Jet-skis and joy rides (Day 143)…

July 21, 2007

emma bike

When I was in university, I seldom had access to a car. So one day, when my boyfriend at the time had rented one and still had another few hours to return it, we decided to make like the ’50s and go for a drive.

It wasn’t long, however, before we realized that unless the purpose is to go from Point A to Point B, just driving kind of sucks. After five minutes, the guilt over how much we were polluting the air just to look out the window at some trees and houses whizzing by took over and we turned back.

And rightly so. The whole idea of engaging in a recreational activity that causes damage to the earth is just ridiculous. My dad, who sails, has always loathed jet-skis and motor boats — while he mostly can’t stand the noise they make, I think the carbon cost is just as infuriating.

So from now on, the only time I’ll use a vehicle — plane, train, automobile or watercraft — is for the strict purpose of transportation. Even if my sister Emma, who just got a new BMW motorbike (that’s her above), tries to tempt me with a cruise around Rosedale, I’m going to have to decline. Until Day 366.

My greener dry cleaner (Day 90)…

May 29, 2007


Taking clothes to the dry cleaners can be an eco-nightmare. It’s usually one of the errands people run with a car because no one wants to walk or bike with an armful of dirty clothes; the dry cleaning process itself uses tons of chemicals; then it gets handed back on useless wire hangers with paper sleeves and all that plastic wrap over top.

A lot of clothing items with a “dry clean only” label on them can actually be handwashed, but I’ve also lost more than a few ridiculously expensive cashmere sweaters that way, too, so I prefer to just do what the label tells me. But I’ve officially switched to New Way Cleaners, a company by my parents’ house that’s been around since 1936 and perc-free for a couple years now.

Perc, short for perchloroethylene, is most often the main solvent used in dry cleaning. It has also been declared toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and been shown to cause cancer in animals when exposed to amounts only just above the legal workplace limit.

So when they found out about these carcinogenic effects, the company stayed true to its name and searched for a new way to dry clean. It invested in all-new machines and non-toxic detergent, which is fully biodegradable and overall gentler both on clothes and skin.

Fortunately, I don’t own many things that need dry cleaning anyway (the shrunken cashmere sweaters pretty much scarred me for life). And I think when I head back next time I’m going to ask if they can put my clothes on the side so I’m not stuck with all the stupid hangers and saran wrap.

Delivery miseries (Day 86)…

May 25, 2007


I don’t care if it’s delivery or Delissio, I’m having none of it!

Well, obviously there won’t be any Delissio because I’ve unplugged my freezer, but as of today I’m saying no to all delivered food — unless it happens to be packaged entirely in recyclable or biodegradable containers, and arrives either by bicycle or Sherpa.

In most other countries, delivery men (and, OK, the occasional delivery woman) do use bikes and scooters to get around, and usually pile as much as they can onto the back in order to make fewer trips. But here, food is almost always delivered in a car and, unless it’s pizza, comes in styrofoam or foil containers with bags of plastic cutlery, napkins and way too many of those squidgy packets of ketchup, mustard and vinegar.

As I think I’ve said before, I’ve never been an active member of the fast food nation; my weakness when it comes to delivery is the quarter-chicken dinner from Swiss Chalet with that special, special sauce (seriously, is there MDMA in that stuff?), which I order online — all my deets are programmed into the system for maximum efficiency, too. However, since I stopped eating any meat unless it’s certified organic and free-range, that’s been ruled out anyway.

Naturally, this rule only applies to food, as I still need to be able to accept other deliveries, like mail. And presents. Lots of presents.

Photo delivered in 30 minutes or it’s free from here

MP3’s not a crowd (Day 82)…

May 21, 2007

I didn’t exactly grow up in the vinyl era but I was around for the cassette (in fact, somewhere in my closet is a dusty stack of mix tapes made for me circa ’95), and I most definitely have a fair-sized CD collection.

Now, I’m far from being a Luddite: I have one of those cell phones with a camera, I’ve downloaded stuff from an ftp site and, heck, I maintain this here web log. Years ago, I made the switch with everyone else over to mp3s with the help of a not-so-legal (at the time) service called Napster and eventually transfered all my music to my playlist and onto my iPod.

But I still buy CDs. I’m not sure why — the whole thing about better sound quality doesn’t make much sense to me, it’s nothing to do with supporting the artist because I can do that by paying on iTunes, and I can’t say it’s for the liner notes without wanting to punch myself in the face. I think it’s something about the tangible, sensory appeal of cracking open the case, popping the disc out and hearing that first spin before the music starts.

CDs, however, require more production, packaging and shipping than downloading music in its electronic form, plus it means committing to the whole album rather than buying individual songs. So from now on, with apologies to my local music store, I’m opting for mp3s instead. Thanks to Matt S. for the suggestion!

Fall of the Amazon Woman (Day 81)…

May 20, 2007


I love Amazon. I love being tricked by technology into thinking I’m special with their cutesy greeting: “Welcome back, Vanessa! We have recommendations for you.” I love that I can get books here for almost half the cover price, and I love seeing just how little I can spend over the $39 mark to qualify for FREE Super Saver Shipping. I love pre-ordering stuff, which makes me feel like I’m ahead of all the other literary plebes, and I love ripping open my package when it comes in the mail. So, Amazon marketing team, mission accomplished — pat yourselves on the back. Hard. I’ve succumbed to all of it.

Until now! Obviously, buying books online like this creates pollution from shipping trucks and/or planes, not to mention the packaging and paper required to make the books in the first place. So I’m logging off all online bookstores for the next 283 days.

I’m also abstaining from purchasing anything from the big chain bookstores, and while I will try not to buy as many books — because there are tons on my shelf I still haven’t read yet — I believe in supporting local, independent stores. So if I desperately need the latest Atwood, Franzen or Pollan, I’ll walk next-door to Type or down the street to Pages.

Jet-setting off-setter (Day 76)…

May 15, 2007


I just planned a whirlwind summer vacation (in airport code: YYZLHRTLVMADPDXYYZ), which unfortunately means a series of flights that add up to 17,270 miles, 349 gallons of fuel and 6,828 pounds of carbon dioxide. So to balance out my three tonnes of guilt, I registered at TerraPass and offset all my air travel. Surprisingly, it only cost $36.95, and they even gave me a nerdy eco-traveller luggage tag to boot.

Now, offsets are a little controversial: Critics liken them to the medieval church selling indulgences to absolve sinners; but in the end, most environmentalists agree that they’re worth investing in after you’ve made every other effort to reduce your air and car travel, as well as energy consumption at home, in your dorm room or at your wedding(s).

While it’s true that I could have chosen to stay at home this summer, the reality is that it’s just not the same trying to celebrate your aunt’s 50th birthday party over the phone, hug one of your dearest friends by email, or go on a permaculture cycling trip down the coast of … Lake Ontario.

My green change as of today, then, is to only fly when necessary, to plan all my flights strategically, to spread the word with my nerdy luggage tag and, of course, to offset all my air travel.

Graphics nicked from TerraPass

Rolling down the windows (Day 73)…

May 12, 2007

There’s nothing worse than sitting in a hot, stuffy car in the middle of summer. Actually, on second thought, there are plenty of things worse than that — but something about the smell of heated upholstery makes me feel sick. It also makes me want to reach for the air-conditioning switch rather than simply roll down the windows.

Of course, this only ends up using more gas, in turn creating more smog, which in turn depletes the ozone layer and makes the planet even hotter — in fact, in my city, we’ve already had our first smog and UV warnings and it’s not yet June.

Now, as this story points out, while using air conditioning can drag down a car’s fuel economy by 10 to 20%, driving with your windows down at 45 mph or faster creates wind drag, which also decreases fuel economy.

So my plan is to not use the a/c in the car if I’m tooting around the city, but to also make sure my windows are up if I’m on the highway (in which case I might turn the air-conditioning on, but keep it at the lowest setting). If it gets unbearably hot, I’m thinking maybe I should invest in one of those hand-held paper fans, or just up my ice cap intake to five per day (there’s only, what, 11 grams of fat in a small one, right?).