Green News

Green Choices: Myths and Tips

Posted by Environment Smart on 01/08 at 01:35 PM
Tips and How-to'sIn the housePermalink

Every year we take another step forward towards making our home as energy efficient as we can. Just before the holidays, we tuned up our home heating system. I think that we have finally done all that we can in that department. We still have a number of other improvements to make, but some of these need to factor in the financial cost involved. There are, however, several things that we can do that do not cost a penny. In fact, they save more than a few pennies.

We are always looking for tips on how to increase our energy efficiency, and there are loads of web sites out there to help us. The Consumer Reports Greener Choices,, offers information and green ratings on a variety of consumer products. The site lists a number of energy-saving myths as well. One of these myths is that no matter how frugal you are with hand washing your dishes, it is better to use an efficient dish washer. We have always washed our dishes by hand, and I question if today's water-saving dish washers use less than the 2 x 3/4 sink full of water that we use a day. This is a myth that we may try to bust. But myth or not, the Consumer Reports Greener Choices site offers many other excellent tips on how to save energy.

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Our Green Christmas

Posted by Environment Smart on 12/12 at 08:52 PM
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Here are some of the things that we are doing to have a greener Christmas this year:

·       We use our reusable shopping bags for any Christmas shopping. I take whichever bag is handiest – usually entering into a store carrying a reusable shopping bag with another store’s advertising on it. I have only received positive feedback from store clerks when I decline their store bag. In the past, I would get a disgruntled look as I put items from one store into the bag of another store.

·       We plan our shopping route to minimize the driving around. This is something that I have always done in order to save time and my own energy. In this case, being efficient with my personal energy is good for the environment as well.

·       We reuse gift bags. This is again something that we have always done. The stigma of seeming “cheap”, however, no longer applies.

·       We have a real Christmas tree. We traditionally have a real Christmas tree each year. A number of years back, however, we looked into whether or not it was more environmentally friendly to get a reusable synthetic tree. We learned that, as long as we get our tree from a tree farm, we are actually helping the environment and our local economy by having a real Christmas tree.

·       We use LED and now solar-powered holiday lights. As soon as the LED holiday lights became available, we switched over to them. They are just as bright and colourful, will last longer and do not get as hot for in the tree. This year we also bought some new solar-powered lights. Unfortunately, they have not worked terribly well for us thus far. But … it has been quite overcast and snowy since we put them up, and they are also not hanging in the most effective area. Our problem is that we need to put the solar panels in a somewhat protected spot so that they will not get covered with snow. This means that they will not charge up as well. No worries though. If they do not work well for winter, then we can use them for little summer light around the deck.

·       We have been doing more thrift store and fare-trade purchases this year.  We have been finding unique and beautiful gifts at fare-trade stores like Dix Milles Villages (Ten Thousand Villages) for years, but lately we make a point of looking for fare-trade gifts first. The thrift store is something newer for us. I have found that one of our local charity stores has been the perfect place to find nice Christmas dishes for my baked goods gifts.

·       We save our Christmas wrapping paper for crafts. As an artsy-craftsy person, I have always done this. Now it is considered environmentally friendly.

·       We are cutting down on the wrapping paper we use. There are some gifts that we do not wrap and simply use a bow or ribbon to make them look festive. We also reuse gift bags. Many of the gifts that we give to friends and family are wrapped in something other than wrapping paper (ie. fabric, a basket, tin, etc.). For many of the gifts under the tree, however, we continue to use colourful wrapping. Using wrapping paper goes against the grain of what many green-minded people are advocating, but my children and the child in me still likes to see lots of colourful packages under the Christmas tree. But … we do make a point of reusing the wrapping in one capacity or another.

·       We make our own gift tags from old Christmas cards and wrapping. This is a lot of fun to do, and not much work at all. When the holidays are over and we take down the Christmas cards, we go through them and cut up the ones that can be used for nice tags the following year.

·       We do several Christmas crafts using recycled materials.

- This year we are starting a Christmas scrapbook. Each of us in the family will have our own section. The idea is that we can save our favourite cards and gift tags. We will add a list of the gifts we received and whom they came from. We can glue in our Christmas dinner menu. And, finally we can use a page to write down our best memories of the holidays and add a few photos. We can do this every year and develop a beautiful family memento.

- We have made Christmas wreaths using old Christmas wrapping. See previous posting

- We have made disco ball ornaments using old CD’s. See previous posting.

- We are currently making pompom elves and scrap paper Christmas trees. Stay tuned for a posting on how to make your own.

About the author: Environment Smart

What is in Your Household Cleaner?

Posted by Environment Smart on 09/27 at 06:41 PM
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Many commercial household cleaning products are not only very bad for the environment, but they also contain ingredients that can impact your health. There are a number of ingredients that you should be wary of. According to the National Geographic Green Guide, the top cleaning-product ingredients to avoid are:

  • Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs): commonly found in detergents and disinfectants. They are suspected hormone disruptors.
  • Ammonia: poisonous when swallowed and irritating to respiratory passages when inhaled. It can also burn the skin on contact.
  • Triclosan: found in antibacterial cleansers and may be contributing to the development of antibiotic-resistant germs.
  • Butyl cellosolve (butyl glycol, ethylene glycol monobutyl): poisonous when swallowed and can irritate lung tissue.
  • Chlorine bleach (aka sodium hypochlorite): can irritate the lungs and eyes.
  • Diethanolamine (DEA): can combine with nitrosomes (often-undisclosed preservatives) to produce carcinogenic nitrosamines that penetrate skin.
  • Phthalates: often contained in fragrances. These chemicals are linked to reproductive abnormalities and liver cancer in lab animals and to asthma in children.
  • Phosphates: water softeners found in detergents. They contribute to algae blooms in our waterways, which can kill off fish populations.
  • Sodium hydroxide: are found in drain, metal and oven cleaners. This is extremely irritating to eyes, nose and throat and can burn those tissues on contact.
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate: a common sudsing agent. This can penetrate the skin and cause contact dermatitis.

For a detailed checklist of hazardous ingredients found in cleaners, visit

About the author: Environment Smart

A Greener Bathroom At No Extra Cost

Posted by Environment Smart on 09/27 at 06:05 PM
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Revamping your bathroom with a more efficient toilet, showerhead and faucet goes a long way to reducing the environmental impact of your bathroom. There is, however, also a lot that you can do without spending a dime.

Consider the following water saving tips:

  • Turn the water off while brushing your teeth or shaving.
  • Fill a container with stones and place it in your toilet tank to displace water. A closed bottle of sand will work as well.
  • Use a timer and limit your showers to 5 minutes.
  • Fix a leaking toilet and faucet right away.
  • Don’t use your toilet to flush trash.

Many bathroom cleaners are very harsh on the environment, and even those that are marked as eco-friendly may not be entirely so. Saving water is one way to make your bathroom greener, but making your own cleaner will also make a significant difference.

Consider the following DIY cleaner tips:

  • To make an all-purpose cleaner: use ½ cup of borax
1 gallon hot water. Mix this in a pail. For a spray-bottle amount, use 1/8 cup borax to 1 quart of hot water. Dissolve the borax completely. Use a rag to wipe clean wipe clean.
  • To make a toilet bowl cleaner: use baking soda and 
white vinegar. Sprinkle the toilet bowl with baking soda. Add the white vinegar to create fizz. Then scrub with a toilet brush. This cleans and deodorizes your toilet bowl.
  • To clean your tub and tiles: use 
1/2 lemon
 and borax.  Dip the lemon-half in the borax. The lemon-half becomes a hand-held scrubber. Rinse and dry the surface afterwards.
  • To clean drains:
use 1 cup of baking soda
and 1 cup of vinegar. Add the baking soda and vinegar to a pot of boiled water. Pour the mixture down the drain, and then flush with tap water. 
For stubborn clogs, you may need to also use a plunger or a “snake” plumbing tool to manually remove blockage. 
One way to prevent clogs is to install inexpensive mesh screen.
  • To clean glass
and mirrors: use 1/4 cup of vinegar or 1 Tbsp of lemon juice and 
2 or more cups of water.

Baking soda provides grit for scrubbing and it fizzes or foams when used with water, vinegar or lemon.  This helps to break down grime.
Borax disinfects, bleaches and deodorizes.
Distilled white vinegar disinfects and helps to break up dirt. Whereas red vinegar does the same, it may stain surfaces.
Hydrogen Peroxide disinfects and bleaches
Lemons help to cut grease. Lemon juice also works, but you may need to use more.


About the author: Environment Smart

Safe Water Bottles

Posted by Environment Smart on 09/20 at 12:54 PM
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In an effort to reduce waste, we turned to reusable water bottles several years ago. When it came to our attention, however, that the plastic bottles and drink boxes we were using could be leaching harmful chemicals, we were pretty alarmed. We immediately got rid of them and switched to aluminum bottles. There are quite a few varieties on the market now. They range in price from about $7.00 to $20.00. We bought ours at Le Baron Sport in Montreal. I know that Mountain Equipment Coop sells them, and I saw some at Walmart as well. We recommend purchasing a bottle that is entirely aluminum or stainless steel, rather than one with a plastic lining.

Since these aluminum bottles are considerably more expensive than the plastic ones, we were concerned about losing them. We took a few minutes to etch our names on the bottles. So far, so good. We still have all of our bottles.

About the author: Environment Smart

Insulating Your Windows

Posted by Environment Smart on 09/17 at 10:18 PM
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If you live in an area with a cold winter climate, you might be starting to think about what you should do regarding your drafty windows. Winterizing them with plastic is a practical option. It will certainly help to reduce your winter heating costs. Debbie Anderson’s video and description on how to insulate a window against winter is easy to follow.

To get you started you will need to visit your hardware store for a couple of window insulation kits. A patio door kit is enough for about two average sized windows. You will also need a roll of double-sided tape (to supplement what comes with the kit), a pair of scissors, and blow dryer and a clean towel. If you are a resourceful person, you may want to contact a packaging company for some end-of-roll shrink wrap. This is the end of a roll of shrink wrap film that is used on a shrink wrap machine. There is often still 25’ to 100’ left on the end of the roll when it needs to be replaced. That is enough to keep you going for a few years (depending on how many windows you have). It is certainly a cheaper alternative to the window insulation kits.

About the author: Environment Smart