Thursday, December 18, 2008

Getting Around

Ordinarily, under this topic, I would encourage the use of public transit, or cycling as means of getting around. However, because of the current OC Transpo strike, and the winter weather, neither of those options are possible during the winter (although my hat goes off to any who continue to cycle year-round).

With cycling not an option for many in the winter, and public transit off the table for now, most are using cars to get around. Carpooling can help, and is an excellent way of getting to and from work, but during the Christmas season, many of us have errands to run, shopping to do, and relatives to visit – carpooling may not be possible in these cases. What can be done to easily reduce the environmental impact of car use?

Reduce Idling, Reduce Emissions
Idling your vehicle literally gets you nowhere – and costs money. A 1998 study on Canadian driving habits suggests that on average, we idle our vehicles for 3 minutes per day. According to Natural Resources Canada, If we were to eliminate just that 3 minutes per day, that would save each driver 33 liters per year, and abate about 76kg of carbon dioxide emissions. To put that in perspective, on a national scale, that represents an annual emissions reduction of 1.4 million tons, and a savings of around $550 million per year (at current fuel prices).

Any more than ten seconds of idling uses more fuel than is required to start a fuel-injected engine. However, factoring in wear on the starter motor and battery, that jumps to about one minute. So, as a guideline, if you are going to be stopped for more than a minute (except in traffic), turn off the engine.

But I Need to Warm Up My Car Before I Drive…
Contrary to popular belief, excessive idling is not an effective way to warm up your vehicle, even in cold weather. Warming up the vehicle means more than warming the engine. The tires, transmission, wheel bearings and other moving parts also need to be warmed up for the vehicle to perform well. The best way to warm it up is to drive it.

What Else Can I Do?
A poorly-tuned engine uses up to 15 percent more energy when idling than a well-tuned engine. Keeping your vehicle properly maintained according to the manufacturer's suggested maintenance schedule is a key to fuel efficiency and reduced GHG emissions.

To minimize idle times in traffic, try running errands in the off-hours – most retail stores have Christmas season hours in effect, meaning they’re open earlier, and later. Take advantage of this to avoid busy parking lots.

Here in Ottawa, with the transit strike still in effect, long waits in traffic are almost unavoidable. However, by carpooling, changing your commute time to a little earlier or a little later, and telecommuting, you can still reduce emissions and idling time.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Recycling (and the other two Rs)

Recycling – Not Just for Paper and Plastic
Engrained into the minds of many people early in life as one of the “Three Rs”, recycling is one of the easiest ways individuals can lessen their environmental impact. While the City of Ottawa already provides recycling services with the Blue Box and Black Box programs (combined, they have generated $53 million in revenue for the city in the last 8 years), these programs don’t address many of the larger, and more environmentally damaging items people dispose of.

Major culprits, in terms of damaging disposal, are electronic components – things like TVs, computers, video game systems, tape decks, etcetera. As technology improves and becomes more affordable, households are replacing electronic components much more regularly than ever before – and often tossing the old ones in the trash.

A local company, Twenty Twelve Electronics Recycling (TTER) was set up in 2005 to address exactly this issue. According to TTER, electronic equipment contains toxic materials like barium, beryllium, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, lead, mercury, and phosphorus that can leach into groundwater from landfill sites. Many garbage programs will not accept electronic equipment, even at their hazardous waste depots. Recycling these items will save the environment from toxins and comply with municipal, provincial, and federal regulations regarding disposal.

Reduce: Easier than we Think
Even easier than recycling is reducing the amount of waste we generate. While there are a number of ways to reduce our production of garbage, some of the best areas to focus on are our eating habits. A large portion of the trash in landfills is directly related to food: plastic grocery bags, paper plates, and disposable lunch packaging, just to start. A few quick (and mostly free) changes individuals and households can easily make to dramatically reduce the garbage they produce include:

* Buy in bulk to reduce packaging.
* Bring your own cotton shopping bags to the grocery store.
* Reuse your plastic grocery bags.
* Use and re-use cloth napkins, towels and rags instead of paper towels.
* Buy serviceable or quality items and avoid single-use items.
* Don't buy produce or baking goods in non-recyclable plastic containers
* Buy products that are made from recycled materials or in recycled packaging.
* Use and re-use regular plates, utensils, and cups instead of paper and plastic.
* Use a travel mug or a thermos for your coffee

Your Input
Community-based change comes from awareness and participation. By keeping these topics easy, effective, and to the point, I hope to encourage exactly that sort of change in a 'ground-up' sort of way. Please feel free to post a comment on whether this has helped at all, or on what you already do to reduce and recycle your household waste

Friday, December 5, 2008


My name is Alex Monk. I'm a life-long Kanata resident, a student at Carleton University, and a candidate in the CBC's competition "Canada's Next Great Prime Minister".
Part of this competition is encouraging community action, in accordance with the candidate's original entry platform. In my case, an important part of my campaign is a need to encourage a grassroots 'green communities' movement.
Meaningful and long-term change comes gradually, from the individual level. By encouraging individuals in my community to share their own actions and views on environmentally friendly progress, while supplementing with suggestions and information on what sort of actions make a real difference, I hope to further exactly the sort of community based movement that yields long term success.