Plastic and paper cleavage

February 22, 2009


There’s an ongoing debate, it seems, about whether Tetra Paks are recyclable. Although most municipal recycling depots insist they are (personally, I’m not sure how the plastic-coated cardboard gets separated from the inner foil lining, but I’ll suspend my disbelief for the time being), what I’m wondering is: What happens to all of those Tetra Paks that come with hard plastic screw-caps on top? Most juice boxes are made from a single material, but wine cartons have what look to be #5 polypropylene caps, presumably to keep them fresher and make pouring easier.

Now, because I’m kind of a recycling nerd, I take the time to find my pair of scissors and cut these things off before rinsing the empty carton and tossing it into the blue bin. I do the same with milk cartons that have this because, again, I don’t see how a paper-based material could ever be properly recycled with plastic attached to it. I even make sure to separate my #5 yogurt containers from their #6 (I think) lids, and harass my parents on a regular basis about detaching plastic handles from paper bags and shoelace drawstring handles from plastic bags (thank-you, GAP) before putting them in their proper disposal unit.

Recently, the city of Toronto began talking about ways to discourage people’s use of disposable coffee cups; apparently, while it is possible to recycle the paper cup, this can’t be done when the plastic lid is attached — this is a big problem at the sorting plant.

So is my anxiety over decapitating every single Tetra Pak of wine, every Ceres juice box, every milk carton and yogurt container justified? Should the government be forcing manufacturers to start offering products in single-material packages? Or do most things get recycled, regardless of whether they’re clean or dirty, separate or joined together? And is there anyone besides me who can be found stabbing juice boxes with a pair of scissors every Tuesday morning before the recycling trucks come?


Cow burps and Kevin Kostner

February 17, 2009

So first off, I’m totally intrigued by this story in The Guardian about how Cadbury is working with their dairy farmers on a way to reduce the number of times their cows burp each day. Contrary to popular belief, the methane that cows emit — which wreaks havoc on the air and environment — comes more from the animals’ burps than farts (cue “The More You Know” shooting star motif).

Two things I am wondering: 1) Is Cadbury one of the better chocolate companies out there, or are they evil? I don’t think they use any fair-trade cocoa or anything, but I also don’t think they’re as bad as Nestle, and they have great factory tours during Doors Open in Toronto. So yeah, someone care to refresh my memory? And also 2) Does anyone know if such a carefully crafted, anti-flatogenic diet could be applied to humans? Because sometimes it’s good to avoid farting, and surely there must be greater advice out there than “Don’t eat beans.”


Now, for a total non sequitur: Slate has this intriguing/disturbing story on how Kevin Costner’s legendary blockbuster bomb Waterworld might have been ahead of its time. Although it was utterly panned when it came out in 1995, there was a lot of global warming foreshadowing there, so perhaps it’s worth renting now and viewing under a different light. Then again, it could still suck. A lot. But what do you think? Should I take the plunge and rent it tonight? Or is there another enviro-film that deserves more attention? What’s the next Inconvenient Truth?

(Watch the original Waterworld trailer here)

I heart the Fairmont hotel chain!

February 10, 2009


I’ve loved Fairmont ever since the lovely Toronto publicist Melanie Coates emailed me a few years ago, offering to sneak me into their kitchen and show me their crazy organic waste disposal system — it basically involves a conveyor belt and a huge slop bucket — which had been in place years before the city’s Green Bin composting program started (also, when it comes to excess food, the hotel is a big contributor to Second Harvest).

As I would later learn, this chain has been into the environmental scene since the late 1980s; Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York hotel has a full rooftop garden (which is beautiful and full of berries, vegetables and herbs) as well as three fully operating beehives, a restaurant menu focused on local, sustainable food and wine, policies about not cleaning towels and linens every day, discounts for employees who take public transit or ride bikes to work, and on, and on, and on.

Now, they’ve taken yet another step, and it’s one that I’m pretty sure no other hotel (at least in this city) has done:

Serving only sustainably raised and caught seafood.

This is huge. I have one of those Seachoice cards in my wallet and even still I find it impossible to find fish that isn’t on an endangered list, or full of mercury, or shipped from a million miles away. It’s one thing to offer local, grass-fed burgers at a restaurant, but honestly, sustinable seafood is NOT easy, so I fully commend Fairmont for attempting this.

Here’s the official press release:


TORONTO, February 5, 2009 – As a pioneering voice on environmental stewardship within the hospitality industry, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts is proud to announce an extension of its brand-wide Green Cuisine program to include sustainable seafood choices in support of a global effort to conserve precious marine species.

As the latest environmental initiative undertaken by the brand, Fairmont’s hotels and resorts worldwide will remove threatened fish species like Chilean Sea Bass and Blue Fin Tuna from their restaurant menus and will also align themselves locally with reputable seafood watch organizations, ensuring guests continue to be provided with a comprehensive selection of sustainable seafood choices. By Spring 2009, Fairmont’s seafood purchases will be made with the guidance and consultation of these well-respected groups and in consortium with local suppliers.

Put into practice, Fairmont’s commitment to ocean sustainability means working with reputable suppliers who purchase fish that are resilient to fishing pressure and harvested in ways that limit damage to marine or aquatic habitats.  Specifically, Fairmont has identified two seafood choices that are most at risk – and has eliminated them from its food service operations. They include:

Chilean Sea Bass – also called Patagonia Tooth, this is a long-life  fish, meaning it does not reproduce quickly.  Due to worldwide popularity of this  menu item, their numbers have been dwindling dramatically from illegal and  aggressive fishing.

Blue Fin Tuna – heavily over-fished in international waters, the plight  of this species is so serious that the World Conservation Union lists Southern  Blue Fin Tuna in its grouping of most threatened wildlife.  Their numbers have declined by 97%  over the last four decades.

In the face of these findings, Fairmont will no longer serve these two fish varieties on menus and will also make it easier for guests to make informed food choices by identifying responsible seafood choices on its restaurant menus. The end result: healthier practices flowing down to suppliers, who then offer better choices to restaurants.  In addition, by promoting awareness and sustainable alternatives among its guests, Fairmont will play a role in influencing and shaping the tastes and preferences of guests who care about the future of the planet.

Already, a number of Fairmonts have taken up the sustainable seafood call.  Mexico’s Fairmont Mayakoba has partnered with local communities in a nearby biosphere to purchase lobster that is sustainably harvested.  To date, the resort has purchased more than 4.8 tons of the lobster, which comes with a certificate affirming the lobsters have been locally sourced in a responsible fashion. On Hawaii’s Big Island, The Fairmont Orchid goes to great lengths to purchase locally sourced seafood and actively participates in regional moratoriums on any threatened fish stocks. And in Vancouver, The Fairmont Waterfront and The Fairmont Vancouver Airport have joined the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program, a conservation platform created to educate and empower consumers about the issues surrounding sustainable seafood. Ocean-friendly menu options at The Fairmont Waterfront’s Herons Restaurant range from Top Seared Halibut to Pan Seared Sablefish.

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts’ dedication to the protection of the environment goes well beyond helping conserve species that reside in the sea. On a wide-ranging basis, the luxury hotel brand maintains a comprehensive commitment to purchasing local, organic and sustainable food items whenever possible. But it’s important to note that good environmental practices do not mean guests at Fairmont restaurants miss out on world-class cuisine.  Instead, they feast on various fish caught or sourced in ways that ensure their continued survival.

For close to two decades, Fairmont has strived to minimize its impact on the planet through its award-winning Green Partnership program, a comprehensive platform focused on key areas such as waste reduction, energy management, water conservation, and innovative community outreach programs. In a sign of corporate leadership, the company also encourages others to follow in its footsteps and has developed the Green Partnership Guide, a how-to text that any company can obtain to create or grow their environmental programming.  For more information on Fairmont’s Green Partnership program, please visit

Photo courtesy of here.

Environmental awareness in conflict zones; and why geothermal heat is the wisest investment to make during the credit crunch

February 5, 2009

Just a couple articles I’ve written recently for the Footprint page at the National Post (I promise to write an original post soon, but right now, I’m on deadline for two film reviews!):

First off, an article about Friends of the Earth Middle East, a fantastic organization that’s getting Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians to cooperate on water management and other environmental issues (yes, even during all the brutality in Gaza). This is the first in a three-part series I’m writing about sustainability in conflict zones. READ IT HERE!


And secondly, a story about why the best place to invest your money during a crapola economy is in green home retrofits and especially geothermal heating (or ground-source heat pumps, as they’re more technically called). With the 90% reduction in energy cost, massive government rebates and increase in property value, it’s like the Boardwalk of the green Monopoly game, or as my environmental consultant friend says, “an infinite 20% bond”. READ THE STORY HERE!!


Conceiving of greener contraception

February 3, 2009


In one of my recent posts, Arduous and I got a little sidetracked in the comments section and began talking about how frustrating it is trying to find an eco-friendly method of birth control.

The only options out there, when it comes to contraception, seem to be:

  1. Taking the pill (like Marvelon, Allesse, Tri-Cyclen, etc)
  2. Using condoms (preferably a brand like Beyond Seven)
  3. Getting an IUD inserted
  4. Using sponges, spermicidal gels and diaphragms
  5. Relying on the rhythm/calendar method
  6. Good ol’ abstinence

Well, considering the pill ends up sending a LOT of estrogen and progesterone out through our urine, into the toilet, down through the sewer system and finally into our lakes and streams where it gives poor froggies unwanted sex changes and eventually depletes their population, that doesn’t seem very sustainable at all.

Condoms — well, fine, they’re probably the most straightforward solution, but they’re still annoying and they create waste.

The thought of inserting a copper wire into my uterus in order to screw up the natural balance of whatever the heck’s in my uterus (can you tell I flunked science?) just creeps me out, but it does seem effective and is most definitely sustainable. Still, though… putting wires where I eventually want to grow another human being?

Sponges, gels and diaphragms are usually messy and there’s the unrealistic expectation that a woman will be able to know precisely when she’s about to have sex and can easily duck into the bathroom half an hour before and immediately after. This also assumes she’s at home… unless she’s the kind of girl who carries all these items in her purse.

Personally, I’m a fan of the rhythm or calendar method, but only because I haven’t gotten knocked up yet. This is considered the most unreliable of all birth control methods, however I think this is mostly because people are inherently lazy and/or stupid and can’t figure out when they’re ovulating (um, yeah…  don’t quote me on this when I end up with child a month from now). Anyway, you basically have to take your temperature every morning as soon as you wake up and chart its progression until you start to see a regular up-and-down pattern. Combine this with other observations such as the look/feel/smell of what’s going on in that region (I will NOT be showing you the rather blunt photo of cervical mucus that Wikipedia does; you can see for yourself), and it actually becomes very obvious when you are at risk of getting pregnant and when you’re definitely in the clear. Honestly, there are only about five to seven days when you shouldn’t be having sex.

And lastly, there’s the absolute most effective and most sustainable form of protection: abstinence. Yep, the old don’t-have-sex-to-begin-with approach. Uh, right. Good luck with that!

Really, though, everyone has a method that works best for him or her, and it all depends on where you’re at in life, who you’re with (or not with), and what you’re doctor says.

Thoughts? What kind of contraception do you guys use?

Image from The Karlos’ on Flickr

How could we let Deadmonton win this?

February 1, 2009


I received this press release in my inbox the other day and was agog — aGOG, I say! — to read what it said:

(Toronto, Canada, January 29, 2009) Today, Corporate Knights magazine unveiled the third-annual Corporate Knights Most Sustainable Cities in Canada list. The comprehensive ranking identifies Canadian cities whose practices leave the smallest environmental footprint possible and create a healthy, thriving population.

But then… then I read this:

The top cities in the 2009 Corporate Knights Sustainable Cities Ranking are as follows:

Large city category: Edmonton, AB
Medium city category: Halifax, NS
Small city category: Yellowknife, NT

EDMONTON?! Is that, like, a typo for Toronto? Or Vancouver? How could a city in such close proximity to dirty oil, a city renowned only for its enormous mall where you can swim with captive sea lions right after eating in a completely indoors “Chinatown” be considered the most sustainable in all of Canada?

Before I could even let my confusion take hold, I read on:

With the lowest unemployment rate of all cities and the second-lowest unemployment rate of immigrants, Edmonton wants to be an “innovation centre for value-added and green technologies and products,” and is measuring progress by the percentage of green collar jobs created. Edmonton is also the only city in our consideration set to have inclining block pricing on water to encourage conservation.

Um, all right, as much I don’t want to knock the city for their green-collar jobs and negative-reinforcement water-conservation strategy, are these actually the most important factors in being sustainable? What about wind turbines, deep-lake cooling systems and green roofs? What about public transit and bike lanes? Carbon taxes? Population density?? FARMER’S MARKETS AND COMPOSTING INFRASTRUCTURE AND A MILLION OTHER THINGS TORONTO IS DOING?!?

OK, so maybe I’m just a sore loser. It’s just that, while I can see why Halifax won in the medium city category (although, I’d vote for Guelph, personally), this whole study seems suspicious to me. Yellowknife? Honestly? It’s frozen solid up there! They’re just sustainable by default.