Saturday, March 26, 2011

Even More Green

I have technically been on the eco-friendly train since before people started realizing it was a good train to be on. I simply grew up in a conscientious household.

My parents made me turn out the lights when I left the room. We used heavy-duty cloth bags (in bright 90's neon colours!) and Superstore bins when we went grocery shopping. My brother and I walked to school from Grade 1, then took the bus to school as we got older. My mom took the bus to work, and if the car hadn't been started all day, my dad was quite reluctant to have to start it for one small trip somewhere. We replaced things only when they wore out. We took bottles, cans, paper, and plastic to the recycle before blue bin/blue bag programs came into existence. I even remember we didn't have fancy little notepads for grocery lists. We would take computer paper used on one side and tear it into quarters. The pile sat on the bookshelf at the end of the kitchen counter; I don't remember the pile ever running out. We had a compost bin from the time I was in junior high, and I don't have a single back yard memory that doesn't have an image of the garden (not that I wanted anything to do with it back then!). It was just good practice to live this way.

Once I started living on my own, and there was more talk about being "environmentally friendly", I continued the practices that were already well-formed from childhood, but I also took it up a notch. I started printing things on the reverse sides of used computer paper (I think I even got away with handing essays in to like-minded professors this way!). I bought compact fluorescent bulbs before people really knew what the heck they were. Admittedly, I had Superstore bins, but still accumulated plastic bags on smaller shopping trips. Still, it has meant that in almost ten years of living on my own, I've never once had to buy a single garbage bag for my kitchen garbage can. I have always been able to reuse plastic shopping bags.

That was in my early-twenties. The term "environmentally friendly" has since been supplemented with terms like "green", "organic", and "eco-friendly". So many more people are increasingly cognizant of their carbon footprint--myself included--and I have taken it up a notch again. A few years ago, I bought reusable mesh bags for produce. I did worm composting in my condo, and while it flopped a couple times and I eventually gave up, I'm excited to start for-real composting this spring once my barrel bin arrives! I have a programmable thermostat, and I keep it low at night and when I'm away. I will be planting a garden this spring. I use things like biodegradable hand soap. ...My job doesn't really allow me to take public transit to work, but I try to ride my bike to places in the summer, and take transit whenever it is feasible. And I am trying to buy locally more often (or at least keep it within Canada).

Yesterday, I went with a friend to Edmonton's Home & Garden Show. It was the first time I had ever been, but seeing as now I have my own home AND garden, I thought I would see what knowledge I could glean. I mentioned to my friend that it was hard to find new, innovative ways to be eco-friendly in my daily activities. All the things like turning out lights, unplugging electronics, running the dishwasher only when full... that's child's play for me (and--one would think--common sense for the rest of the world). I find I am often looking for a practice that I haven't tried yet that will fit into my lifestyle (cuz right now, buying things a new high-efficiency dishwasher or bottomless hot water tank is just slightly out of the budget).

I was happy to come away from the Home & Garden Show with a couple new eco-friendly options to try. First, I purchased a set of micro-fibre bed sheets (micro-fibre itself is a man-made product and not all that natural, but the sheets will dry faster in the dryer, they are durable, and are allergen-resistant). I also went out on a limb and bought a SmartKlean laundry ball. If the claims hold true, I may not have to buy laundry detergent for 7-10 years. I have yet to test its ability to pull stains, but I have done three loads of regular laundry today and everything has come out clean and fresh. I can't complain.

This afternoon, I also sat down and calculated my carbon footprint. I've known for a couple years that I could do this, but have never taken the time. The City of Edmonton has an easy-to-navigate questionnaire that asks you to rate your practices in various areas that affect your carbon footprint. As with anybody's lifestyle, there are a few less-than-friendly practices I engage in right now simply because I can't help it, and am unable to improve upon it at this time. Still, the overall assessment was good, and it generated a couple suggestions that I could actually consider trying or setting as a goal in the next year.

I am always looking for that 'next step' in being eco-friendly. Participating in things like Earth Hour--which is tonight--is good, but just turning off the lights doesn't cut it anymore. Maintaining the earth needs to be embedded in our lifestyle.