Get involved in Canadian Environment Week

Spring is putting on a show of fresh colours, but we have another reason to think green today: Canadian Environment Week is now underway. Held in conjunction with World Environment Day on June 5, this annual event is a time to turn our focus to preserving and protecting our environment now and for the future. This busy week also includes Clean Air Day (June 6) and World Oceans Day (June 8).

Undoubtedly, achieving a “clean, safe and sustainable” environment is a big job, but it can start with small steps. Even if you aren’t out planting trees this week or participating in online protests like Internet Black Out Day, there are many things you can do at home and work to help.

Here are 10 tips to help the environment this week and beyond:

Take your car to a car wash. Believe it of not, washing your car with the hose running can use up 400 L of water or more. Experts suggest taking your vehicle to a car wash instead — it uses less water. Some car washes even have special water recycling systems in place to cut down on waste.

If do plan to wash up at home, experts suggest using a sponge and bucket of soapy water to cut down on hose time — and outfit your hose with a trigger nozzle that stops the flow when you aren’t using it. Also, look for environmentally-friendly soaps so you aren’t rinsing potentially-hazardous substances down the sewers or into your lawn.

Safely dispose of hazardous substances. Do you know what to with old batteries or expired medications? What about pesticides and solvents? These substances pose a risk to the environment when they go down the drain or leach out of landfills. Experts recommend we be mindful of how to properly dispose of items.

For example, we can return old medications and supplements to our local pharmacy, and donate leftover paint to a home building project or school. When in doubt, any harmful items can go to your municipality’s hazardous waste facility. (See Get rid of your toxic garbage for more details.)

Avoid burning trash. We may not think of materials like paper, cardboard, yard waste and building materials as hazardous waste, but experts warn they shouldn’t go in a wood stove, fireplace or fire pit. Even seemingly harmless trash can release cancer-causing chemicals into the environment when burned, and burning brush releases carbon dioxide.

What should we do instead? Experts warn to let your municipality handle your garbage. Recycle and compost what you can, and take items like construction debris to your local dump.

Stop throwing out food. Did you know up to one third of our waste is food? There are a few ways we can tackle this problem. Meal planning, shopping with a grocery list and learning about proper food storage can help you save cash too.

Of course, we can’t avoid all the waste — like bones, peels and trimmings (even if they go in the stock pot first). Experts say to “feed the land, not the landfill” by participating in your municipality’s green bin program or setting up a composter in your backyard.

Host a swap. You don’t want it, but someone else will! During the recession, clothing swap parties became popular as people were looking for a way to refresh their wardrobe (not to mention have some frugal fun). The concept is simple: everyone brings their unwanted items and trades for items they do want. (We’ve got tips on how to host a swap to help you get started.)

Of course, swaps aren’t just for clothes. Choose a different them to suit your interests like books, moves, games, plants or craft supplies. Any leftovers can go to charity, and all of the items will stay out of the landfill.

Choose greener cleaners. We use many products on a daily or weekly basis, but many products contain chemicals that can harm the environment, not to mention our bodies. For example, phosphates can lead to an algae bloom when they hit lakes and rivers, choking off the oxygen for marine life.

Many companies now offer “green” cleaners, but you can go one step farther by making your own from ingredients such as baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice and essential oils. For example, try using a half of cup of vinegar in one litre of water and a squeegee instead of a chemical glass cleaner and paper towels. (We’ve got recipes and resources for more greener homemade cleaners.)

Leave the car at home. Cars are certainly a convenience, but they’re also a top source of air pollution. During Canadian Environment Week, experts issue a Commuter Challenge to encourage more people to car pool or take public transportation. Many communities even offer free public transportation on Clean Air Day (June 6) to encourage greener ways to get around.

You can power your own transportation too. Walking or cycling to run errands or visit friends cuts greenhouse gas emissions and offers health benefits as well.

Have a litter-free lunch. Packing a lunch or grabbing a beverage on the run? All those disposable items we use piles up — in landfills, that is. Experts recommend using alternatives like a travel mug for your morning cup of coffee or a reusable water bottle of plastic. Consider using reusable plastic or glass containers to pack your lunch instead of plastic wrap and aluminum foil, and keep your own set of cutlery handy too.

What about when you’re entertaining? You can cut down on the trash at your next barbeque by inviting guests to bring their own plate and cutlery, suggest experts. (Camp sets work well.)

Unplug. We love our gadgets — like our TVs, stereos, music players, smart phones, tablets, e-readers and computers — but they can be an energy drain. Both health experts and environmental activists recommend cutting down on the screen time and enjoying other activities such as a walk in the park, a picnic or reading a book. Be sure to power down when you’re not using your devices because even devices on “stand by” mode can be energy vampires.

What about your computer? Experts also say to shut down your hard drive when it’s not in use. Not only will it save energy, it will help extend the life of your computer.

Use your voice. There are many things we can do at home and work to help the environment, but experts also say we need to balance our everyday efforts with tackling bigger environmental concerns like air pollution. There is power in numbers, and here are some ways you can add your voice to a cause that concerns you:

– Get involved in a local Environment Week event or fundraiser.

– Write a letter to your member of parliament about an issue that concerns you (and encourage others to do the same).

– Connect with environmental activism organizations and charities on social media and spread the word about eco-friendly tips and initiatives.

– Vote with your dollars by purchasing eco-friendly products investing in eco-conscious companies. (A recent press release from BMO Financial Group has some tips for sustainable investing.)

OF course, these ideas are just a few of the ways you can make a difference. For tips and information about this week’s events, visit:

Environment Canada: Canadian Environment Week
World Wildlife Fund: Canadian Environment Week Ideas
UN World Environment Day
Green Action Centre: Clean Air Day
World Ocean’s Day

Photo © gilles lougassi