Friday, July 31, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
It should go without saying that you should keep your cool behind the wheel, but did you know that aggressive driving causes you to use extra gas? Your gas mileage can be increased by as much as 30% for highway driving (and by 5% in the city) simply by accelerating and decelerating smoothly and slowly. And, as a bonus, you won’t annoy everyone around you!
You've heard the expression “speed kills”. Well, it should come as no surprise that it wastes gas, too. Driving over the speed limit is not only unsafe; it is a huge drain on the fuel tank. Consider taking secondary highways to help keep your lead-foot in check. Not only are posted limits lower, the temptation to speed is reduced when others aren’t whizzing past you like Kimi Raikkonen Optimal fuel economy will vary from vehicle to vehicle, but gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 100 km/h. Tip: if you have cruise control, use it to help maintain a constant speed.
Many urban centres are cracking down on idling and for good reason – idling vehicles contribute to pollution (both air and noise) and get zero kms /litre. It’s a myth that restarting your car uses more fuel than leaving it running, so turn off your engine when packing or unloading your car and while waiting in line-ups for ferries, highway work, accidents, etc.
And, finally, pack light. Before you add the weight of passengers and luggage, remove unnecessary heavy items from your vehicle. An extra 50 kilograms of cargo in your vehicle could reduce your gas mileage by up to 2%. This, of course, affects smaller vehicles more than large, but any little bit helps. Plus, you’ve gotta leave room for souvenirs!
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
I’m home from my mini-vacation on the farm and back to the world of traffic and computers and waking to an alarm-clock instead of the call and answer of the owls. This week’s posts will all be road-trip related, so buckle your seatbelts and get ready to hit the (green) highway…
Get your motor running...
Before you set off, take the time to get your vehicle in good shape. Not only will you have a safer journey, you’ll save gas AND money!
Make sure your engine is properly tuned and maintained. Check your oil, spark plugs, oxygen sensors, air filters, hoses and belts. Make any necessary repairs and adjustments before embarking on your adventure.
Have your wheels aligned and keep your tires properly inflated. Low tire pressure is not only a safety hazard, it wastes gasoline. You can actually increase your car’s gas milage by over 3% just by properly inflating the tires! See your owner’s manual for recommended tire-inflation.
Plan, plan, plan...
Setting off into unknown territory is part of the fun of any adventure. Getting lost, however, can take the fun out of the trip when you find yourself going many, many kilometers out of your way.
In order to avoid wasting precious gas and time, plan out your route well in advance and have maps handy for last-minute detours and diversions. It’s also a good idea to call ahead to your destinations to check operating hours, etc. Being spontaneous is fun, yes, but have you ever driven an extra-hour for an impromptu treat and arrived only to find that the ice-cream shop is closed for the season? Trust me, it’s an instant joy-kill.
A GPS navigation system is a great way to stay on-course, but pack “old fashioned” maps just in case. I have heard many stories of GPS units directing drivers into cornfields and up long-abandoned roads.
There are a number of web-based trip planners that you can use to make the most of your journey. I like http://www.freetrip.com/ and good ol’ Google Maps. If, like me, you are a member of an auto club, you can let them do your planning for you. CAA also provides members with free maps and travel guides. http://www.caa.ca
Friday, July 24, 2009
Can you believe that there are 4 lbs of organic apples in this little jar? No wonder it has such big flavour! As much as I love what goes *into* the apple butter, I really love what doesn't go into it. There is no added sugar, sodium, preservatives, or fat. It contains apples and apple juice...that's it! One tablespoon contains 20 cals, 4g of sugar and 1g fibre, making it a happy-healthy alternative to butter or jam. (Compared to butter -100 cals/tbsp and jam -50 cals/tbsp)
For more information and recipes, visit http://www.edenfoods.com/
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
What you can do:
Good – If you are going to wash your car at home, choose an environmentally-friendly detergent, such as Simple Green’s Car Wash, or make your own concentrate by mixing one cup of liquid dishwashing detergent and 3/4 cup of powdered laundry detergent (each should be chlorine- and phosphate-free and non-petroleum-based) with 10 litres of water. Use this concentrate sparingly with water over exterior car surfaces. Rather than washing the car on the driveway or in the street, wash it over the grass to allow the soil to neutralize the toxic waste water. Be sure to keep children and animals off of the wet grass when you are done.
Better – Take your vehicle to a commercial car wash. Federal laws in both Canada and the U.S. require commercial carwash facilities to drain their wastewater into sewer systems. The water is treated by the municipal water plant before it is discharged back into nature. Also, commercial car washes make use of computer-controlled systems and high-pressure nozzles and pumps to minimize water usage. According to the International Carwash Association, automatic car washes average less than 45 gallons per car use, while washing a car at home typically uses between 80 and 140 gallons of water.
Best – Seek out and frequent an eco-friendly commercial car wash. These businesses go a little further to “clean up” the process, employing state-of-the-art technology such as on-site filtration, rainwater gathering, and use of alternative energy sources. Just do a quick Google search for “eco-friendly car wash” (plus your location) to find your local facility. Your car AND the fishes will thank you!
“Wash your car on the lawn so that
you water and fertilize the grass at
the same time. Car shampoos use
phosphates that are similar to
Well, they’re half-right. Go ahead and wash your car on the lawn, but PLEASE choose a non-petroleum cleaning product that is free of phosphates and chlorine.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
It just makes you stop and think about the little things that we take for granted in the name of convenience. Everything from disposable drinking straws, to gelati shovels...er...spoons, to the handfuls of paper napkins that end up in your take out bag - it all adds up!
How can we help? As the song says "Control yourself. Take only what you need." Do you automatically grab a half-dozen packets of ketchup to go with your fries or 3 plastic stir sticks for your venti-non-fat-extra-hot-soy-chai-latte? Start with 1 and go back if you need more. If the guy behind the counter gives you a stack of serviettes the size of a crib mattress, keep one or two and politely pass the rest back. If you find yourself 2 kms down the road when you make the million-napkin discovery, keep them on hand to handle spills in the car or take them into the house to use at dinner. I know...fancy! ;-)
Another method to reduce your dependence on disposables is to pack your own reusables. I have a few spoons (and the occasional fork) that travel with me: one in my car, one in a side pocket of my purse, one on my desk, and one in my lunch bag. (I have heard, too, about people who carry a cloth napkin wherever they go...but I'm not sure I'm quite "there" yet...) Lately I’ve been thinking about toting a cute pair of reusable chopsticks, too…especially after reading the stats above! A quick search on Etsy of “chopstick case” turned up a few cute options….but of course, I’ll probably make my own. Or maybe I'll try these: http://dvice.com/archives/2008/05/stix-glasses-hi.php LOL.
Finally, the number one way to cut the number of disposables in your life is to change your habits. Instead of running for the border at lunchtime, pack a sandwich or a salad in a container. If you are lucky enough to have a fridge at your office, keep full-sized bottles of your most loved condiments on hand and say "no thanks" to single-serve pouches of salad dressing and mustard. Take your morning coffee with you from home instead of automatically swinging through the drive-thru. And if you do eat out, make it an event. Sit down and use real cutlery instead of balancing an order of onion rings on your lap while you negotiate traffic. Not only will you be reducing garbage, you'll be reducing car-emmissions AND eating healthier!
*Plus, another 15 million are exported to Japan, South Korea, and other countries. Source: http://www.fon.org.cn/greenchoice/index_eng.php?var1=content/foodaghealth/shopping/shopping_1.htm
Monday, July 20, 2009
For those able to help out, there will be a 5 km. "Lake Winnipeg Foundation Live Lake Walkathon" on Sundy, Aug. 9, 2009. All walkathon proceeds will benefit the lake through support for education, awareness and resarch. Get pledge forms at www.lakewinnipegfoundation.org or by calling Barry at 389-5560 (Matlock Location) or Janet at 756-8276, Karin at 756-3378 or Sheila at 756-2367 (Victoria Beach Location).
Help save our beautiful lake!
the problem with phospherous
Fact: Approximately 8,000 tonnes of phosphorus enter Lake Winnipeg each year, through sewage and agricultural drain-off. A fraction of this will flow-out (2500 tonnes), but the rest remains in the lake.
Fact: Algae use phosphorus to survive and grow. The growing accumulation of phosphorous (and other chemicals) in the lake are causing algal blooms to occur at an alarming rate. Not only are the blooms more frequent, they are bigger in surface area, faster growing, and difficult to control.
Typically it is blue-green algae that naturally forms these blooms. This type of algae can obtain the nitrogen they need from nitrogen in the air, unlike other kinds of algae that take their nitrogen from the water, so as long as they are exposed to air, they can continue to make their own. As a result, the blue-green algae cannot be controlled by reducing the nitrogen supply to them.
Increased blue-green algae causes several negative things to occur in the lake. It causes water to become turbid and unattractive and can produce toxins That make the water taste and smell unappealing. In addition, when the blue-green algae dies it sinks to the bottom of the lake. The decomposition of the blue-green algae consumes the oxygen in the water causing other aquatic organisms to suffocate.
What can we do? As with anything, change starts at home. Choose 100% phosphate-free dishwasher and laundry detergents. These are the main culprits, but check other household cleaners for phosphates, too. I have discovered two things about phosphate-free detergents: they are a little more expensive than “regular” detergents and they work every bit as well.
If you choose to fertilize your lawn (and don’t get me started on that one…), be sure to use ones that contain no phosphorous. (Phosphorous is indicated by the second number on the label. If you are unsure, just ask at the garden centre.)
Saturday, July 18, 2009
I think I am going to start working on my design for a set of saddlebags for the bike, too. Having more cargo room than the basket on the front allows might help. If I come up with something that works well, I might try to do my weekly grocery shop by bike. Hmmm...now I just have to come up with something clever to make the bags out of...
Friday, July 17, 2009
Back to the toothpaste…to be honest, I was a bit surprised the first time I used it due to its lack of sweetness. It was minty, yes, but definitely not sweet. I wasn’t sure that I liked it at first, until I realized that what I *don’t* like about other commercial brands is how unbelievably cloying they are. I find that no matter how much you rinse, most leave a weird candy taste in your mouth. Good if you like candy, I suppose, but bad if you just want your mouth to feel clean. Once I got used to the non-sweetness of the product and embraced the extra-freshness of the natural peppermint, I was hooked.
The other big difference with Tom’s is how well it cleans your teeth and how long the “just brushed” feeling lasts. The ingredient responsible here is silica, derived from natural sand, and calcium carbonate which work together to gently and effectively clean and whiten. For the first week that I was using the Whole Care toothpaste, I couldn’t stop obsessing over how smooth my teeth felt. (Now I just take it for granted…)
And, finally, I have to admit that one of my most-favourite thing about Tom’s toothpaste is the old-schooly metal tube. Unlike plastic tubes, you can actually roll it up as you go and get every. last. drop. Love it.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
A few more ways that you can cap the tap:
- Plug the drain before filling the bathtub. The temperature can be adjusted as the tub fills.
- Multi-task in the shower. Wash your body or your face while your hair conditioner soaks in. Cutting your showers short by 1 or 2 minutes can save 120 gallons/month. Aim for showers of five minutes or less (I know, I know...working on that...)
- Speaking of which, showering "with a friend" doesn't save water. Quit fooling yourself and rent a room! Baths are a different story, though. The more people you can fit in a bathtub, the better. ;-)
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Wanna know how to make a difference? COMPOST! Composting is the #1 way to reduce your household waste and I can vouch for that 100%. We have been composting for just over a year and I am amazed at how much good, organic material from our kitchen is being diverted from the landfill and into our big, black beast in the back lane (aka the composter). Just one day’s worth of our food scraps and trimmings is enough to fill a small ice cream bucket. Multiply that by 7 and you’re looking at a significant amount over the course of a week. Believe me, your trash collector AND the environment will thank you.
A few myths about composting:
Myth - compost bins are stinky! If you compost properly, composts don’t smell. If your bin starts to get a little ripe, blame it on anaerobic microbes. While they are working to break down the organic matter, they can create a bit of a pong. To cut down on the anaerobic process, be sure to aerate your pile regularly. Use of an aerating tool every two weeks or so will create air pockets and actually speed-up the composting process!
Myth - compost bins attract vermin! Compost piles that do not include animal products or pet droppings will not attract pests. Fill your bin with plant-based materials only. This includes fruit and vegetable peelings/trimmings, coffee grounds, tea bags, paper towels, shredded newspapers, wooden toothpicks.
Myth – composting takes a lot of effort! Let me put it this way…my 12 year old takes care of most of the composting at our house. He takes the bucket of goodness out to the back lane once a day, dumps the contents into the bin, and returns it (empty) to the kitchen. My part is even easier…all I have to do is fill the bucket (and aerate the pile a couple times a month).
Tips to successful composting:
Balance your “greens’ with some “browns”. Adding dried leaves and wood chips to your compost pile will help to keep your mix from compacting too much and becoming anaerobic. I find that creating a layer of brown materials also helps to keep fruit-flies at bay in the summer months. Plus, it’s a little more esthetically appealing when you open the bin. (Not that it should matter…but it cuts down on the “ewwwwww’s” that come from the person opening the bin every day.)
Place your bin in a warm-ish spot. Compost breaks down best between 120 – 160 degrees f. Use of a black plastic compost bin in a sunny spot will also help to create and hold heat. (This is probably a good time to mention the “winter” issue. Obviously, a frozen-solid compost pile will do absolutely nothing. Rather than fill our composter with an endless supply of material that won’t break down throughout the winter, we toss our compostable scraps out in small biodegradable kitchen waste bags, separate from the household garbage. It’s not ideal, but it seems to be the lesser of two evils. Next winter, we’ll be introducing an indoor worm-bin to our happy family, which should help a bit.)
Resist the urge to water your compost bin. Compost should be moist, not wet. Remember those little “air pockets” that speed things along? Water will fill them right back up. If you think things are looking a little too dry…add more “greens”.
One exception to the “no animal products” rule: eggshells that have been rinsed, dried, and crushed can be added to the compost mixture with no problems.
…and how do you know when you’ve got compost? Compost looks just like good, rich soil…go fig. Also, you should not be able to recognize anything that you put in there…save for the occasional rubber band. ;-)
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Ok, that one is a trick. Ideally we should be choosing local AND organic. Here's why:
Local food is good for so many reasons. The obvious one is that buying local reduces the distance our food has to travel from field to market. Shorter distances mean less transportation costs and a smaller carbon footprint. Local food also spends fewer days in transport, so goods can be picked closer to ripeness and require less packaging, cushioning, refrigeration and so on and so on and so on. Literally, it is the difference between a semi truck full of ethelene-gassed green tomatoes and Farmer Joe hauling his wagon of vine-ripened goodness to your door. Or close to it. ;-)
The less-obvious argument for buying local is the economic impact that your purchase has on your local economy. Not only are you helping the farmer, you are helping everyone that they do business with along the way. They say that a dollar spent locally equals $7 (by the time it changes hands in the community), but a dollar spent at a big-box store turns over only twice.
As for organic...where do I start? Maybe I should save that for another day.
Monday, July 13, 2009
I was thinking about that girl the other day as I was standing at the kitchen sink rinsing out a couple Ziplock bags. I love the convenience of them, but because they can't be recycled, the only way that I can really justify buying them is to use and re-use each one about a million times*. Since I don't use them for meat and/or gross stuff, they literally have to be in shreds before I'll toss them. The two that I have in my lunch bag are practically ancient.
It's pretty straightforward, so I am not going to explain how to rinse out a bag (this isn't the famous instructables.com "how to refrigerate a banana" post). I will say, however, that other than using really hot water, the secret to success is all in the drying. You probably have something around the house that will work. I use a 10-arm stand that I think is supposed to be for displaying photographs. Wooden plate display racks, mitten drying stands, mini hanging clotheslines/racks, etc will all work. You could even use the empty rack in your dishwasher, but if you're like me, the dishwasher is *never* empty. Whatever you use, though, just make sure that the insides are not touching and that there is good airflow from the bottom.
Tip: if you are really going to go for it and reuse the heck out of your Ziplocks, invest in the thicker & stronger freezer bags, rather than the regular sandwich bags. They'll hold up a lot better and save you $ in the long run.
*And I am totally not exaggerating about that either. I am still on the same box of bags that I bought a year ago when I moved into my house. Some of my bags might even be older...as old as my tin-foil hat, even.
Friday, July 10, 2009
And don't get me started on food. The mascot's favourite guilty-pleasure lunch, the Swanson Dinner, has more packaging than actual food. (Not to mention the fact that the box probably has just as many nutrients as the dinner itself...but that's another story.) Last year I stopped buying the individually packaged snacks and cookies. You know the ones. 100 tempting calories in a shiny little bag, packed into a box with 5 other shiny little bags. The amount of packaging for 600 empty calories just simply isn't worth it. When was the last time you ate 9 mini crackers and felt completely satisfied?
Our answer to the food situation has been relatively simple. I started buying larger sizes of our favourite things and invested in some small, reuasable containers to decant them into. Replacing the tiny single-serving yogurt pots alone has made a huge difference in the recycling bin AND on my wallet. Those teeny servings are handy, but way more expensive gram-for-gram! And, as a side benefit, buying the large-size yogurt has set me up with a constant supply of "free" lidded containers - perfect for the dry goods (rice, couscous, quinoa, etc) that I pick up on my increasingly frequent visits to Bulk Barn.
The answer to the "other stuff" (toys, cosmetics, craft supplies, etc) is not so simple. It's going to come down to manufacturers reducing their packaging, which doesn't seem all that likely. Products are placed in packages for marketing, branding, safety (Bag o' broken glass, anyone?), and security/loss prevention perposes. Consumers are also guilty of encouraging the practise of overpackaging because in addition to our addiction to shiny/pretty things, most people perceve wrapped goods to be "cleaner". (God forbid we should buy something that human hands have touched.)
The simple answer is just to not buy anything, although that's unrealistic. BUT, we can try to convince manufacturers to reduce their packaging through letter-writing and speaking to the retailers. Believe it or not, most are on our side. I have heard that in the UK, there are retailers who provide bins for customers to dispose of their packaging after purchase. The bins are "audited" on a weekly basis and the highest-offending manufacturers are contacted and asked to reduce the amount of packaging, or face the possibility of being ousted from the store shelves! Since I haven't come across a program like that here, the next time I get something that is really excessively packaged, I think am going to take all of the plastic and cardboard and twist-ties and "bits" and mail them back to the manufacturer (in a reused envelope, natch). That might get someone's attention...
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
A couple fun facts about the current 100-date U2 tour:
- Bono and the boys will be logging a sky-high 112,654 kms on their private jet.
- The carbon footprint of the "360 degree" tour will be the equivalent of 65,000 average Irish folks.
Read more: http://bit.ly/9tCvK
A few people have asked me recently why I have stopped eating meat. I should say, first off, that I haven't entirely stopped. I still eat fish and seafood, and occasionally chicken, but my red-meat consumption has been cut down to almost nothing. My main reason for going veg is a combination of health, eco-mindedness (see above), and personal taste. But, mostly it's just that the effort and resources that go into producing and processing meat is lost on me. Taking all the fuss into account, I would honestly rather just eat a beet.
I still cook it for the mascot, but when I do I choose high-quality, organic meat as much as possible. I also have a personal belief that if an animal gives its life for your dinner, then the very least you should do is honour it with careful and thoughtful preparation.
*based on 3 years of care and feeding
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Think you're helping the environment by choosing paper bags? Guess again. They may be compostable/recyclable, but the production of paper bags is accountable for 70% more pollution than plastic and uses a huge amount of water in the process. Not to mention the 14,000,000+ trees that are cut down to make the bags. What a waste!
It's time to stop using paper and plastic bags and go re-usable! Need more convincing? Here are 5 reasons why you should BYOB the next time you go shopping:
- A good-quality fabric bag will replace up to 700 plastic bags over the course of its lifetime.
- Reusable bags now come in countless stylish fabrics and designs. Not only do they make a fashion statement, they tell the world that you care about the environment! Check these out: http://www.bbbegonia.com
- Many stores offer discounts or bonus "points" for green-minded shoppers that bring their own bags. Show your support by shopping at these stores, or encouraging a similar program at stores that do not currently offer one.
- It's about to get more expensive to shop! Many municipalities are now banning or putting a tax on disposable bags.
- An eco-concious shopper will save approx. 22,000 plastic bags over the course of their lifetime! Why not start today?
Monday, July 6, 2009
I recently read that 50% of car trips in the US are less than 2 miles. It made me wonder many of those errands could be done by bike...and how many of MY errands could be done by bike. A quick trip to the store, a visit to my fella, and going out for a coffee are just a few examples from yesterday alone! I'm sure that over the course of a week, I could find at least 4 errands to run without the use of the car. So, that is going to be my new challenge!
Over the next 10 weeks, I am going to make an effort to keep the car parked for 4 errands per week and I'll be charting my progress in the sidebar:
week 1 - Sunday, 07/05 deliver snap peas and lettuce to R. (7.2k) Monday, 07/06 return movie to Rogers. (11.7k) Thursday, 07/09 return movie, pick up mail, trip to McDiarmid Lumber (11.1k) Friday, 07/10 ride to R's, bike to dinner at Mona Lisa (6k)
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Now, I should also admit that I am a gadget-girl (a Gidget?). I try to stay away from single perpose gadgets (ha!), but there are times when it's best to do one thing and do one thing well. And this tool is a perfect example of that. It quickly and almost-effortlessly removes weeds from your lawn and garden, root and all! And it's addictively FUN...just ask my fella. He did my whole backyard yesterday and would have done the entire front yard, had I not fought him for my turn with "the puller".
After our initial weed-fest, my lawn is looking a little pockmarked. According to a helpful guy at the hardware store, I can remedy this by placing a little handful of grass seed into each hole as I go. Doing that will apparently fill the holes AND eventually create a nice, thick carpet of grass that will naturally choke out weeds...all without the use of herbicides or fertilizers!