Saving Electricity

Earth’s resources are important to manage and conserve, and electricity is a resource that should be used wisely.

In British Columbia more than 90% of BC Hydro’s power is generated from hydroelectricity. While it is a clean source of energy with low carbon footprint, hydroelectricity projects affect our watersheds and disrupt river systems that are important salmon habitats. Therefore, it is still important to conserve energy to reduce pressure on the grid, which collectively can help minimize the need for future hydroelectric projects.

The following sections contain energy saving tips that will save you money on your BC Hydro bill and reduce your impact on the environment. You may also want to learn more about green sources of energy for your home, such as solar panels, or switching to renewable natural gas to further reduce your impact.

Learn how much you use

Understanding your personal energy consumption is a great place to start on the path to reducing electricity use. If you are a BC Hydro customer, you can track your electricity consumption down to the hour, by the day or on a monthly or yearly basis. Simply create an account with BC Hydro with the following tool: Track and manage your electricity use online.

Products like the Rainforest EMU-2™ Energy Monitoring Unit could help you track your household’s energy usage, as well as the estimated cost of the energy you are currently using (learn more from BC Hydro by clicking here).

Once you are tracking yourself, you can check your usage against the average BC energy consumption or similar houses in your neighbourhood. You can even compare yourself against your past self and see how implementing some of the tips below are making a difference!

Things you can do

Switch off and unplug:
Upgrade:
  • Upgrade your windows to energy efficient ones. Windows, being less well insulated than walls, are responsible for significant heat gain in summer and heat loss in winter. Modern double-glazed windows can reduce heat loss by 30% over single pane glass. The window type and frame can also impact how energy efficient it is.
Simple energy saving tips:

In winter

Click here to find more tips from BC Hydro to keep your home warm in winter.

In summer

  • Close window coverings and blinds during a hot day to reduce the amount of heat coming through the window.
  • Promote natural ventilation to moderate the temperature of your home, open windows on opposite sides of the house to encourage the flow through of cool air in the evenings and mornings.
  • Line dry your laundry whenever possible. Did you know that on average 12% of home electricity consumption is from the clothes dryer? Hanging laundry on a line or rack outside to dry not only saved you electricity, it will extend the life of your clothes and reduce microplastic pollution.
  • Avoid the oven, which will heat up your kitchen and use the BBQ or have a salad for dinner.
  • Use a fan to keep cool rather than air conditioning when possible.

Click here to find more tips from BC Hydro for keeping cool in summer.

All year-round

Click here to find even more tips from BC Hydro on ways to save electricity.

Incentives:

Taking the steps outlined above will help save you money on your electricity bill, and you may be able to save even more money through rebates and incentives. Take advantage of government and BC Hydro rebates programs to take on bigger projects with greater up-front costs, such as improving your home’s insulation or upgrading a major appliance.

If you can reduce your electricity use by 10% over 12 months, BC Hydro will pay you $50. Join BC Hydro’s Team Power Smart Energy Challenge through Team Power Smart.  Simply start by logging in to your online account.

We can all make choices that help to save electricity.  Let’s all work towards this for today's and future generations.

Photo credits: Anete Lusina from Pexels, Ksenia Chernaya from Pexels, Nicole Christiansen, Maria Catanzaro, Ben Wicks on Unsplash

Greening Your Wardrobe

The key to having an environmentally friendly wardrobe is to buy new products less often – and to refrain from participating in the wasteful fast-fashion industry.

Many of us feel the urge to revamp our wardrobe from time to time, but buying new clothes and getting rid of unwanted items doesn’t have to be wasteful! Most clothing brands negatively impact the environment – from harmful dyes to overuse of water to microplastic pollution. Did you know that the fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions? This number could increase if the industry carries on its excessive trend in production. Not to mention that many clothing producers are not socially responsible – continuing to operate their factories under unsafe conditions, and underpaying workers in developing countries to cut production costs.

The fast-fashion industry, where clothing items are made cheaply to keep up with trends and be affordable for the average consumer, is a huge problem, and is relatively new. There has been a radical increase in the production of clothing since 2000 – in fact, production has nearly doubled! Although there are many avenues to donate, reuse or recycle clothing items, approximately 85% of all garments produced end up in the landfill. Fortunately, there are many ways that you can help reduce these shocking figures! Learn more about the impacts of the fashion industry in this Business Insider article. Check out these tips for making your spring, summer, fall or even winter cleaning more eco-conscious, and maybe even profitable!

Contribute to the circular economy

Do some good

Donate your used clothing, bedding, kitchen ware, and sports equipment to a thrift store. Most thrift stores raise money for local hospitals, shelters, and other positive causes, so your donations to or purchases from thrift stores will help out a worthy cause.

You can also donate the clothes directly to a shelter or a donation drop off bin around your community.

Not to mention, shopping at thrift stores provides fun opportunities to find unique, affordable items.

Make some extra cash

Have high quality clothing items that you just don’t reach for? Consider consignment!

Consignment stores like Turn About simplify selling quality garments. Through these shops, you can sell your used clothing without the extra steps of taking photos of the garments and managing requests and questions about the items. This is a great option if you have high value items that you need help selling. Through consignment, you can make some extra cash by receiving a portion of the sales of your items, or by having the buyer offer you a price for your items on the spot. Often, these stores are particular about which brands, materials or styles they accept – but make an appointment or stop by and speak with their buyers to find out how each store works.

Use apps/websites to help circulate quality used items within your community! Varage Sale (aptly named because it is like holding a garage sale, virtually) and Facebook Marketplace are great tools to help you sell any items that you no longer need - from furniture to shoes to handmade items! Simply upload photos and add the details of your item(s), set the price, and watch the messages come flooding in!

Online platforms are especially helpful for families. Kids grow out of clothing and shoes so quickly, so opting for second-hand items is a great move to reduce your environmental impact, as well as the impact on your wallet.

Shop thoughtfully

Invest for the long haul

If you need to purchase a new item, make it a thoughtful purchase. Do some research, and maybe save up to invest in key pieces that are well made and will last a long time.

Many tried and true staple brands such as Levi’s are committed to making quality items that last, and on improving their standards of production. In 2021, Levi’s launch their campaign “Buy Better, Wear Longer,” emphasizing their brand messaging that Levi’s denim products are meant to be worn throughout a person’s life, not just for a season.

Support brands doing the right thing

Levi's has also committed to using new innovations to reduce their water consumption during the processesing of their products. Read more about the brand’s commitments to being eco-conscious in this Branding Forum article.

Want to find out about the eco-consciousness of other brands that you love? Try out the Good on You app or website to explore the ethical and environmental ratings of thousands of clothing producers. Plus, get tips on building your wardrobe with staples from the most highly rated brands with the lowest environmental impacts, and read about current issues like how fashion trends are leading consumers to support fast fashion. 

Don’t forget to buy products made from natural materials like cotton, linen, and leather since they are durable and do not contribute to microplastic pollution in your laundry.

Make the most out of what you already have

Another simple way to reduce your contribution to textiles waste is by making your clothing last longer. Do some garments like socks have a hole in them? You can easily stitch it up to get some more life out of that pair.

Larger holes in jeans can be patched up using fun coloured or patterned fabrics. You can stitch by hand, or use one or two simple stitches on a sewing machine. Get creative with your mending – get inspired, and learn some tips and tricks for every kind of hole or tear!

Fast-fashion garments that are typically made with synthetic materials also tend to break down faster, and the cheap production means these pieces tend to fall apart after a few washes – which means more stitching for you! The lives of these garments are short, and their low value means you will be less likely to resell these items. When you invest in well made garments made from natural materials, they are much more likely to last.

Find more tips on Metro Vancouver's Think Thrice page, including how to repair or recycle your tired clothes and advice on investing in quality pieces.

Photo credits: Ksenia Chrnaya from Pexels, Tom Fisk from Pexels, Antoni Shkraba from Pexels, Filipe Vieira on Unsplash, and Reuben Kim on Unsplash.

Reduce Microplastics Pollution from Your Laundry

Microplastics, defined as plastic particles less than 5 mm in length, are everywhere. Although they are tiny, microplastics are a growing concern as an environmental pollutant, especially in marine ecosystems.

Microplastics can contain harmful chemicals that may leach into the environment and be adsorbed into body tissues. It is not just a problem for a few filter feeding critters, alarmingly, microplastics are making their way through the entire marine food web all the way to our dinner plates!

To our shoreline neighbours like forage fish, killer whales and sea birds, microplastics disrupt feeding and growth patterns by physically filling the stomachs of these animals and reducing the amount of nutrients they absorb. Added chemicals that alter the flexibility, durability or colour of plastics can also impact these animals by building up as toxins in their tissues, a process known as bioaccumulation.

Did you know that a large portion of microplastic pollution comes from laundering our clothes – over 35%, in fact! Synthetic fabrics such as polyester and nylon shed tiny plastic fibers every time they are washed. A single load of laundry can release roughly 700,000 bits of microplastic! These particles are so small that they often escape waste water treatment facilities and end up in our waterways and the ocean.

It is critical that we do our part to prevent microplastics from entering the marine environment, because once they are there, they are impossible to clean up.

Luckily, we can reduce microplastic pollution by making some conscious changes to how we do laundry.

What can you do?
  • Opt for natural fabrics that biodegrade - whether you are buying new or second-hand clothing items, select natural materials such as cotton, linen, wool, silk and rayon. These natural, plant or animal-derived materials will still contribute microfibers to your wash water, but those fibres will biodegrade in the environment. If you have only natural fabrics in your load you can even compost your dryer lint!
  • Avoid synthetic materials - such as nylon, polyester, acrylic and spandex/lycra. These are materials that are commonly used for fitness clothing like leggings, shorts and lightweight jackets. For shedding, the worst offender is fuzzy polyester fleece.
  • Wash sparingly - consider if you can wear your clothes another time before washing. Try to spot clean a spill rather than wash the entire garment. Limiting the frequency of washing will reduce the overall amount of shed fibers (and help your clothes last longer!).
  • Invest in a microfiber filter - such as the one above by PlanetCare or the one on the left by Filtrol for your washing machine to prevent plastics from entering your waste water. These clever little devices make a big impact in helping reduce your household input of microplastics into our coastal waters.
  • Use cold water - for your washes. The warm water settings will break down fabrics faster, compared to cold water washes.
  • Avoid the gentle cycle - and other settings that increase the washing time of laundry loads. Fabrics will break down more the longer they are being tossed around in your washing machine.
  • Choose a front loader - when selecting a washer, , which are gentler and do not cause as much shedding as top loaders.
  • Hang your laundry to dry - when you can to avoid the heat and friction of the dyer, which can also break down fabrics prematurely (also a great way to save electricity). 
  • Use mesh laundry bags - for your synthetic clothing, such as the Guppyfriend bag, to capture microplastics. Remember, when you clean the bag out the fibres should be thrown away with your garbage and not washed down the drain.
  • Try the Cora Ball - as another option to add to your laundry machine. It is an engineered ball that helps reduce the amount of fibres that break off of our clothes as they tumble, and collects any fibres that do into fuzz that clings to the ball.
  • Choose your detergent carefully! It’s tough to make a good choice:

Powdered detergents generate more friction during a wash cycle, and may cause more fibers to break off of fabrics; detergent pods are encased in a type of dissolvable plastic (liquid polymer) that is not easily removed by wastewater treatment plants; liquid detergents are typically packaged in plastic jugs that, if not disposed of properly, can also contribute to the plastic problem; and, some detergents may even have tiny added microplastic beads!

Read more about how to choose a microplastic free detergent in this article from the Ethical Consumer and see how different detergents compare for environmental safety with the Environmental Working Group’s Healthy Cleaning Guide.

The best option is to purchase liquid detergent from zero waste stores that sell soaps and detergents in bulk. You can then bring your own container and refill it again and again! Next best is to source environmentally safe liquid detergent in jugs that are made up of recycled content and/or are easily recyclable (check out our Tool Kit on Decoding Eco Labels).

Learn more:

CBC Article: Your laundry and plastic pollution — which fabrics shed the most microplastics

Oceanwise: Microplastics and home laundry

Photo credits: Washing machine, Engin Akyurt onPexels; Waves, Ivan Bandura on Unsplash; PlanetCare; Filtrol; Cora Ball; Detergent refill, Sarah Chai on Pexels

Salmon Friendly Docks

Shallow coastal habitats are critical for Pacific Salmon, especially when juveniles first migrate to saltwater. They use shallow nearshore areas for refuge and finding food, and during this period, healthy eelgrass meadows and complex habitat are vital.

Under traditional docks and overwater structures, however, it can be dark and barren – eelgrass can not thrive, nor can all the critters that depend on it. The lack of light also impacts salmon behaviour, as they naturally avoid dark areas and end up using deeper waters where they are more exposed to predators and don’t have the food resources they need. To learn more about these impacts, see our post on Salmon and Shoreline Modification you can also learn how to protect eelgrass habitats while you are boating in this post.

Fortunately, with a few considerations, there are ways we can build docks that that minimize their impact to the coastal environment and to Pacific salmon.

The best way to protect the shallow coastal habitat is to avoid building docks in the first place.

If you are thinking about building a personal dock, consider if you can store your boat at a marina or at home on land. Could you share a dock with your neighbours? After all, it is a large endeavour to have a dock built. It requires authorization and there are regulations for building and compensation for habitat damage, especially when vital habitat like eelgrass is present. Along with reducing your footprint, sharing a dock also reduces costs and maintenance!

If you must build a dock, make it salmon friendly. Here’s how:

Keep it non-toxic – Do not use creosoted or chemically treated footings, which are highly toxic! If retrofitting an existing structure, remove any treated pilings.

Allow the light to make it through – rather than using solid decking, use grating that allows light penetration to the water. This is a relatively simple fix that can even be applied to existing docks by swapping out sections of decking.

Reduce the number of pilings – make the dock span more like a bridge, and keep the bottom of the dock’s deck at least half a metre above the high-water mark. This will also allow more light to shine through and reduces the amount of submerged artificial structures in shallow areas.

Be considerate at night – don’t leave your lights on overnight. Lights at night can affect natural circadian rhythms and expose fish to nocturnal predators. 

To learn more about better docks for salmon, check out this post on the subject by Lake Washington/Cedar/Sammamish Watershed.

Photo Credits: Joey Genovese Unsplash, Meritt Thomas Unsplash

Protecting Eelgrass When Boating

There are simple steps boaters can take to minimize harm to vital marine habitats such as eelgrass. By practicing mindful anchoring and mooring, slowing down, reducing wakes and avoiding running motors in shallow coastal areas, we can protect critical eelgrass habitat and all the life it supports.

Healthy eelgrass meadows increase the resilience of nearshore habitats and also build resilience in coastal communities. Not only is eelgrass an important nursery ground and refuge area for Pacific salmon and forage fish, it also buffers wave energy, reduces shorelines erosion, stabilizes sediment, improves water quality, and sequesters carbon.

One of key threats to eelgrass is careless anchoring. When anchoring, boaters typically seek out calm bays – which, are also the prime location for eelgrass.  Anchoring can scour and damage eelgrass resulting in a reduction in density and extent, and fragmented habitat. It also suspends sediment in the water column that can smother eelgrass reducing its ability to thrive.

To avoid this damage:

Anchor Deeper

Eelgrass only grows in shallow areas, therefore, damage to eelgrass can be avoided by simply anchoring in depths beyond 7 meters.

Avoid known eelgrass habitat

On some Gulf Islands you may find signs, such as the one on the left that delineate eelgrass habitat. You can also mark locations on your GPS for eelgrass beds to avoid them in the future. Plan your boating and check out the following map of sensitive nearshore habitat to avoid in the Strait of Georgia. The green shows where eelgrass is and the brown shows where kelp forests are.

Use Environmentally Friendly Moorings (mid-line float)

Traditional moorings, which consist of heavy chains and anchors, drag and scour the seafloor as the tide ebbs and flows. This scouring of the seafloor leaves circular scars where eelgrass has been scraped away as can be seen in the picture on the right of San Francisco Bay (Kelly et al. 2019).

Instead, environmentally-friendly moorings contain a mid-line float that holds a rope above the seafloor, and therefore will not scour or damage eelgrass. Mooring buoys can be repurposed, but it is best to contact professionals for advice (have your local tidal information and boat specifications when you call). Trotac Marine in Victoria, BC sell parts to create an environmentally-friendly mooring – keep in mind you need a strong cement block to attach it to. See the diagram below of a recommended mooring design provided by Trotac Marine for additional considerations. Even if you’re anchoring away from eelgrass habitat, these moorings help reduce drag and suspended sediment in the water column.

Mind Voluntary No-Anchor Zones

Voluntary No- Anchor Zones have been implemented in Jefferson County, Washington State, USA, with the aim to reduce boat traffic and reduce damage to sensitive habitats. They have experienced a 98% compliance rate! And now you can look for these marker buoys in Canada – it is now a collaborative transboundary initiative! The first ones have been placed around an eelgrass restoration site on Bowen Island, with the help and input by local community members and SeaChange Marine Conservation Society.

Learn More About Restoring Eelgrass

Photo credits: Jeff Skinner, (Kelly et al. 2019) Coastal Photography Studio.

Decoding Eco-labels on Cleaning Products

In response to growing awareness of environmental impacts, companies are adorning their products with claims and labels to target concerned consumers. With so many claims and so called 'eco-labels' out there, it can be hard to decipher what is ‘greenwashing’ and what is truly a safe product for the environment.

Greenwashing – false, vague, weak or exaggerated environmental claims designed to entice eco-conscious consumers.

Although making false claims about a product is illegal under the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and the Competition Act in Canada, it is still important to be critical of vague and unsubstantiated claims. For example, you may find a cleaning product claiming to be ‘Biodegradable’ – this alone does not actually tell you much. Everything will eventually biodegrade. What we want to know is if something that will degrade rapidly into environmentally safe by-products. The OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) has established standards for biodegradability, a reference to these standards provides assurance that the product is biodegradable in a meaningful way.

Labels and Claims:

The sheer number of labels and certifications that you may come across when searching for products can feel overwhelming. To help, here is a list of common labels and claims and what they mean.

Biobased or Plant Based

Products made from renewable, biological ingredients (e.g. plants) rather than being made from petroleum products. Suggests product is more likely to be sustainable, but does not necessarily assure safety in the environment. The USDA offers credible certification that a products meet biobased standards, but it does not assess the environmental safety of a product like EPA Safer Choice does.

Biodegradable

Product will naturally break down, but does indicate how readily it will break down, nor does mean it necessarily means it breaks down into safe components. Look for OECD standards for biodegradability being met.

Certified B Corporation

Certification for businesses based on high social and environmental standards. This label applies to the company creating the product and is not specific to an individual product.

ECOLOGO
Product has been assessed independently to meet environmental standards for the product's life-cycle. Only the top 20% of products available can achieve certification.

EPA Safer Choice

Ingredients independently assessed by US EPA scientists to meet strict environmental and health standards, while also performing on par with traditional cleaning products.

Leaping Bunny

Certifies that a product has not been tested on animals, does not relate to product safety in the environment.

Natural Ingredients

Implies a product is made up of naturally derived biological or mineral ingredients. This does not necessarily mean that a product is safe for you or the environment. For example, Borax (sodium borate) is presented as a natural cleaning product, while Borax is a naturally occurring mineral, it is toxic and endocrine disrupting.

Organic

Certified organic products have been made of at least 95% organic ingredients and contain no genetically modified organisms. If a product is organic, it would imply it is formulated from biological ingredients and those were grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

Recycling Symbol (Mobius Loop)

Indicates a product or packaging can be recycled or is made up of recycled material. Caution as some plastics (indicated by the number inside the loop) are not readily recyclable. Numbers 1, 2 and 5 are recyclable while numbers 3, 4, 6 and 7 are not so easily recyclable. For more information, see this post by Regional Recycling BC.

Tips:
  • Be cautious of vague or generic terms like ‘eco-safe’, ‘green’, 'natural' or ‘environmentally friendly’.
  • Look for products that back up their claims and are independently certified by trustworthy organizations such as U.S. EPA ‘Safer Choice’ and the ECOLOGO certification.
  • Simplify the number of products you use to those that you actually need and ensure those are safe. You don't need a specialized cleaning product for every single task.
  • Many cleaning tasks can be done using food safe ingredients like vinegar and baking soda, see recipes to create your own cleaning products.
Handy resources for finding safer products for yourself and the environment:
  • Both the EPA Safer Choice and ECOLOGO have online search databases products that meet their high standards.
  • The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG), a non-government organization that independently evaluates products to help consumers choose more environmentally friendly products, has a Healthy Cleaning Guide and a product search tool for cleaning products that are rated on their safety.
To learn more about the labels you may encounter:

It is also important to remember that everything we buy has some environmental impact and one of the best things to do is to consume less overall, reduce your waste, and participate in the circular economy.

Photo credit: Maria Catanzaro

Go Zero Waste (or close to it)!

There are many ways we can reduce our footprint – collectively, we can create a lot of positive change! One fun way is reducing the amount of waste we create. The packaging that everyday items and food comes in really takes a toll on the environment: it takes resources to produce, ship around the globe, and to get rid of. All this waste can make its way into our streams, rivers and oceans, degrading them all.

"We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly."

- Anne Marie Bonneau, Zero Waste Chef

We can start by taking inventory of everything we do and use in a day. This process can help us create a list of possible alternatives to try. A visual inventory is even better - pile your trash and recycling for a day to visualize how much we really toss “away” each day.

Sign the pledge and have a contest with your friends to see who can produce the least amount of trash in a month – and even better, who can produce less “recycle waste”. Recyclables still use energy to be processed (maybe it should be renamed to Reduce- Reuse- Refuse!). And we cannot always rely on such services – glass container recycling was temporarily suspended due to flooding in British Columbia.

To help get you started, here is a map of Zero-Waste Shops around the Strait of Georgia!

Click on the map to access an interactive map to find local zero waste stores for buying food and personal care items using your own containers.

Food & Drink Tips

A big way we can reduce our waste is by taking a few simple steps when it comes to purchasing food. Shop local farmer’s markets and sign up for a local farm’s CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription boxes. It helps support local farms and eating local also helps reduce your carbon footprint (see more about reducing the impact of what you eat including a map of farmer’s markets). With subscription boxes you can get fresh, local produce delivered to your doorstep in beautiful reusable wooden crates, and they usually come with recipes, too!

Let’s explore some other simple switches we can make to reduce the waste from what we eat and drink.

  • Visit Zero Waste Shops in your community (simply bring your washed jars and containers) – you can even get growlers for refill at breweries and kombucha shops.
  • Use your own totes and produce bags every time you go to the grocery store
  • Bring your own containers to bakeries and the butcher (ditch the single-use containers!)
  • Carry a to-go mug in your bag for when you need a caffeine hit and a refillable water bottle when you are thirsty
  • Refuse take-out cutlery and carry reusable utensils in your bag
  • If you expect left-overs when eating out, bring your own containers and box them up yourself
  • When ordering take-out request they pack it in your containers
  • Wash the glass jars and reuse them for bulk items like dried beans and spices, or even as drinking glasses
  • If you’re a coffee lover – use pour-overs, a stovetop espresso maker or a French press instead of coffee pods and filters (you can add coffee grinds into your garden, plants love them)
  • Make your own bees-wax wraps to replace your disposable plastic wrap
  • Say no to straws, or purchase reusable ones
  • Grow your own food – even in containers on a balcony will do. Check for local seed saving programs and libraries to get started
  • Compost your kitchen scraps and garden waste in your backyard or balcony in a container – then use this soil to grow food in the following year, learn more about composting
  • Sew/upcycle homemade napkins – it makes meals much more special
  • Create your own reusable produce bags, you can even upcycle old clothing

Other Household Tips

We create waste in more ways than when purchasing food – like washing dishes and doing laundry. These typically involve using products that come in packaging. We can learn to make our own and even save money doing so!

  • Instead of purchasing new clothing, visit your local thrift shop
  • Purchase quality products, clothing, anything and everything that will last longer and can be repaired. Although this may cost more up front, you will save in the end, and mother earth will thank you
  • Host clothing and toy swaps, sell on Facebook Marketplace - one person's trash is another one's treasure
  • Make your own furniture and shelves by upcycling old wood. You can sometimes find off-cuts of wood from your local hardware shop. Get creative!
  • Create your own personal care products (e.g., DIY deodorants)
  • When doing laundry – skip disposable dryer sheets, use dryer balls instead or nothing at all! If you have the space, and the weather is working with you – hang your laundry on a clothes line. And you can either make your own laundry soap mix or you can purchase laundry powder at your local zero waste shop
  • Create your own safe cleaning supplies
  • Use cloth diapers for your baby
  • Taking advantage of books and magazines from your local library

Other Resources for Going Zero-Waste:

Zero Waste Home – with a starter guide for going waste-free

Trash is for Tossers – with Zero Waste Alternatives- The Ultimate List

How to Go Zero Waste – David Suzuki

Photo credits: Maria Catanzaro

Reduce the Impact of What You Eat

In total – from land use to the supply chain – food production is responsible for about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. The environmental impact of food production doesn't stop there.

Habitat loss occurs when lands are cleared to grow our foods, and air and water can be polluted by chemicals and nutrients used as pesticides and fertilizers. Adding insult to injury, about a third of all food produced is wasted. We all need to eat, but we must do so in a way that reduces the impacts.

Reduce the carbon footprint of what you eat

All food are not created equal as far as a carbon footprint is concerned.

The most significant thing you can do to reduce the carbon emissions associated with the food you eat is to eat less meat and animal products, especially red meats and cheese. Because cows produce methane as part of their digestion process, beef and dairy have some of the highest greenhouse gas emissions. Learn more about why certain foods have a greater impact and about  the carbon footprint of different foods.

An interactive version of this chart is available from Our World in Data.

If everyone takes the simple small step of committing to a day each week that you don't consume meat, it can make a difference. Here are some recipe inspirations from Bon Appétit for your meatless Mondays (and Tuesdays, Wednesdays… if you are so inclined).

Another way to reduce the carbon footprint is to eat local. Transporting food around the globe adds to its carbon footprint. Try to source food near where you live. It is great for your local economy and community and better for the environment (try the 100-mile diet). A great way to eat local is shop at a nearby BC farmer’s market. The map below links to an interactive map to help you one near you.

Farmer's Markets around the Strait of Georgia.

You can eat local and support community farmers by joining a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group and signing up for CSA boxes. Find one in your area, here is a list of some on Vancouver Island.

Eating local also means eating with the season. Stick with BC apples and pears in winter and skip the summer fruit that has been brought in from the southern hemisphere. Our BC peaches and strawberries will be that much sweeter when you have been waiting for them!

Reduce food waste

Food waste is a major problem. Here's some food for thought: ending global food waste could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6-8%, and the average Canadian household spends over $1700 on food that is wasted each year. If that motivates you to reduce the food wasted in your home, here are some tips and suggestions.

  • Carefully plan the food you buy and use up leftovers.
  • Avoid buying more than you or your family can eat before it spoils.
  • If you do one big grocery shop a week, use the fresh meat/seafood and more delicate produce first and then rely on pantry and freezer staples for the end of the week.
  • Store your food to prevent spoilage. Keep you fridge below 4°C/40°F and your freezer at -20°C/0°F; store foods in sealed containers; and keep tomatoes, bananas and apples away from other fresh produce as they can release ripening chemicals, which may spoil other produce.
  • Revive wilting vegetables (think: floppy carrots, lettuces and celery) by soaking them in cold water.
  • Use your freezer to extend storage life. Freezer is a great way to store meat bought in bulk or preserve seasonal fruit and vegetables.
  • Use 'best before' dates as a guide. The dates are typically conservative and the food is often fresh longer than indicated. If it looks and smells alright, it is.
  • Use bones from a roast or rotisserie chicken and/or vegetable scraps to make broth.
  • Re-purposing older foods: turning stale bread into croutons or bread crumbs, or using past their prime vegetables in soups.
  • And compost those unavoidable scraps!

Photo credit: Maria Cantanzaro, Nicole Christiansen

Choose Green Energy

With recent memories of extreme heatwaves and floods still fresh in our minds, it's clear we need to do whatever we can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stem climate change as much as possible.

An important way we as individuals can make a difference in our own personal footprint is with our energy use. Compiled below are a number of options for choosing cleaner and greener sources of energy to power our everyday lives.

Electrify

In BC, 95% of our electricity comes from renewable sources, mainly from large hydroelectricity projects. So, using electricity to power your home and your vehicle comes with a low carbon footprint. There are now great electric alternatives to all the major fossil fuel-powered appliances.

Heating Systems

Many homes in BC are heated by fossil fuels, either by a natural gas furnace, oil or propane heaters, however, there are a number of electric alternatives:

Hot Water Heater

Heat pumps are not just for air, they are for water too. Hot water heat pumps are the most efficient way to heat your water with electricity and there are also rebates currently on offer to replace your gas or otherwise powered hot water system. Also learn about solar hot water heaters below.

Stoves 

Induction ranges are a great electric alternative to gas stoves. They have the responsiveness that is prized with gas stoves, but they are incredibly safe (the burners don’t even get hot to the touch), easy to clean, and are better for you and your household. Recent research has shown gas stoves negatively impact your indoor air quality and have been linked to higher instances of asthma, reduced lung capacity and other respiratory problems. Furthermore, when not in use researchers are finding that gas stoves leak methane. (See this article about indoor air pollution with gas stoves).

Vehicles

There are now more options for electric cars than ever before. Switching from a traditional gasoline-powered car to a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or purely electric car is a great way to lower your carbon footprint – and save lots at the pump (or say goodbye to the pump altogether!) 

There are rebates for electric cars too.

The List Goes On...

You can find electric lawnmowers and other garden equipment, boat motors, fireplaces, and barbecues – to name a few.

Go Solar

While the fact that most electricity in BC comes from hydro projects is great news from a greenhouse gas standpoint, there are still environmental consequences associated with hydroelectricity. The construction of hydroelectric dams causes habitat loss and severe ecosystem disruptions that can negatively affect salmon migrations, for example.

Collectively taking pressure off the energy grid will help reduce the need for new electricity generation projects in the future. Aside from minimizing your energy consumption overall, we can also take pressure off the grid by harnessing power from the sun!

Solar Panels

Learn more about solar panels and make an informed decision if solar would be beneficial in your situation (see Energy hub and BC Hydro). 

Even though the costs of solar panels have come down significantly in recent years, it is still an investment. For example, a solar rooftop setup may cost $3,000 dollars and, for existing BC Hydro customers, it would take about 25 years to recoup the upfront cost at the current electricity rates. However, if you require off-grid power generation, solar is a great alternative to polluting generators. Financial sense aside, you may simply wish to be a part of the solution, which is a reason in and of itself to get panelling installed.

With a home solar panel system, it is also possible to send the excess energy you generate back to the grid to help offset your electricity costs. Learn about how this can work for you with BC Hydro’s net metering program (also see this simple diagram to visualize a system). With net metering, you stay connected to the grid and can access power generated by BC Hydro when needed – in cold, darker winter – and sell back excess power that you do not use at other times – during our warm, sunny, long summer days. If you are considering installing solar panels, here is how you can apply to be part of net metering and find a local installer from the map below. Another resource is this local installer tool (by hespv.ca).

Click to link to an interactive map of solar installation specialists in the Strait of Georgia region.

Solar Hot Water

Installing a solar hot water heating system on your roof can significantly reduce the carbon footprint associated with heating your water. In summer, you will likely be able to meet all your hot water needs with just the solar hot water heating system. In winter, paired with your traditional water heater system, having a solar hot water system will still greatly reduce the electricity or gas you need to heat water. Learn more about solar hot water heating systems.

Renewable Natural Gas

You may not be ready to electrify everything in your home. Natural gas is often the most cost-effective way to heat your home and hot water. Many chefs love cooking with a gas stove (though see above about stoves!) and a gas fireplace provides a wonderful ambience. Luckily, you can still reduce your impact by switching from conventional natural gas to renewable natural gas

Currently, renewable natural gas is a little more expensive than conventional natural gas, but it is a carbon-neutral source of energy. Renewable natural gas is harvested from breaking down organic materials, often from a landfill, wastewater treatment plant or from agriculture or wood waste by-products. So, not only is the source of the gas renewable – organic waste products – it also prevents a more potent greenhouse gas – methane – from being emitted.

You can make the switch directly with your supplier, and renewable natural gas will work immediately with your existing appliances, no other change is required. Sign up with Fortis BC any time through your online account.

Additional resources

Learn about energy options and be engaged with the decisions being made for new energy infrastructure in your local community.

Photo credits: Bill Mead, Unsplash; Pradeep Wickramanayaka, Pexels; Rodnae Productions, Pexels; Kindel Media, Pexels; Gary Barnes, Pexels.

Make Your Own Safe Cleaning Supplies

Many cleaners on the market use harsh chemicals that are hazardous to you and the environment.

Since salmon and other aquatic species live and breathe in water they are particularly sensitive to any pollution that ends up in their home. Unfortunately, there are cleaning products with persistent chemicals (meaning they do not readily break down) that can pass through septic and wastewater treatment and pollute critical habitats.

Here are some safe alternatives that you can make yourself using items you probably already have on hand in the kitchen.

TaskAlternative cleaners
Glass and surface1 part vinegar to 1-2 part water (optional a couple drops of non-petroleum based dish soap)
Floors (tile, hardwood, laminates and boat decks)1 part vinegar to 8 parts warm water a couple drops of non-petroleum based dish soap
Showers and tubsWet and scrub with baking soda
ToiletsBaking soda
ScouringBaking soda and water paste
Furniture polishing (interior)Olive oil
Stainless steelRub a rag with a few drops of olive oil and finish with a spray and wipe of glass and surface cleaner above
Laundry2 parts soap granules to 1 part baking soda and 1 part washing soda (2 Tbs per load)
Dish washer1 part baking soda to 1 part washing soda (1-2 Tbs per load) and 1 Tbs vinegar in the rise dispenser

Recipes are adapted from the Georgia Strait Alliance’s Guide to Green Boating and David Suzuki Foundation’s Queen of Green cleaning recipes.

Photo credit: Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash