I’m imagining a new grocery chain called “Ye Olde Grocery Store” where nothing is sold in plastic packaging and you have to bring, buy, or pay a deposit on reusable containers.  I’d also like to start “Ye Olde Toy Store”  where you can choose your favourite unpackaged Littlest Petshop pet from underneath a glass counter, and scoop Lego and buy it by the pound like nails!  It can be possible again….

One Minute Left….

I feel a sense of urgency.  We all need to feel a sense of urgency.  But the needs of everyday life serve to distract us.  Most of us are aware that there is a problem.  But the illusion of abundance makes us think, there’s plenty where that came from, there’s nothing to worry about yet.  The fact that most of us don’t get to see where all our stuff is coming from or where our garbage is going to, hides the damage we are doing.  The illusion is that all systems are still go, so we’re still okay for a while yet, right?

But the truth of the matter is, there is only one minute left.  One minute from the point of no return.  One minute from the point that the Earth can no longer sustain us.  The first time I heard this and the test tube analogy from David Suzuki several years back, I knew it must be true.  He now has a video of it, One Minute Left.  It explains exponential growth, and how we don’t all see it, but we are at a very crucial moment in human history.  If there is any link on my blog that you need to see, this is the one.  Watch it now.

We are so busy consuming and consuming, we never stop to think where all our stuff comes from, or stop to appreciate that the Earth gave it all to us.  We are so busy worrying about the economy and our jobs, we never stop to think that the economy is just a system somebody made up, money is just a piece of paper that represents goods or services exchanged and shouldn’t be an ends in itself.  In The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard explains how this mindset came about and how we can change.

Our human life is dependent on not only the health of the oceans and forests of the world, it is dependent on the health of every living creature on Earth.  Think of it this way.  If the population of insects on Earth were to plummet, as the population of bees is unfortunately doing right now, it would have huge ramifications for plant life, animal life, and all along the food chain to us.  However, if the population of humans were to plummet, all life on earth would flourish again.  We need them, but they don’t need us.  Food for thought.

Nature did not design anything on the Earth to be disposable.  The Earth’s abundance is renewable and plentiful – if we respect the conditions under which it flourishes.  If we continue to consume and dispose of the Earth’s resources the way we are, we are headed straight towards our own demise.

The big question is, how do we get ourselves off our butts and start doing something about it?  How do we instill a sense of urgency when we live in an illusion of abundance that tells us everything is okay for now?  How do we make changes and devote enough time and energy to the issue when we have our daily needs to meet?  Then, how do we convince others to do the same?  This is what I am exploring in this project, and I can only hope that I am making a difference.

We only have one minute left to decide what we are going to do.  What are you going to do?

I feel a sense of urgency.  We should all feel a sense of urgency.  But the needs of everyday life seem to distract us.  The illusion of abundance makes us think, there’s plenty where that came from, there’s nothing to worry about.  The fact that most of us don’t see where all our stuff is coming from or where our garbage is going to, hides the damage we are doing.  There isn’t a problem if we don’t see it, right?

But the truth of the matter is, there is only one minute left.  One minute from the point of no return.  One minute from the point that the Earth can no longer sustain us.  The first time I heard this and the test tube analogy from David Suzuki several years back, I knew it must be true.  He now has a video of it, One Minute Left.  It explains exponential growth, and how we all don’t see it, but we are at a very crucial moment in human history.  If there is any link on my blog that you need to see, this is the one.  Watch it now.

We are so busy consuming and consuming, we never stop to think where all our stuff comes from, or stop to appreciate that the Earth gave it all to us.  We are so busy worrying about the economy and our jobs, we never stop to think that the economy is just a system somebody made up, money is just a piece of paper that represents goods or services exchanged and shouldn’t be and ends in itself.

In The Story of Stuff,

It is ironic to think, that if the population of bumblebees were to plummet, it would have huge ramifications for plant life and all along the food chain.  However, if the population of humans were to plummet, all life on earth would flourish again.  Food for thought.

The first week….

As many of you know, I’ve already reduced the garbage I make by quite a bit.  However, I want to take it even further.  So I am taking a tally of the garbage I still have left to see what I can do next.  I include recycling and compost in this tally, as although they are great alternatives, both expend energy and are therefore still contributing carbon to our atmosphere.

So after a week, here is the garbage left over and my analysis of it.  I’m only counting the larger items at this point.  Keep in mind that there are only two of us (one and a half, really) and that I’ve already done quite a bit so I’m down to the bare essentials.

Garbage.  I was pretty impressed with the garbage.  It only amounted to half a grocery bag full this week.  Most of the garbage was plastic, and aside from a broken plastic food saver that couldn’t be recycled, it was all food packaging.  This included a 10kg bag for rice, 2 cereal bags, wrappers and bags for crackers, a tray for crackers, 2 large chip bags, a bag that had chocolate in it, and plastic wrap from meat purchases.  There was a bit of paper, including some wax paper that was used for wrapping prepared meats, and a few napkins and tissues.  The other notable items were some tin foil and a broken drinking glass that I am assuming is non-recyclable.

Recycling.  Amounted to one banker’s box this week.  Most of it was paper.  This included a cereal box, a chocolate box, 2 soy milk cartons (flattened), a flour bag, a potato bag, a cardboard sleeve for something I bought, a chocolate wrapper, a flyer, and 10 or more receipts.  There were two  metal cans.  Plastic consisted of five clear bags with holes in them that I couldn’t think of a way to reuse and a plastic meat tray.  There were also two styrofoam meat trays.

Compost.  Amounted to three produce bags full, which is the most waste of all three categories by weight.  I’m ashamed to say, of those three bags, I threw out quite a bit of food that could have been eaten.  Of produce, I chucked 1/2 a lemon, a couple limes, and 1 head of broccoli.  Of prepared foods, I threw away 1/2 a peanut butter sandwich, 2 servings of oatmeal, 1 serving of sausage and pasta, 2 whole sausages, 5 slices of bread, bread crusts from my daughter’s sandwiches, and 1 serving of stale pretzels.  That’s at least a couple of meals’ worth.

In my post, Christmas Leftovers, I resolved to reduce the food I waste.  This is going to be a challenge for me.  As I watched myself throw away what used to be perfectly good food, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do about it and still am not sure.  But I think something will come to me.

It is interesting to note that vast majority of the waste/recycling I have left is food-related.  I am not sure how I am going to buy cereal, meat, and my favourite snacks – chocolate, chips, and crackers – without generating waste.  At least with produce I have been reusing plastic bags, but I’d like a better option.  I’ve seen reusable produce bags made of cotton, but that just doesn’t seem to be entirely practical for me.

This is just the first week.  I think I’ll track the whole month before making any changes, just to see if there are other trends.  Mind you, I won’t post every week specifically about my garbage unless I discover something notable….

I’ll end this post by asking you, “”What is in your garbage can?”