Keep Your Recycling Clean

Chief Security Officer and Assistant Recycling Inspector

There was interesting link posted in the Stratford Free Press Facebook Group today, leading to a CBC article about the dangers of sloppy recycling. In case you didn’t read it, here are the high points:

Problems:

  • contamination dramatically increases recycling costs
  • even a few spoonfuls of peanut butter or a gob of yogurt left in a jar can contaminate a tonne of paper
  • even a coffee stain can make a sheet of paper unrecyclable
  • many places can’t recycle black plastic
  • dirtiest cities are Toronto and Edmonton, where contamination rates can be up to 25%

Solutions:

  •  better sorting regulations. Clean cities like St. John’s and Vancouver sell their recyclables at a higher price, because they have stricter rules
  • change the list of accepted items
  • upgrade plants
  • educate residents

This all sounds good to me, but I notice the article didn’t say much about other ways of dealing with what we discard. Maybe we should tell our provincial and municipal representatives that we support them in their efforts to reduce waste. Maybe we should look for alternatives to disposables. And maybe we should stop meekly accepting purchases wrapped in toxic, non-recyclable plastic that cuts your fingers when you try to open them.

Or maybe we should do what these people did:

Coffee with a conscience

Every time I start getting depressed about the awful state of our environment, and the total jackass stupidity that contributes to it, something wonderful happens to me. It’s true.

Yesterday I wandered into Revel for a coffee. Often when I go into coffee shops I start nagging the cashier about whether they use plastic straws and cups. I try to do it in a nice way, but I do find that many shops look really relieved when I leave. So imagine my surprise when the cashier brightly replied that Revel uses biodegradable straws. If you use one of their straws in a coffee, it will melt (I didn’t try this). In fact, all their disposables are biodegradable.

Not only that, but they source their disposables from a Canadian company, Green Shift in Toronto. It’s a great company. Certification from all kinds of environmental associations, including the European Union Eco-Label, no animal testing, and fair trade products. I like this company’s holistic attitude to sourcing products, too:

Green Shift™ carefully sources and investigates products, factoring in the entire lifecycle of the product and the companies behind the products, because not only is green washing in individual products rampant, a key aspect that many people sadly overlook is that it is not just what you buy but where you buy it that counts. In other words, while a product itself may be “green” one should always consider the companies they are supporting in each purchase and whether helping that company to thrive will help or hinder environmental progress.

 

Greenwashing is a pet peeve of mine. It’s so good to find a company that understands that you can’t just look at the surface of things. You have to really dig, and use your brain. If you’re interested in ordering from Green Shift, you can have a look at their catalogue here: http://greenshift.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Green-Shift-Catalogue-2017v3.pdf

 

I’m so glad I wandered in yesterday. Now I’m wondering how many other coffee shops in town are getting the message about disposables. I’ll have to check them out. Maybe you could, too. But if you’re getting a little discouraged about pollution, drop by Revel for a coffee and give them a cheery wave.

Sugarbush trip

There is nothing more fun than taking kids out to learn where their food comes from. Especially when you get to feed them at the same time. So when maple sugar time rolled around again this year, I grabbed a couple of short folk and made my way to St. Marys, where McCully’s Hill Farm is having their annual Maple Festival Tour. It’s really easy to find, just north of town.

Go for the breakfast tour, Saturdays and Sundays for the rest of this month. For eight bucks a head, you fill your kids up with a slap-up pancake and sausage breakfast, and then, when they are weighed down and well-behaved from all the food, you all ride up to the barn, where they can visit with a variety of interesting and reasonably non-threatening animals.

The high point of the trip is the tour of the sugarbush, on a wagon pulled by honest-to-God Clydesdales, led by a driver who knows an awful lot about the history of maple sugar, and of St. Marys in general. Even the most troublesome of our crew was attentive, and surprisingly well-behaved.

On the way back we were shown how maple syrup is made in the sugar shack, with lots of really satisfying and informative fire-stoking and sap-boiling and syrup-tasting. By the time they left the sugar shack, I think they had learned a lot. At this point, though, I would recommend avoiding the topic of whether we could all go home and make maple syrup together in our own kitchen. Instead, distract them by having them run around the pasture a few times. Five times, at  least.

It was pretty successful all round, and after the ride back we had a look around the store for interesting preserves, eggs, meat (they have bison) and other farm specialties. I got a really nice orange marmalade. It’s not really like a marmalade, more like an orange jelly, but very delicate. I like it a lot.

Then you go home, where hopefully the children will collapse for at least a little while. Make yourself a coffee, put your feet up, and congratulate yourself on a successful outing. That’s the part I like best.

Maple Festival Tour & Brunch:
Saturdays & Sundays through March & Good Friday
10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
http://www.mccullys.ca/view.php?public/For_the_Kids/Maple_Syrup_Festival,_2018

About those bees . . .

I had a wonderful time at Seedy Sunday at The Local last month, and I’m just getting around to writing it up. I got variety of really interesting seeds that I’ll soon be starting on the front porch, but the best part of Seedy Sunday for me is always the presentations.

I loved the one on beekeeping, presented by Stuart Arkett. I’m quite fond of bees, and like to see them in my garden, but I’m a little overwhelmed at the idea of being responsible for a hive. But  I needn’t have worried. It was illegal to keep bees in Stratford until last year, when Stuart presented a petition to allow it within city limits. After all, the city coat of arms features a beehive. Why not live up to our history? The city agreed, but followed provincial regulations, which require a hive to be 30 meters from a property line. That puts my beehive smack-dab in the middle of my living room coffee table, right next to my husband’s beer when he’s watching sports. So it’s progress of a kind, but, short of a divorce, it’s not going to work for me. I hope Stuart continues his work to promote urban beekeeping.

 

Notice the beehive

I really got a lot out of Stuart’s presentation. He told us a great deal about neonicotinoid pesticides and how they work. These are the ones that cause all the problems for bees. Some crops around here just can’t be grown without this pesticide, or a more expensive alternative. It gets put on some seeds, and when dirt is blown in the wind it’s breathable. The good news is that neonics are on their way out, due to increased government regulation, and also because after an insecticide has been used over a period of time, the insects just become immune to it. You do have to question an agricultural practice that has the end result of breeding resistant bugs, but let’s save that for another day. (More about neonicotinoids here)

We also discussed colony collapse disorder, which I’m sure you’ve heard about. Surprisingly, only three crops depend completely on bees for pollination: blueberries, cranberries, and almonds. These crops use trucked-in hives, a method that stresses the bees and weakens their resistance to mites and disease.

I have always wondered why the almond farmers don’t just raise bees within their groves. That would save time and trouble in transportation, and minimize the risk of infection to the hives. And you get honey. So I put my hand up to find out. Stewart answered that almond groves do not provide a complete diet for bees, as almonds are the only thing allowed to grow there. “But…” I said, “Why not allow a little extra vegetation, so the bees can thrive?” He smiled patiently, and explained that water is very scarce where the almonds grow, and no farmer would risk the expense of watering weeds. “But… “I persisted, “Why not reduce the ratio of trees to vegetation, just a little, to allow for bees?”

His answer was accompanied by the steely-eyed look farmers reserve for city-folk who want to give them advice. I could tell he’d been asked these kinds of questions before, presumably by people with a slightly vacant stare and flowers in their hair. He said that it is the obligation of farmers to produce the maximum from their farms. Farm families aren’t charitable organizations, and farm life is hard enough without creating extra, unprofitable work.

Well, it’s pretty hard to answer back to a statement like that. But then — and this is the interesting part — I asked him another question and got an answer I didn’t expect. I wanted to know why the bees produce more than the hive can use. Turns out they just do, it’s a bee thing. They keep working until there’s no more room for honey. Many beekeepers take all the honey from the hive and leave the bees with cheaper sugar water to last them over the winter. This is not as nutritious, and some hives die, but it works out in the long run. On his farm, Stuart doesn’t do this. He tries to calculate how much honey the bees will need to keep healthy over the winter, and he takes the rest as his share.

So in other words, he’s taking a reduced profit on his hives, hives he’s bought or built — to make things more comfortable for a bunch of bugs. He is not maximizing his farm profit. Seems to me there’s a contradiction. And I find that really interesting.

There’s a kind of a way we’re taught to think about how society relates to nature. We’re tough, we’re practical, we’re in control, and nature is a product. If you watch the news these days, particularly the weather news, maybe we’re not so much in control as we think we are. And I notice a kind of vague unease; it’s like we have a conflict between our heads and our hearts, and we try to resolve it by not really thinking about it very much. But avoiding it doesn’t make it go away.

I’m certainly no expert, but maybe the bees need more thinking about. Maybe agriculture needs more thinking about. Just because we’ve always done something a certain way doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way.

There are microfibres in your beer

You need more than “the touch test” to find ethical clothing

This week I attended a workshop on microfibre pollution hosted by The Bus Store Bookshop at  LifeSpin in London. The workshop was designed by the Synthetic Collective, a group from Western University, and presented by Kristy Robertson, who teaches there. I hadn’t planned to do another post on clothing for a while, as there are other subjects I want to cover. I’m really encouraged, though, by the amount of interest there is in this topic. It just keeps coming up, wherever I turn.

When I first got the notice I thought, “A workshop? Really? Can’t they just e-mail me the info?” But I made the trip anyway, and I’m glad I did, because you really did need to be there, to touch and see the fabrics. We started off by trying to find an article of clothing we could be sure wasn’t harmful to the environment. Predictably, we failed. The most common reason was the presence of microfibres, tiny synthetic particles found in most clothing that we buy. When clothing is washed, these particles are shed, and they are everywhere; in water, in the air, in the food chain, and yes, even in Black Swan Porter (my personal favourite). You can’t see them, but they’re there.

The bad news:

  • Damage to environment: Microplastics are everywhere, making up 85% of manmade debris found on shorelines worldwide (I’m pretty sure you know this already). Microfibres are the smallest microplastic particles, and ride on the ocean, just under the surface, as floating goo.
  • Remediation is difficult: Most sewage treatment plants can capture microplastics, but microfibres are too small. There are filters that can be added to a washload, but again, microfibres are too small for them.
  • Harm for humans: We have no idea what this means for our health. The studies just aren’t there. This means that we can’t legislate against them.

The good news:

  • Front-loading washers shed fewer microfibres
  • Wool, silk and flax are best clothing choices, but watch out for dyes. Support knowledgeable clothing stores.
  • Used clothing has already had many of the microfibres washed out, so if you must buy a synthetic, try a consignment store.

Future actions:

  • Advocate for wastewater treatment reform
  • Support regulation for washing machine retrofits
  • Alter our washing machine use. No unnecessary washing, seek out better filters.
  • Look for biodegradables when shopping (not just clothing: linens, curtains, mops, cleaning accessories)

All in all, it was a great trip, and I’m really impressed with the Synthetic Collective. They have this great idea of putting their materials together in a slideshow that will be made available for community groups to use on their own. Anybody interested in doing one here in Stratford?