Posts Tagged ‘green consumerism’

Cutting out the noise

This was originally published on May 20 2008,  my family will be on vacation for a few weeks we are re-posing some articles that are still relevant today!

Spring has arrived and with it the return of the growing season. We don’t have to look far for reminders that it’s time to mow the lawn. A week-end view from above reveals  people  emerging from their homes ready to trim down grass and weed. They have many tools at their disposal, but foremost is the lawn mower. The gas mower emits noise and air pollutants and can be expensive to run . Difficult terrain can make a corded electric mower unmanageable. Gardeners need to remember there is another option, the push mower (also known as the reel mower).

Green mowing is an idea that has been around long before the advent of the gas and electric mower, and it  is gaining popularity. The rising gas prices makes the push mower an attractive alternative. While saving money on gas or electricity you can get some exercise, and contribute to a healthier planet.

According to the California Environmental Protection Agency, a gas mower can pump out as much emissions as 40 new cars while in use. With roughly 2.7 million Canadians mowing their lawns each summer weekend, gas powered lawn mowers can release 80 000 tones of pollutants annually, and use more than 151 million litres of gas, according to Statistics Canada. We don’t need all the statistics to highlight was is obvious. What’s old is new again!

Gardeners agree that a push mower may need to be sharpened fairly often for best results. Ultimately a green mower will leave a greener lawn because the blade slices like scissors, not pulling or tearing it as a rotary gas powered machine will do.

A reel mower may take a little longer, but the result will be a healthier lawn that needs less care, an environmentally friendly alternative and a more peaceful one.

Remember what they they say; mow high and let it lie. (leave your grass clipping on the lawn as a natural fertiliser!)

21st century gold rush

Gold Record

Mention the words gold rush today and many  people will conjure up images of overall clad men with pans, pic axes and pack animals prospecting up the old dusty roads in the mountains.  History reveals towns built on riches quickly gained and exhausted by a lucky few over a hundred years ago in Canada.  Old mines left as reminders, along with  toxic “ tailing” or sludge that is the by-product, after the valuable metals are separated from the worthless rocks. Historically this environmental liability was left behind like so many whiskey saloons and outfitter stores.

Around the world today gold mining is not a thing of the past, far from it.


The demand for gold is higher then it ever has been, and more valuable than ever.  Consider that gold has increased in price 300% in the past decade alone. Statistics state that on September 10 2001 gold sold for $271 per once, today it is steadily above $1100 per once.

According to an article in the January 09 National Geographic magazine, only about two Olympic sized swimming pools worth of gold has ever been extracted to date! That is 161,000 tonnes, half of that in the past 50 years!

The appetite for gold has only increased around the world.  With an economic recession and credit crisis  reality, people are turning to gold as a security blanket, but what is uncovered when looking a little deeper is not comforting, to say the least.

In 2007 global demand for gold outstripped mining production by 59% according to Peter L  Bernstein, author of The Power of Gold. “But it is never clear if we have gold – or it has us.”

gold mine pit Bloomberg Photo

Whether it is a huge open pit mine, drilled thousands of feet into the bedrock below sea level, or smaller caverns and caves that exude deplorable working conditions with little safety regulations. The ravaged earth is left scared and polluted, in one mine known as Newmont Mining Corporations Batu Hijau operation in eastern Indonesia, extracting a single ounce of gold there- the amount in a typical  wedding ring – requires the removal of more then 250 tons of rock and ore. The waste rock is then piled onto rainforest land, displacing animals and contaminating water sources for people and livestock alike.

Small scale or “artisan gold miners” face health hazards in the form of mercury poisoning from the extraction process. It is estimated by  the UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) that there are between 10 -15 million artisan miners world wide, from Mongolia to Brazil, using centuries old methods, and producing 25% of the world gold. It is also estimated that one-third of all mercury released into the world today is from this small scale gold mining, with two to five grams of mercury released for every gram of gold recovered- Mercury exposure  has been linked to neurological and genetic damage, and once it has entered the rivers and streams it leads to contamination of the soil bed and food chain.


Organizations like “No Dirty Gold” try and educate people about gold mining around the world. Some large companies try to mitigate environmental impact, but many are guilty of what is known as “submarine tailings disposal”, dumping toxic waste off shore, deep in the oceans, which is banned.  If caught, the fines are cheaper then safer land disposal options for mining waste.  There are far fewer protectors of the deep seas then the rainforest so these practices go largely unnoticed.

Open pit mines can be seen from space. These mines bring jobs to many impoverished nations that have less regulations and a lower living wage then the countries that demand the gold buried deep within volcanoes and mountains the world over.

Gold holds little practical value, used in tiny amount in electronics and in dentistry, the majority of  gold is mined for jewellery. Nonetheless, ancient civilizations held it in the highest regard and today it remains a symbol of power and affluence.

Today  money lenders and jewelers eagerly advertise to buy your old gold. While generations have hoarded gold, held it as a dowry or family heirloom, to mark special occasions, weddings, births, and achievements. It is deeply entwined in our modern culture.  It is to be found at the end of the rainbow,  on your wedding finger and the highest achievement in Sporting events.


The true value of gold is to be determined by future generations who will look back on our lust for gold, as old as the mountains themselves, and the destruction of the greatest empires known to us as well.

Will our love for this precious metal be our downfall too? The choice is in our hands, but if history teaches us anything, it is that this shiny rock has powers that go beyond good judgement, and remain one constant in an ever changing world.

Eco-Tidings of joy

At our house this is our favourite time of year.  Baking cookies, decorating the tree, making gifts and sending out cards for the holidays are all fun activities. One other thing my kids look forward to is checking the mailbox each morning for cards from our family on the other side of the country.  This is the one time when we are most looking forward to getting the mail!

Since moving this summer we noticed an increase in the amount of mail and newspapers that get delivered to our house. It is not that we didn’t get all the flyers and junk mail at our last address, I had forgotten to put the red dot on our new mail box.

The Red Dot Campaign was an initiative started in Canada to curb advertisers wasteful use of paper in advertising. The idea is simple, put a red dot on your mail box and the mail carrier will not leave flyers and advertisements in your mailbox. You can also simply put a note on your mailbox that says no junk mail, no ad-mail or no flyers and they will get the message.

tree in Stanley Park

Some companies even go further and sell Postal Junk Mail Reduction Kits and U.S. residents can sign the petition to stop junk mail!  at the Forest Ethics site.

There are many ways we can all stop wasteful practices, stopping junk mail, using things like e-post in Canada to get your bills on-line. You can also pay your bills on-line reducing even more need for paper products and trips to the post office.

Most companies now have their weekly flyers available at your fingertips with a simple search you can find what you need.

By stopping junk mail from entering your house you will be sending a message and helping to curb climate change, deforestation and reduce consumption.

You can even send e-cards for the holidays and cut out the paper habit completely. Our family often re-uses the cards received from previous years to make new ones for family and friends. If you are not so crafty there are many Eco-friendly options in greeting cards.  Look for cards made of 100% post consumer paper, printed with soy or vegetable inks and printed in Canada. This year I bought some from Pistachio, a Canadian company that cares about all these things and more.

Whatever your choice, think of the environment when you go to the mail box and the planet will thank you.

Bio Bags are they really green?

bio bags

Reducing our impact on the environment is on most peoples radar these days and  biodegradable garbage bags may seem like a good choice when it comes to the waste we create daily. That was what I thought too until two years ago.  I was volunteering at an Eco-fair downtown when I began talking with a manufacturer of this exact product that I got the real scope on Bio bags and their lifespan in the land fill.

Like many environmentally aware people, I pride myself on being up on the latest ways to be good to the planet.  After making a commitment to reduce, reuse and recycle, we are still faced with the green garbage bag at the end of the week that needs to be collected and transported to the landfill.

With many of the grocery chains now charging for plastic bags or eliminating them all together I needed to look for another source of garbage bags, I hated the idea of buying a product, namely plastic garbage bags, to throw away.  I  justified it to myself by the fact that I would go “green” and pick  biodegradable garbage bags for my kitchen and home.

The  outlandish price tag, usually two to three times that of the common  brands, was just the price one has to pay to be responsible.  How wrong I was!  The gentleman I met was promoting biodegradable compost bags that were specifically designed for backyard composters for vegetable matter. The bags do compost quite well when under the proper conditions.

It was these “proper conditions” that I was not aware of  until he explained it to me.  When I asked why he did not sell Bio “garbage” bags as well,  I learned that the bags that are destined for the dump will not degrade even if the bag is made of this super new green technology.

In a landfill, the bags would not be exposed to the two key elements needed for the process to work; oxygen and sunlight! The garbage bags that we put out each week to be swept away by a couple of strapping guys in a stinky truck will not be set out to rot and return to the earth in any matter that is close to natural. The garbage will be compacted and covered with a layer of dirt within hours of reaching it’s final destination, to stay there for hundreds or thousands of years!

It’s just one example of the green machine taking advantage of the everyday consumer. So if these bags are not going to breakdown any faster then the ones made of petroleum products, should we just throw our hand up in surrender and return to our old ways and buy the cheap bags once more?

There is another option, garbage bags made of recycled plastic.  This reused product may sit around for a long time too, but it reuses what would have ended up as garbage. Next time you are out grocery shopping look in the cleaning isle and you’ll find these recycled plastic bags are becoming more common.

Why all plastic bags are not made of recycled materials is a question for another day, and for the politicians perhaps? Until the laws change and environmental protection is a higher priority for the government we must  be proactive in our resolve to make the best choices we can with the information we have.

Each choice you make in favour of recycled products, reducing your consumption of disposable items and thinking about the final destination of your purchases will add up to a greener planet and that is what we all want and need.

Natural cleaning

Like many of you I have been trying to get back to basics when it comes to keeping my home clean.

One area where I have always tried to maintain a small Eco footprint is in the laundry room.  We all know there are many products on the market today that claim to “whiten and brighten” our clothes while leaving them smelling fresh.

I have never been a fan of the fabric softeners and always felt the “fresh scents” were a little too artificial for my liking, not to mention how unnatural it would be to go around smelling like a “flower meadow” or “spring breeze” all day or even on a time release schedule- how does that work anyway?

Well this spring while I was volunteering at an Eco-fair I found a wonderful laundry soap that is made here in Canada!

It is called Nellie’s All Natural Laundry Soda!

09 10 09 bday- nellies 018I have to admit the stylish design was what first caught my attention, then the dryer balls! If you use a clothes dryer, like most of us do, you may have been tempted in the past to use dryer sheets. They reduce static and leave your clothes smelling fresh, right? Most people don’t give a second thought to what the chemical smell is? If it is tested on animals and how it is affecting the environment.

This is a great alternative! Nelly’s dryer balls are  reusable rubber balls that you simply add to your dryer to reduce lint and  static. You can even choose to add the convenient all natural fragrance sticks to them, they will make your clothes smell wonderful! The scents are  made of pure soy wax, essential oils and paper board. The balls even have a two year warranty and even reduce the drying time by 25% saving the consumer even more money and energy.

None of these products are tested on animals, and all the ingredients are listed on the packaging.

I bought the full line in a promotional package, and it is all I have used for the past four months! I am still on the same tin! The product is extremely concentrated and highly effective.

I know there is one more natural way to dry your clothes, and if you are lucky enough to live in a house with some space you can line dry your clothes! If that is not an option for you look at this wonderful product as the next best thing!


That is the tag line for EPIC the Vancouver Sun  Sustainable living expo, on now at the New Vancouver convention centre.


EPIC is in it’s third year. and I am volunteering at this incredible event for the third year as well. I will be blogging about it on my new blog, URBNblog and writing reviews of all the products I have bought, tested and tried at EPIC.

So what does EPIC stand for? Ethical Progressive Intelligent Consumer.  This is the place  to try new and interesting products, and sample things you may have always wanted to.  There are  many contests and  give aways, as well as great bargains.  Fashion shows and  cooking demos, speakers, and a chance for people to connect  with the entrepreneurs who are driving the “green” movement in B.C ,  North America, and even Australia!

This is a exposition and marketplace of  ethical consumerism. If you already support fair trade, organic and high quality products this is an opportunity to get some great deals!

It runs from Friday May 8th – May 10th 2009

The Free Space

In our building we have a “free space”.  The free space is in our shared laundry room. It is just a table in the corner under the bulletin board where people will leave things they no longer use and can be passed on to someone else. We find it to be a fun way to recycle.

Our apartment managers are wonderful and keep it quite organized, they bring the left over donations to a community drop off once a month or so after everyone has had a chance to see if they could use the items first.  I have seen so many items here I could not name them all. Things like clothing of course as it is in the laundry room, books, kitchen appliances, microwaves, VCR’s, CD’s, tapes, video’s, boom boxes, t.v.’s, towels, dishes, glasses, shoes, toys, tricycles, food, just about anything you could imagine has been found there. Including some large items that I am sure would have been ruined in the alley if it had been left out there, futons, chairs, and ottomans.

We have found many useful items there, it’s like ongoing Christmas time!

We have also left many items there for other people as well, including toys and clothes my kids have outgrown, free samples, magazines, books. It feels like a trading post in ways as we have donated things one day, only to find an item that is perfect and just what we were looking for a few days later!

Our building is like many others, we are surrounded by buildings, we are in the most densely populated area of town, and I have often wondered if other people have free spaces in there buildings. A number of people have said they see a lot of good and useful things in there garbage and recycling rooms but I feel like there could be a stigma attached to the garbage room, I am glad our free space is inside the main building and the items are recycled among our neighbors. I hope this idea is not unique to our little building and by my sharing this idea more people can create a free space in their apartments too.

I have heard of a free store and that just takes the idea one step further, but for now the free space is a wonderful treasure my kids and I check regularly, you know what they say, one persons junk is another’s treasure, and it couldn’t be more true!

GM oh NO!

There has been some debate and protest over the genetic modification of our food supply. Greenpeace has had an on going campaign to raise awareness about what is actually going on in the fields and in laboratories around the globe. Genetically Modified (GM) crops entered our food supply in 1996 , no labeling was required of modified crops and very little safety studies were done. According to University of Guelph professor of plant physiology, Ann Clark “the approval process has been largely based on assumptions.”

We know our food is being altered, who has not heard of Monsanto’s “round up ready” crops? Seeds that have been modified to grow despite being drenched in herbicide that kills every living green thing it touches.

There is another product of the biotech industry that is commonly overlooked, GM cotton. Used not only for fabric, cotton seeds are processed into pulp for animal feed and cooking oil. Although health Canada assumes that refined oil from these crops raise no concerns related to safety, there are many that would argue the process of creating GM crops can create unpredicted damage in its DNA. These incedental changes could produce dangerous toxins, allergens or carcinogins, which if fat soluble, could end up in the oil and our food. Biotech companies. like big tabacco before them, believe we should assume these products are safe, and Health Canada agrees.

According to the The Royal Society of Canada’s report it was found that “70 percent of the currently availalbe GM crops approved for commerce in Canada, including all the canola and cotton crops have not been subject to any actual lab or animal toxicity testing” The studies that have been done are not conducted by health Canada, but by the biotech companies themselves.

Although more independent studies are needed some tests have shown animals fed GM crops showed profound changes in their livers, kidneys and hearts, and most alarming is the damage to the reproductive organs and DNA function. Even Monsanto’s own studies on trangenic corn MON863 showed toxicity in animals liver and kidneys. The only human feeding study on GM food, published in Nature in 2004, found that genes inserted into GM soybeans transfered into the DNA of human gut bacteria.

It was announced that Health Canada would conduct studies in 2002, but according to a CBC TV report the research was abandoned less than a year later as it was determined to be “too difficult to put an effective surveillance system in place”

The European Union has been fighting to ban all GMO crops and an import ban has been argued by the U.S. that this is in violation of trade agreements. The institute for Responsible Technology is currently running a campaign to stop the poliferation of GMO in our food supply, but have we already gotten to the point of no return? The answer (and seeds) are blowing in the wind.

Image:World map GMO production 2005

  • ██ The five countries producing more than 95% of commercialized GMO

  • legend pattern orange:Other country producing commercialized GMO.
  • orange dot:Only experimental crops.

Families “greening” together

Today, children are increasingly aware of the current environmental situation. Compelled by the optimism of youth, they look to their parents for ways to participate in finding solutions to the challenge that face humanity. A great way for a family to grow closer can be taking on a series of small ‘green’ projects. Here are three ideas for projects for your family that will directly change your ecological footprint.

Change your light bulbs. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFL), also known as compact fluorescent light bulbs, are designed to replace incandescent lamps and can fit in the existing light fixtures. CFLs use between one fifth and one quarter of the power of an equivalent incandescent lamp. As a family, count how many light bulbs in your home can be switched to compact fluorescent bulbs. At your family’s next visit to your local store, compare the available CFLs. Come to an agreement as to which bulbs are most suitable for your home by considering their cost and energy efficiency. Discuss how much electricity can be saved and if able, find an electric bill to see what the difference will be next month. Talk together about how the money saved from the reduced electric consumption offsets some of the cost of the new bulbs.

Begin composting. Composting is the decaying of food, vegetables, lawn and garden waste and organic material. Instead of adding your food waste to the landfill you can use it to create useful soil. Begin by deciding on the best size and location for your composter. We recommend you get the largest composter your space can manage. Families in apartment buildings can use smaller worm composers that can fit on a balcony. Families with large yards can consider bigger composters. There are many good resources available for details on setting up your compost project such as the Composting Council of Canada. Discuss with your family how composting is truly recycling. Did you know that landfills prevent substances from biodegrading due to a lack of oxygen? Most cities have composters for sale and the city of Vancouver even has a compost hotline.

Replace toxic cleaning products. Examine the cleaning products in your household. Determine which products are the most offensive to the environment. Which are the most likely to be tested on animals? If able, look up information on the manufacturing of the product. Go to your local natural product retailer or the ‘green’ product section of your usual store. What options are available? Look to the past to see what has been used, for example white vinegar and baking soda have been used to clean for generations. Discuss the hidden costs to the planet that are not reflected in the price of the old product such as pollution, animal cruelty and health hazards to the workers who make the product.

By making simple changes you and your family can be proud that you are helping the environment and you may find an added bonus, saving money!

URBNgreen is committed to education and environmental stewardship. Our objective is share information about what people are doing locally and around the world to create a sustainable future.
delicate little plant in need of freedom. Einstein quote at