By: Gabrielle McLaren, Features Editor
In mid-May, the city of Vancouver announced that, by June 1, 2019, it will ban plastic straws and white styrofoam cups and containers. This is the first ban of its kind in Canada. Though we have over a year to enjoy straws until they’re gone, there’s no reason not to start adapting right away.
There’s no denying that corporations are responsible for the bulk of pollution: The Climate Accountability Institute found that a set of just 90 companies was responsible for two-thirds of the green house emissions changing our environment. Still, we can all hold on to exercise our individual agency and mitigate our personal environmental footprints, even with our limited time and budget. Below, you’ll find a far-from-exhaustive list of tips to live greener, as well as links to handy knick-knacks that can help reduce your environmental impact.
Reduce your food waste
According to Environment Canada, 40% of the residential waste generated in Canada is actually biodegradable, like food. While we instinctively understand that filling up landfills is bad, the trouble with organic waste is that it releases methane as it decomposes, a gas that plays a particularly big part in global warming. When you think of it, you’re also wasting all the energy it took to produce and transport that food, as well as the money you spent on it. So here are some ways to reduce your food waste:
- Take time to plan your meals at the start of the week, before you go grocery shopping. This means that you’re much less likely to buy more food than you can consume. As a bonus, it also means that you’ll have lunches and snacks on hand to bring to campus — which will allow you to avoid pit-stops at Tim Hortons or Simon C that can weigh down your wallet and generate more plastic and paper wrappings.
- Find out how to properly store your produce, so that it doesn’t go bad before you have a chance to consume it. This guide may help.
- A major culprit of food waste is things dying inside your fridge without you realizing that they’re there, so nipping that habit can go a long way. Keep your fridge organized to avoid realizations like “oh shit, that’s been there a while, hiding behind the yogurt.”
- Label the leftovers in your fridge: that way, you make sure you’ll eat them before they go bad.
- Keep a list on your fridge of what’s inside so you don’t forget things that need to be eaten.
- If your accommodations allow it, try composting! While composting is harder if you live in an apartment, there are online guides outlining how to make tidy, odourless indoor compost bins, though you can also buy premade composting systems.
BYOP — Bring Your Own Plastic
The most common types of garbage in the ocean are all single-use plastic products: plastic cutlery, plastic bags, plastic bottles, straws, beverage cans, food wrappers . . . while some of these things are hard to avoid since we all grab the occasional power snack between classes, others are easier to navigate.
Carrying a set of utensils in the bottom of your bag, a cloth bag in case you stop by the store on your way home, and a water bottle or travel mug to get coffee or pop can make a difference. Bringing your own plastic does require a little bit of planning, but to make the extra bagage worth your time, you can hit up franchises that have Bring Your Own Mug discounts, including Tim Hortons and Starbucks, both at 10 cents per drink.
Cut your carbon emission
You’ve heard it all before: take the bus instead of driving, blah blah blah . . . But another way to limit your carbon emissions is to shop locally. This basically means reducing how far your stuff has to travel to get to you. Vancouver is a really easy place to eat local, with the climate temperate enough to grow produce nearly year-round. Check out which local fruit and vegetable markets are highly rated near you.
Another green shopping tip is to buy in bulk. While it may seem like a hassle to drag your mason jars and bags to Bulk Barn, buying in bulk means that you skip out on the packaging and that you can opt for a small quantity of balsamic vinegar, pecans, or whatever else it is that you need, instead of ending up with a giant quantity.
Formerly called Zero Waste Market, Nada is preparing to open a location on Broadway on June 20. Once they’re open, you’ll be able to bring empty containers from home and fill them up. You can get three eggs instead of a dozen, a pasta-sauce-jar full of granola, and so on, and so on…
Changes to make around the house
While it may not always be easy to live in a green home if you’re living in your parents’ house or renting an apartment that’s already furnished, you do have options. Some you’ve heard before: buy energy-efficient LED bulbs next time you need them, open a window before turning on the AC, layer up before turning on the heating, and keep your showers to the minimum. Right. But here are some lesser-known options:
- Cold-wash your clothes. You save the energy that’s needed to heat water that, after all, is only going to wash your clothes.
- Be mindful of the products you’re using, since they always end up going back to the earth or water somehow. Arm & Hammer makes an affordable biodegradable laundry detergent, for example. A quick Google will show you all your options, but if this is something that you’re interested in, it’s worth taking the time to do your homework and check the validity of “green” versions of products so that you don’t get duped, especially if it means you end up paying more for nothing.
- While we think of thrift stores as destinations to shop for clothes, they’re also a gold mine for pots, pans, cutlery, plates, glasses, cutting boards, and other kitchen necessities. This is also music to the student budget’s ears.
- If you’re still receiving bills in the mail, most places will let you switch to an email-only option.
- When you’re tackling laundry, wait until you have a full load to save on water and energy. You can also hang clothes to dry.
- Doing as much of your cooking or baking as possible in one day means that you only have to preheat your oven once, or fill up your sink for dishes that one day. For exhausted students, this can also translate to meal-prepping: taking one day to cook for the whole week, so you don’t have to worry about it more than necessary. Pinterest will happily tell you everything you need to know about meal-prepping.
Ways to help at school…
There’s only so much you can do about school. If your professor wants the assignment printed, you print it, and if they don’t want laptops in their class, you’re taking notes by hand.
You can inch towards a paperless education by reading textbooks and assigned work digitally. A lot of the older texts you’ll read in an English or World Literature class are available online for free, through Project Gutenberg, the Kindle Store, or Apple iBooks.
When you walk up to a recycling bin on campus, make sure to separate your materials properly. You can recycle the Iced Capp container, but not the straw; soiled paper goes in compost, not the paper bin — little things like that. This February, the Edmonton Journal reported that recycling in Edmonton had actually failed because of contaminated bins. When SFU installed these bins in 2014, the goal was to eliminate 70% of the university’s waste within the next year, but the system only works if we work too.
When you wander into the world of shopping green, make sure to be brand-smart and strategic about your choices. As Daily Mail reports, research has shown that eating organic may not necessarily be better for the environment, since cutting out pesticides means that more land is needed for a comparative yield — leading to soil erosion and to the destruction of natural habitats . . . Furthermore, companies and businesses that claim to be green often have complicated motives and may not always be delivering . . .
Be a smart consumer and do your research before paying extra for an environmentally friendly product that may not be as great as advertised. Education and knowledge have been a noted tool in environmental protection and awareness.
Closer to home, SFU boasts the only interdisciplinary Faculty of Environment in Western Canada (and one of few in Canada), as well as Embark — a student society dedicated entirely to sustainable living and education on campus. In the words of environmentalist, advocate, and educator David Suzuki, “If we humans are good at anything, it’s thinking we’ve got a terrific idea and going for it without acknowledging the potential consequences or our own ignorance.”
Cool products that can help
Everybody’s different and lives differently. Over the course of a week, keep a list of all the garbage you throw away. Not only is it a good consciousness-raising exercise, but it also helps you figure out what you’re throwing out in particular. It’s a practical place to start figuring out what you can replace with a reusable alternative. These products are worth checking out:
- Cloth snack and sandwich bags make a good replacement for convenient Ziplocs. They don’t take up a lot of space in your bag, and you can throw them in the washing machine for a quick and easy wash. There’s a million brands and patterns and colours available online, but I like these Colibri Bags because they actually zip shut.
- FinalStraw is a collapsible, reusable straw that comes in its own reusable case that you can clip onto your keychain. You’ll always have it with you, and you’ll have a place to store it once it’s been used. However, it will only be shipping in November of this year. Until then, you can find stainless steel alternatives on Amazon, at Home Hardware, or Bed Bath and Beyond.
- Menstrual cups are being praised as an environmentally-friendly alternative to pads and tampons for those who are comfortable using them. There’s a slew of brands, all reviewed here.
- You know those plastic bags you put your produce in at the grocery store? No more! Flip & Tumble has a set of 5 bags available on Amazon. They hold a decent amount of produce, tighten to open and close easily, and are made of mesh which adds no weight at the checkout.
- LUSH has started making shampoo bars, which means that you get to skip the packaging on shampoo bottles. You can stop by any of their locations and ask for a sample: that way, you can test them against your hair type and check for ingredient lists and any scent sensitivities you might have.
- Bamboo has emerged as a sturdy, reliable, biodegradable alternative to plastic, including for toothbrushes.
- Invest in some reusable batteries for any devices you have that require them. Batteries are incredibly complicated to recycle, plus you can’t just throw them away and always end up with a stash in some drawer somewhere. While they may cost more the first time you purchase them, you’ll save some money in the long-run.