Tag Archives: waste

The Sustainability Picture

14 Oct

After cycling all across the country, what did we find out about sustainability in Canada?

We spoke with over 50 people across the 10 provinces. Our encounters were amazingly varied, and each story was unique. We were inspired! Many Canadians we met are acting to move towards sustainability. Some of them don’t necessarily associate their actions with sustainability; others are aware of the way their actions fit into the sustainability picture. It is amazing that, even without seeking out “sustainable people,” we came across so many relevant initiatives.

Now, we can step back and look at the big picture, looking for patterns in the stories we collected and making some generalizations about the Canadian perspective on sustainability. Here’s what we found.

Consumerism and Waste

Q: What did one garbage can say to the other?
A: “I got totally trashed last night!”

Many Canadians are concerned about the vicious cycle of consumerism: work more, buy more, want more things, repeat. But once people are aware of it, they are better equipped to break free. Randy from Newfoundland sees this happen to people who go to work in the oil sands. Although he has worked in Fort Mac himself, he knows his limits: he won’t buy a skidoo or a big truck if he doesn’t need one!

There’s also concern about another side of consumerism: excessive production is detrimental to the environment and creates a lot of waste. Emily from Saskatchewan was inspired to minimize her own consumption: she re-uses things by shopping at thrift stores and garage sales. At the Nelson Food Co-op in British Columbia, a documentary about waste inspired the members to vote for banning plastic bags in the store. That’s 10 000 members reusing their bags every time they shop! Charlie from Nova Scotia used all reusable dishes and cutlery when she hosted an event for 200 people to reduce waste from single-use eating utensils.

Local Economy and Community

Lots of people had concerns about money draining from smaller communities and businesses to large corporations. Co-operatives offer one solution: they follow a business model that can be accountable to the communities they serve. In Grand Forks, British Columbia, a food co-op has re-started, providing an alternative to shopping at the chain stores in town. By connecting the residents with the local farmers and making the price fair to both farmer and customer, the co-op is improving the local economy. We found many other, similar food co-ops as well. For example, the Penokean Hills Farms co-op in Ontario is helping cattle farmers to butcher and sell their meat locally.

In some places, people were concerned about a lack of jobs in their area. The Bear Claw First Nations casino and hotel in Saskatchewan is a striking example of a community creating jobs for itself. The White Bear First Nations fought hard to make the resort a reality. Now it employs a large part of the community. The business is run by community members whose mandate is to keep the community in mind, providing income, job training, and funding for community projects. We also encountered a radically different solution to the jobs issue: people in Hutterite colonies live communally. Everyone helps out, and everyone gets what they need.

Self-sufficiency

Many Canadians are growing their own food. We’re not talking herb gardens: people manage to feed themselves, at least for most of the season. The Thiessens from Saskatchewan grow their own vegetables and only rarely need to buy food. Justin in Ontario grows vegetables and raises chickens on his permaculture farm. Gabriel in Quebec raised his own goat. Marianne from Prince Edward Island grows enough vegetables for 3 households and shares her harvest with her neighbours. Rose in Nova Scotia is fattening up two pigs for the winter. Kevin in Nova Scotia eats the mackerel he catches from his kayak and the organic vegetables he trades for his excess mackerel. If you’re lucky like Bridget in Newfoundland, and you have friends who are hunters, then you are guaranteed to have moose meat feasts for a while.

A significant number of people strive to be self-sufficient with their electricity and energy needs. This is especially true in Ontario, where we saw solar panels everywhere. Thanks to Ontario’s government subsidies and the FIT program, people see solar panels as an investment and even a source of income. Pat and Sherri, for example, have enough solar panels to supply them with 110% of their annual electricity needs.

Several people we met were self-sufficient for their water needs. At the permaculture farm in Ontario, a pump connected to a solar panel channeled water from Lake Huron to the house and garden. Dany and Maite in Quebec draw water from a well for household use, and obtain their drinking water from a nearby spring.

Health

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: It can go wherever it @#*&ing wants, it’s a free-range chicken!

In Calgary, Alberta, Maria was buying some free-run eggs at the grocery store and the guy behind her in line commented to the cashier about how ridiculous the term sounds in French. They had a full 15-minute discussion about it in franglais. But many people we met were much more interested to know how their food was produced and where it came from.

A lot of people care about staying healthy, and one way they can improve their health is by eating better. Fresh, organic fruit and vegetables are important. Equally important is dairy, fish and meat produced in a healthy environment where animals are fed quality feed without antibiotics or growth hormones. Whether through local food co-ops and farmers’ markets or by growing their own food, many people we met found ways to obtain healthier food.

Several times the topic of vegetarian vs. meat diet came up – which is healthier? Jesse from Quebec became mostly vegetarian after moving to the city from his parents’ organic cattle farm. Fresh organic meat was in abundance when he was growing up but that was not so much the case once he moved to the city. On the other hand, Dwight who used to be vegan started eating local meat and dairy when he moved to Vancouver Island, British Columbia. When choosing between highly processed, genetically-modified soy products from overseas and fresh organic meat from across the street, Dwight prefers the meat.

Some people do encounter challenges with trying to eat healthy food. Everyone seemed to know the story of a couple in Quebec that transformed their front yard into a beautiful vegetable garden, but due to a ridiculous bylaw they were told by the municipality to tear down the garden or face a severe fine. A campaign was launched to save the garden and recent news celebrate their victory! Though it was an intense struggle for the couple, the campaign was all over the news and raised a lot of awareness, which brings us to our final category.

Education and Awareness

Spreading the message about living more sustainably can be a challenge. In some cases, information is not readily available: in New Brunswick, where the Irving family has a monopoly on the forestry and newspaper businesses, news is often biased. Several media co-ops have started up, providing people with a more objective and complete story.

Even when the information is there, it is not always easy to get people to listen. As Jesse from Quebec told us, those who work in inherently unsustainable professions, like mining and oil extraction, avoid the topic because they don’t want to be blamed or feel like they’re doing something wrong. Others, suggests Dany from Quebec, are just resistant to change and don’t dare to do something different. Aaron in Manitoba says that some people are just lazy.

At the same time, we did find several educational initiatives on our way, where dedicated people are taking on these challenges. Aaron in Manitoba started a sustainable campus group at the University of Manitoba to network and share knowledge among students. The permaculture farm on Manitoulin Island in Ontario holds permaculture design courses. Pat in Ontario teaches sustainable building design at Fleming College. Sustainable Antigonish in Nova Scotia invites guest speakers and sets up movie nights to raise awareness and share knowledge.

We also met parents who are passing on knowledge and values to their children. Charlie in Nova Scotia is teaching her kids about growing vegetables. Dany and Maite in Quebec are teaching their son Mateo about re-using by making crafts out of cereal boxes.

So many good things are happening all over Canada. Our project is not a scientific paper: we are not claiming to have gathered an unbiased statistical sample showing the current trends. But every story described and every person encountered is real. We hope that the stories we shared have informed and inspired our readers as much as they inspired us.

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Amanda VS The Plastic

6 Sep

After speaking and planning with the Tour de Sustainability team for over a year about this trip, I hopped on the train with my bike and finally met up with Anya and Maria in Amqui, QC.  As luck would have it, I joined them for the rainiest part of their trip, it rained 3 of the 4 days I was with them from Amqui, QC to Moncton, NB.  It was so great to see Anya and Maria and hear firsthand about all of their experiences during the cycle trip across Canada.  These ladies are machines!!

During our first stop for lunch at a roadside café somewhere near Matapédia, QC we decided to eat outside to continue enjoying the lovely day. Good job we did ’cause it rained for the rest of the afternoon!  Our food came in styrofoam containers just because we were eating outside on the patio. I am sure our table was closer to the kitchen than some of the tables in the dining room.  This got us into a conversation about plastic and how our culture is so quick to use disposable items.  During our continental breakfast the next morning at the hotel (so generously booked for us by some colleagues in Campbellton, Thank You Jocelyn and Bob!) all of the plates, utensils, cups, and condiments were wrapped in and made of plastic! After breakfast we headed off towards Bathurst on a beautiful ride along La Baie de Chaleur.  During the many pedal rotations I decided to write a guest blog for Tour de Sustainability about plastic and Anya has held me to it!

The poster above depicts the way we have come to rationalize using disposable items made of plastic. ‘Throwing it away’ saves time on cleaning and money on staffing.  So where does all of this plastic go when we ‘throw it away’?  While we are currently recovering about 5% of it, much of it eventually makes its way to one of the 5 gyres in our oceans which then gets mistaken for plankton and eaten by sealife which gets absorbed up the food chain and eventually makes it back into our own diets.  So much for ‘throwing it away!’

So big deal if we eat a few pieces of plastic in our seafood.  It shouldn’t change the taste, right?  Well, plastic leaches harmful chemicals within our water systems, wildlife, and in our own bodies!  Here is a cheeky video that might not be too far from reality.

Even the amount we do recycle gets down cycled to less valuable products which eventually end up with the same destiny. It might be time for us to start rethinking the way and frequency with which we use plastic.

Once you start paying attention and avoiding using single use plastic, it becomes second nature.  This goes beyond carrying your own bags to the grocery store, although this is a good start.  This means being ready to refuse certain products if they are packaged in plastic, saying no to straws, bottled water, and using containers instead of plastic wrap. Mason jars are super handy and multi-use! In fact, you will probably even begin to notice that food that isn’t stored in, wrapped in, reheated in, or served on plastic actually tastes better!  If you don’t believe me give it a try for a few weeks.

“Plastics are made to last forever, designed to throw away” 5 gyres.org

If this is something of interest to you and you would like to learn more here’s another great website worth visiting: http://plasticpollutioncoalition.org/

Despite my plastic rant, the bike trip was fantastic.  It felt great to bike through my home province and I felt so accomplished after biking 470km in 4 days and blown away by the enthusiasm in Anya and Maria as they crossed 7000km (now well past 9000km).  Covering distances by bicycle makes our communities, provinces, and even our country feel more scalable to human pace and life.  Way to go Tour de Sustainability – All the best to Anya and Maria on the last leg of their trip!

The Fertile Banks of the St. Lawrence

14 Aug

Cycle touring is great because you often stay in rural places. Our St-Vallier hosts, Dany and Maïté, live in a part of town that’s not even connected to the town’s water supply. The house’s water comes from their well, but it’s not pleasant to drink because of a light sulphur odour. Many people purchase expensive filtration systems, but Dany and Maïté make trips to the nearby woods where there is a natural spring, and get their drinking water from there. Just what we needed after a full day of cycling in the sun!

Maïté has a beautiful vegetable garden in their backyard. She grows variety of veggies including some extra large and very tasty zucchinis. She was full of creative ideas for her garden.

Maïté figured out a three-stage compost system that’s suitable to their house. First, they collect the compost in a bin. Once the bin is full, usually after a year, they transfer it to a raised bed; this year, she planted some zucchinis and geraniums on it for aesthetic appeal. After another year, the ready compost goes into the garden.

The family does without a lawnmower. In the spring, they buy some rabbits and set the rabbit cage on the grass. Once that area has been ‘mowed’ they move the cage to the next area. In the fall, they eat the rabbits, although their 5-year-old son, Matéo, doesn’t know that yet, but is starting to catch on that the rabbits each year are different and it makes him sad.

They also do without herbicides for killing dandelions, and in the early summer their lawn turns bright yellow. Instead of stressing about it and working against nature, they enjoy it.

When you come to a small town on a weeknight, you don’t necessarily expect a beach party. But that’s what we found in Kamouraska. Our hosts, garlic growers from the nearby St-Germain, were celebrating a friend’s birthday, and we were invited!

At the afterparty, we talked to Jesse, who works for Greenpeace. He is cycling around Quebec with a colleague, encouraging people to get involved with Greenpeace. Many people have been very receptive and welcoming, he tells us. However, in Canada people are reluctant in having convesation about the environment: many of them have jobs in industries like mining or oil extraction that are damaging to the environment. So they feel a bit guilty or responsible and do not want to get themselves into a conversation where they will be blamed or accused.

One of the friends had recently butchered his goat, and some of its meat was roasting over the fire. Our conversation naturally turned to food. Jesse had grown up on an organic farm, where fresh, organic meat was a big part of his diet. When he moved away, he realized that grocery store meat is not nearly as good as what he had been eating all his life. He gradually learned to eat mostly vegetarian and stopped buying meat. But Jesse does not promote strict vegetarian diets: he likes to challenge vegans and vegetarians on their values. For example, can a vegetarian eat roadkill, which already died anyway, and is going to waste?

One day Jesse would like to learn to hunt. He says if people got their meat hunting, they would better understand the value and ecological context of the meat they were eating, and would adapt their diet accordingly.

Zen Beneath the Living Skies

19 Jun

Gathering our Zen for cycling through the Province of the Living Skies.

We’ve crossed another border. Though we were told we’d need a lot of zen to get us through the tedium of prairie scenery in Saskatchewan, we are actually enjoying its rolling hills (nope… it’s not really flat) and varied avian life.

 

I imagine these prairies some 65 million years ago: wetlands covered in lush vegetation and crawling with extraordinary creatures. Today, Saskatchewan thrives on their remains: we pass a sign for a museum containing a T. rex skeleton; the prehistoric plants have become oil deposits.

There are only a few larger towns on our way, but they do have campgrounds! This one has a tropical theme.

Can’t afford an all-inclusive in Mexico? No problem!

Where there are towns there’s couchsurfing. We landed a couch at Emily’s in Swift Current. Emily gets a lot of couch requests from cyclists: we are now on the main route for transcontinental tours. She was interested in Tour de Sustainability, and shared her own perspective with us.

Some time ago, Emily saw a presentation by the Otesha Project, and was inspired to make changes in her life to reduce waste. It’s ridiculous, she says, how many things are thrown out so that the owners can keep up with the latest and greatest. Emily loves garage sales and thrift shops; there, she can get treasures for cheap and use them again instead of them ending up in the landfill.

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