The Great Refrigerator Roundup

Do you still have Dad’s old fridge in the garage, being used as a “beer fridge” or an “overflow fridge” for the three times a year you have extra company over? If that fridge is more than ten years old, it is probably costing you well over $100 a year in electricity costs. And you can’t just throw it out, because it’s full of gadgets and CFCs and dude, have you ever tried to lift one of those things? In addition, many municipalities will levy a charge for curbside pickup of old appliances for disposal of the CFCs.

The Ontario Power Authority wants to help. Under their Great Refrigerator Roundup program, they’ll come pick up your old fridge (as long as it meets certain conditions like being over 10 years old, and still being in working condition), cart it away, and dispose of it in an environmentally friendly manner. If you’re getting a fridge picked up, they’ll also pick up smaller “secondary” appliances like the old window air conditioner units or bar fridges you’ve got kicking around in the basement, and dispose of them too.

So consider whether you’re really using that old fridge – and consider whether the electricity savings would help pay for a new, energy efficient fridge in the long run, and check out the Great Refrigerator Roundup today.

The Dirt on Plastic Bags

With this week’s news that the LCBO is ditching plastic bags, it seems that people and organizations are finally starting to take notice of a certain message: Our addiction to plastic is a big, crackly, rustly, not-going-away problem. While changing our behaviour will take effort, there’s a million great reasons to do so. Here’s a primer on the challenges of plastic bags, and why you’re better off using your own bags every time.

What’s the big plastic baggy deal? Plastic bags, along with other types of plastic packaging, are everywhere, so much that we barely even notice them anymore. There are plenty of things to consider when you grab that extra bag. Plastic bags are usually “virgin” plastic, not recycled plastic, so it’s basically straight from the oil barrel to the shelf. These bags are almost always used once and only once – the recycling levels for plastics are not great (more on that below). Plastic carry bags are actively used, on average, for mere minutes before they are discarded, ending up in landfills, the bellies of animals, or getting buried in the soil. And they’re used inefficiently – one bag for your bacon, another bag for your eggs, a third for your bread. The easy access and ubiquity of these bags encourages consumers to use them without thinking twice. What’s really interesting, though, is that it’s actually easier and more convenient to carry your own sturdy reusable bags – they’ll hold more, are easier to carry, and can be used hundreds of times before they require fixing or replacement. The only issue is remembering to take them with you.

Is anybody else doing anything about plastic bags? You bet they are. The Republic of Ireland put a levy on the use of plastic bags in 2002, taxing each bag at 15 cents (euro). The Irish dropped those plastic bags like proverbial hot potatoes, going from an average of 328 plastic bags used per head to just 21. And when people got used to it and the bag usage started creeping up? The tax was raised to 22 cents. The funds raised all went to environmental programs.

They’re also banned in San Francisco, parts of Australia, some provinces in India, and will shortly be banned in China. Hong Kong is trying to cut back too, but with mixed results.

But doesn’t recycling solve the problem? Yes, plastic is recyclable – but the vast majority of it is not recycled (to the extent that plastic recyclers and recycled plastic users are facing shortages). And the recycling process is not without its issues, requiring large amounts of energy and input of other materials in order to repurpose the plastic. Wikipedia has a thorough, although scientifically way over my head, article on recycling plastic here. And the Ecology Center has a great article on 7 misconceptions about Plastic and Plastic Recycling that will likely make you look at plastic consumption in a new way.

If we stop using plastic, won’t people in the plastics industry lose their jobs? I’ll go out on a limb here and say that plastic isn’t going anywhere overnight. The jobs of those in plastic manufacturing are safe for now. However, eventually we can hope that yes, the production of virgin plastics will be severely reduced, and when that happens the people working in plastic manufacturing industries will definitely be affected. By the time that this has an impact, I have every faith that resourceful, innovative and insightful people will have long since started new industries, whether it’s effectively recycling or otherwise repurposing waste plastics or something else, which will be in place to absorb the labour force. The world has survived the demise of types of industries before, and will do so again.

All right, you’ve convinced me. What can I do? The best option is to carry your own bags. Many, many shops now sell reusable bags for low prices. It’s eco-friendly, it’s a great response to consumer demand, and (who are we kidding) it’s a great way for the store to advertise. The Loblaws chain sells a big bag with sturdy handles, made out of recycled pop bottles, for $1. Bonus: This bag is recyclable when it wears out! LUSH has a more expensive fairly traded cotton bag, made by a women’s co-operative in India. And ecochick’s already featured these neat Flip and Tumble bags that squish into a handbag-friendly ball, so that you’ll always have it with you.

Looking for more reading?

Reusablebags.com has an excellent article on the full cost of plastic bags – from production costs, using petroleum and natural gas (yes, plastic is made from petroleum!) to consumption costs (the bag is given to the consumer for “free”, but the retailer buys the bags from the manufacturer, so the reality is the cost is passed on to the consumer by adding it on to the price of your item) to disposal and litter costs (wide-ranging, and all are disturbing and long-lasting).

The Guardian Online’s Emma Brockes wrote an excellent rant about how The World Has A Big Bag Problem, in which she declares the plastic bag the successor to the cockroach in terms of its ability to outlive the human race.

Sustainable Ottawa

One great thing about the eco-craze is the fact that plenty of people aren’t waiting for “someone else” to do something – lots of people are banding together and getting “something” done all by themselves.

One such group is Sustainable Ottawa Community Energy Co-Operative. Set up in 2007, the amazing Sarah, Pam and Rock have created a space for Ottawans to not only find out how to live more eco-friendly, but to also give us a benefit when we spend our dollars on sustainable services (ie. members-only discounts!) The website strives to provide a great range of information, such as tips on how to maintain a healthy lawn and garden or put in solar water heating. In addition, the co-op uses the power of numbers to make it easier for everyone to access ecofriendly goods and services. For example, there are several businesses within Ottawa that are members of the co-op and who give discounts to other members including The Table organic vegetarian restaurant, La Tierra Co-op, ecomama and more.

Membership costs $40 for five years, ie. free, and will get you advantages at many ecofriendly shops, and they’re adding more all the time. Depending on what you use it for could pay for itself within weeks. Check it out, Ottawa!

Big Green Purse: One in a Million


You remember Big Green Purse, the awesome ecobrainchild of Diane MacEachern. You know there’s a great, informative and fun website on how to spend your $$$ more enviro-sustainably, and you also know there’s an awesome book that just hit the shelves (and if you’re interested in getting a copy of the book, you really really need to come back to ecochick in the next couple of weeks. Really, you do. Just sayin.)

What you may not know is about their One In a Million initiative. Knowing that one of the most effective ways to make a difference is to shift your spending into environmentally friendly products and services, the One In A Million initiative is aiming to get one million shoppers to redirect $1000 of their yearly spending into these services. The site gives you great ideas on where to start shifting that spending (local, organic food? Energy efficient appliances? Fair Trade Coffee?) and, once you sign up, it gives you a helpful balance sheet so that you can track your new green spending.

It’s a habit that you may find will stick once you’ve started it. Go become One In A Million!

ecocho


What a cool idea.

ecocho is a search engine that wants to make a difference. For every 1000 searches done, they’ll sponsor the planting of two trees, offsetting up to a ton of greenhouse gases.

How does it work? ecocho uses already existing search engines like Google and Yahoo!, and simply gives you a page in front of it that’s sponsored by advertising. The cash from the advertising is filtered through a carbon offsetting company, GSX and verified by KPMG. The money raised goes solely to purchasing forestry credits, thus ensuring trees are planted.

Right now the program is planting trees only in Australia, but hey – it’s all one planet, and carbon capture is carbon capture. So if you want something you do every day to make a difference, try surfing through ecocho

Call2Recycle

Be honest: How many old cell phones do you have kicking around in your junk drawer? The old brick phone, the phone from your first job, the old monochrome screen phone with that annoying ringtone. They’re all around somewhere, and they all have batteries with toxic chemicals that really need to be kept out of a landfill.

The Call2Recycle organization helps you with that. Their network of affiliated organizations allows you to take your old rechargeable batteries from devices such as those in cordless power tools, cellular and cordless phones, laptop computers, camcorders, digital cameras, and remote control toys, and recycle them. You can search their website to find a convenient location. Their website also has lots of resources to talk about their recycling program and spread the word. Check it out at http://www.call2recycle.org

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