Gardening

Is Canada eco-friendly? Surprising ways we are...and aren't

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Gardening

Is Canada eco-friendly? Surprising ways we are...and aren't

As I write this, it's a balmy early spring day in Toronto...or, at least, it feels like it. But it's wintertime -- one of the warmest winters anyone can remember, at the beginning of what climatologists are predicting will be the warmest year on record.

Whether 2007's unseasonably warm winter across most of the country -- not to mention storm after storm pounding the West Coast -- is a direct result of global warming is difficult to prove, but the fact that climate change is both a reality and a threat is moving into common acceptance. And Canadians care -- a January 2007 poll by the Globe and Mail and CTV showed that 26 per cent of Canadians consider the environment the top issue facing the country, and 62 per cent were willing to accept slower economic growth as a trade-off for reducing global warming.

But what are we actually doing to help preserve the planet for future generations? Quite a bit, in fact. Here's a rundown of eight great things Canadians have done for the environment, plus suggestions for how we can achieve even more.

1. Curbside pickup of organic waste
What's good:

It's not just about separating newspapers anymore. The latest type of "garbage" to be picked up at the curb is organic waste, and not only fall leaves; Toronto and Halifax are among the pioneering cities picking up vegetable peels, eggshells, stale bread and other "green" waste on a weekly or biweekly basis. Not only are they decreasing the amount of garbage being sent to landfills, but the green goods are being turned into compost for use in landscaping, agriculture and other soil products.

What could be better:
The rest of the country now has the opportunity to learn from Toronto's and Halifax's experiences with their programs and to implement their own curbside organics pickup programs. Contact your municipality and suggest that they follow suit. Even better -- compost in your own backyard. Less waste pickup means less fuel used for transport, and you'll end up with your own free compost as well.

2. Developing green energy
What's good:

Many regions of the country have been working on their own green energy programs. In Alberta, EPCOR customers can choose to get some or all of their power through renewable sources such as wind and solar, while Nova Scotia Power is supporting wind-power projects and researching tidal power. And to top it all off, the Canadian federal government recently announced it will invest $1.5 billion in alternative energy technologies.

What could be better:
CBC reports that thousands of Canadians die annually as a result of air pollution, so it's sad that Canada still gets so much of its electricity from pollution-heavy coal-burning power plants. For human health, if for no other reason, we need to focus on phasing in less-polluting technologies. To start with, the country could follow the lead of B.C., whose premier, Gordon Campbell, announced in his February 14, 2007, throne speech that no greenhouse gas emissions will be allowed from any coal-powered projects in the province.

3. From reusing to Freecycling
What's good:

One person's trash really is another's treasure. Giving away items you no longer need rather than sending them to the dump is the ultimate in eco-friendliness, and you're helping other people save money, too. The Internet has made passing on your treasures easy, with the birth of such groups as Craigslist and Freecycle, whose more than 200,000 Canadian members use e-mail lists to share their wealth and keep useful items out of the landfill.

What could be better:
Giving things away is great, but not buying them in the first place is even better for the environment -- and your bank account. Make like a froogle and cut back on your consumption by reducing your purchases and limiting the amount of packaging you use (for instance, bring a reusable bag when you go shopping instead of always taking one from the store).

4. Saving the Great Bear Rainforest
What's good:

The temperate rainforest of Canada's West Coast is one of the most endangered forest types on the planet, according to the Raincoast Conservation Society. One B.C. region, called the Great Bear Rainforest, is home to a wealth of species, from 1,500-year-old trees to the Kermode or "Spirit" bear, an all-white subspecies of black bear that is found only on the central B.C. coast. Within the last year, environmental and First Nations groups and the logging industry, along with the provincial and federal governments, have been negotiating agreements -- including more than $100 million in funding -- to preserve the region.

What could be better:
Yes, it's true -- sometimes we need the resources that come from our forests. But other times, it's completely unnecessary to use virgin paper. By reusing and recycling our own waste paper and buying recycled or non-tree paper products whenever possible (hemp is a good option, and recycled toilet paper, tissues and paper towel are all available in Canada), we can have our wood and our old-growth forests, too.

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5. Banning pesticides
What's good:

Exposure to pesticides has been linked to increased rates of cancer, reproductive problems and neurological disorders, according to a study by the Ontario College of Family Physicians. So kudos to the many Canadian municipalities, and the Province of Quebec, who have restricted the use of pesticides within their limits.

What could be better:
Nationwide restrictions are necessary to protect the health of Canadians, especially children, who are more vulnerable than adults to pesticide buildup in their bodies. And by buying organic produce more often, you'll be supporting farms and orchards in Canada and abroad whose workers don't have to handle these dangerous substances.

6. Transit ridership
What's good:

Transit ridership in Canada's largest cities is growing, according to Statistics Canada. And as an added incentive to ride rather than drive, as of July 2006, the cost of public transit passes qualifies as a tax credit.

What could be better:
None of Canada's public transit systems is perfect; they could all use more funding for maintenance and to increase their coverage of our cities -- without having to increase fares. Even if you're a die-hard driver, you shouldn't begrudge government support of public transit. As more people take the bus or subway, there will be less cars on the road, and the air will be cleaner -- who can argue with that?

7. Bottle deposits
What's good:

In 1970, British Columbia became the first region in North America to implement a mandatory deposit system for certain beverage containers. Since then, other provinces have followed its lead, and B.C. has expanded its deposit-return program from the initial coverage of soft drink and beer cans and bottles to include virtually all beverage containers. Now Ontario, which came late to the game, has implemented its own deposit-return system for most wine, beer and alcohol containers.

What could be better:
The next challenge in garbage is "e-waste." Our landfills are piled high with the toxic predecessors of this week's must-have gadgets, including computers, MP3 players and cellphones -- at least 140,000 tonnes a year are discarded, according to Statistics Canada. Industry, government and consumers need to work together to combat this growing problem.

8. Conserving energy
What's good:

The 2003 blackout made it clear. Canadians are now more than aware that electricity doesn't just come from a hole in the wall -- not only is it expensive, but it's a finite resource, for the most part. Most of us are now conscious of turning off lights and gadgets when we're not using them and of keeping the thermostat lower in the winter and higher in the summer. And the federal government has reinstated the federal energy efficiency program -- as of April 2007, homeowners will once again be eligible for financial incentives for making their homes more energy efficient.

What could be better:
Canada ranks sixth in the world in energy consumption, according to Environment Canada -- and that's overall, not per capita. Surely we can do better than that. For tips on reducing your consumption, and for other ways to reduce your ecological footprint, read the following articles:

10 simple ways to cut energy consumption
23 tips for earth-friendly living
Save energy at home
7 easy ways to fight smog
Cut your gas usage by up to 30 per cent

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Is Canada eco-friendly? Surprising ways we are...and aren't

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