Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Season's Greenings!

All over the world, December and January are traditionally times of celebration and renewal. From winter solstice festivals, to Hanukkah and Christmas, to Diwali and Kwanzaa, to New Year’s Eve, people come together to share holiday cheer this time of year. However you celebrate, most of these traditions share the common themes of family, togetherness, and generosity.

In recent years people have tended to go to excess throughout the holidays, from eating and drinking to elaborate decorations and gifts. North Americans produce 25-30% more garbage than usual this time of year, and much of that excess waste can be avoided without taking away from the enjoyment of the season. Whatever your holiday traditions are, winter can also be a great time to think about the planet and how you can make a little less waste and a little more merriment.

Here are some tips for greening your holiday season:

If you’re buying new lights this year, invest in LEDs. They use about 90% less energy than incandescent strings, and they last for something close to forever. Also use a power bar that you can easily turn on and off, and a timer so that your outdoor lights will turn off in the morning. Old incandescent strings can be recycled, and if you’re concerned with power consumption, make sure to recycle your old strings when you buy new LEDs.


Ah, the tree. A centerpiece of the holiday season for many families, the tree debate has been going on since the invention of the artificial tree. Sometimes, though, the traditional way is still the best for the environment.

Real or fake?

If you don’t already own an artificial Christmas tree, it’s best not to invest in one. Artificial trees are made with PVC (polyvinyl chloride) which is neither biodegradable nor recyclable, and will one day end up in a landfill indefinitely. Real trees grow back, create oxygen, are 100% biodegradable. Just be conscious of where you’re getting it from, and if you can, buy a potted tree that can be replanted.

Recycling your tree

Most municipalities offer Christmas tree recycling, either by curbside pickup or drop-off at locations near your home. Check with your city as to the dates and methods of recycling.


Natural decorations 

Items like sprigs of real holly and pine branches can make beautiful decorations for mantles and doorways, and can be shaped into wreaths.

Antique or vintage ornaments 

Older ornaments and other second- or third-hand holiday decorations can be cheaper, more unique, and more sustainable than new ones. Fortunately, most folks save ornaments and reuse them for years.


Making your own decorations can be fun and easy, and a great way to save money and reduce waste! They can be made from a variety of items such as old wrapping paper, popcorn, greeting cards, newspapers, and other colorful household items, and they can give your home a unique look over the holidays.

Shopping & Gifts

In Canada, the annual waste produced just from shopping bags and gift wrap is equal to about 545,000 tonnes annually. Bring a shopping bag or three with you, and think twice before accepting all the extras, like boxes and tissue paper.
Steer clear of disposable and gag gifts. For those small gifts for acquaintances and relatively unknown relatives, try making a gift, baking a gift, or bringing something consumable and recyclable like a bottle of wine.

Think about giving experiences, rather than stuff. Lessons or classes, or a membership to a gym or yoga studio, or even a subscription to an online magazine will usually be appreciated more than another nick-nack. 

Of course, for those tangible gifts that you want to wrap, be conscious of how and where the items are made. Try to stick to locally made, sustainable gifts that are recycled, biodegradable, etc.

For green gift ideas, check look online. A couple of good places to start are:

Treehugger’s gift guide -


For those tangible presents that need to be wrapped, get creative! Try:

Reusable items like pieces of cloth or the newspaper funny pages;

Wrapping box tops and bottoms separately, so you can reuse them next year; and

Making gift tags from old Christmas cards or scraps of wrapping paper.

Getting Around

Between shopping, family visits, and holiday parties, you’re probably all over the place this season. Try to think about your footprint as you go, and think about making actual footprints by walking, biking, taking transit or carpooling as much as you can.

To help reduce waste (and save you time!) do as many errands as you can in one trip, so you’re not driving back and forth across town. This will save on gas and help the environment as well as your wallet.

Heating & Cooking

Canadian energy consumption is extremely high per capita, higher even than the United States, but only 18.1% of our electricity comes from fossil fuel sources. It is possible that this cheap, relatively clean source of power has led us to be more wasteful of energy than we would otherwise be. Being aware of your energy use over the holidays is a great start to reducing your overall consumption for the year.

It’s true what they say: the more, the merrier! The more people you have in one place, the warmer you’ll be. Also, at this time of year, everyone will likely be dressed in warm attire, so there’s no need to crank up the heat. Furthermore, all that cooking can’t help but heat the place up a little as well. And don’t forget your Christmas sweater! Those are sure to keep you cozy this time of year.

To save additional energy, try not to leave the oven door open unless you’re actually putting something in or taking something out. The same goes for your home doors as well, and remember to turn everything off when all is said and done!

Baked, fried, boiled, or broiled, food is a central component to any holiday gathering. Here are a few tips to help you help the environment, and often your budget, too.

To keep your holiday low-impact, buy local food when you can. Local farmers’ markets often have great winter vegetables at this time of year. To find a local Canadian farmers’ market, check out Farmer’s Markets Canada.

Bring your own grocery bags. They’re both bigger and stronger than disposable plastic bags, and you can use them again and again.
Buy food with minimal packaging, and skip the small plastic bags for fruits and veggies.

Try to buy in bulk, especially for non-perishables. This may seem counterintuitive, but will avoid the excess waste generated by individually packaged items.

Use real cutlery, plates, and napkins. The disposable kind make cleanup easy, but they also generate a mountain of garbage. Real wine glasses and dinnerware also add a touch of class to any gathering.

Whatever your plans are for travelling  gifting, eating, and general merry-making are this holiday season, you can still have an amazing time while taking care of your environment!

Monday, 10 December 2012

How to Go Green at School

Steps for going green are adaptable and can be applied anywhere you can fit them. You can translate what you already know about going green at home and use it to go green at school! Simple actions such as: 

  • turning off lights and electronics when they are not in use;
  • buying energy efficient light bulbs and electronic systems;
  • using environmentally friendly cleaning products; and
  • turning down the heat are all important actions that can be done both at home and school. 

These smalls steps can have significant impacts, and on such a large scale as the school system they can be highly influential. There are more than 1 million computers being used in Canadian schools, and the average desktop computer is estimated to consume 420 kilowatts of power each year; the energy savings that result from turning them off can quickly add up!

In addition to our steps for going green at home, you can also apply any or all of these to your school:

For Students/ Parents

Bus, carpool, or walk

As mentioned in our previous blog post on going Back to School - The Green Way, try to do your best to reduce the amount you drive your individual kids to and from school to reduce your driving emissions. One popular way is to enroll your children in a school bus program. School buses reduce a great amount of emissions, especially if they're newer and up to date with the current emission-reducing standards. You can also choose to organize or join a carpool program and alternate with neighbours to drive a group of children at one time. If you live nearby, get your children to ride their bike or walk to school! A co-op walk team can help keep your kids safe by having groups walk together and alternating parent escorts if needed. 

Re-use school supplies or buy recycled or renewable ones

Take time to look at the supplies you already have and see what can be re-used. You do not always need to buy new pens and pencils when you still have some that are usable. You can easily re-use old binders by taking the contents out, and if only a few pages of an old notebook have been written on you can just discard them and re-use it. 

If the purchase of new supplies is necessary, many major retailers carry recycled and renewable school supplies such as biodegradable pencils, as well as recycled notebooks, paper, and binders. Paper Mate is offering biodegradable pencils that are offered at many major retailers, such as Staples. There is also Ecojot, which offer notebooks, journals, sketchbooks, and more made entirely from post-consumer waste. For more eco-friendly school supply brands check out what Practically Green has to offer here.

When looking for a new backpack, look for both an environmentally as well as child friendly backpack; one that’s made from recycled material and is padded to prevent back pain. You can check out The Ultimate Green Store or Ecocentric Bags to find some of the cool green backpacks being offered.

Making smart, economical decisions about school supplies can go a long way in saving your money and reducing production and waste emissions that result from purchasing new and non- recycled supplies.

Pack a waste free lunch

The average child is said to produce 67 pounds of trash at lunch per year! Through packing a waste-free lunch at home, energy emissions, meal costs, and the waste produced are all reduced. Pack lunches for your child using reusable utensils, containers, napkins, sandwich bags, water bottles and lunch boxes to avoid trash generation. Watch this short video by the Recycling Council of Ontario to learn how to shop for a waste free lunch 

Reuse wrapping paper, paper bags, or newspaper for book covers

Many schools require kids to cover their books and it is a good idea to do it to prevent the wear and tear of them. Instead of buying a manufactured cover, or using new paper to cover them, you can reuse paper bags, newspapers, old wrapping paper, or even outdated maps. Using old paper products will save trees and water, as well as reduce air and water pollution. If you need some help making one, Crafting a Green World has a good tutorial on how to fashion your book covers from paper bags (it can also be applied for newspapers, wrapping paper, and maps too).

Educators/ Administrators

Grow a school garden

By building a school garden you can create opportunities to teach students about ecology, sustainable agriculture, and nutrition. Growing food and native plants also helps kids connect with the source of their food, and problems such as grocery transport emissions, and food waste issues. Plant herbs, fruits, and vegetables that are easy to grow, pick, and cook. You can use them in students’ lunches, cooking classes, or even in your school’s cafeteria! You can use this School Garden Checklist for tips on how to create a garden for your students. If you cannot grow an outdoor garden you can still bring plants and their educational opportunities into your classroom by using indoor plant containers.


By composting you can help the environment by naturally recycling a large amount of your school’s waste into nutrient-rich soil. You can use the soil produced from it for your school’s flowers, trees, shrubs or even vegetable garden. Composting reduces landfill greenhouse gas emissions and toxins, as well as reduces the amount of space required for landfills. Composting presents a good opportunity to educate on the connections between food, waste and humankind’s impact on the planet. Additionally, it educates on the impact that many small but important biological interactions in nature have; they ultimately make our lives possible through recycling essential life-giving nutrients. If composting outside cannot be done at your school, consider getting a worm bin for your class. For more information and a guide to easy composting visit our Composting for a Greener Future page.

Recycle while raising funds for your school

Recycling reduces the size and affect of landfills, helps conserve natural resources, decreases pollution, saves energy, and can earn money for your school! How does it work? Your school can collect items such as beverage containers or electronics and give them to programs like Encorp’s Return It program (for schools in BC) whom then pay your school money and responsibly recycle the items. Think Recycle is another school recycling program which accepts electronics such as laptops, toner cartridges, inkjet cartridges, and digital cameras. Also, remember to put in place easily accessible recycling bins for other paper and plastic wastes.

Use recycled paper products and use both sides of paper

Make a policy for your classroom or school that urges students and teachers to use recycled paper as well as print, write, or draw on both sides of the paper. You can even set the school’s printers to duplex mode to ensure double sided printing. Whenever possible, be sure to use recycled paper towel, toilet paper, envelopes, and tissues. As a result you will lighten your environmental footprint by saving trees, water, energy, and landfill space!

If your school is able to go the extra mile, you can also dramatically reduce your class’s paper footprint by using digital textbooks instead of printed ones! Touted as the way of the future, going digital helps reduce the burden on paper and can even improve learning and teaching.

Make your school a "no-idling zone"

To avoid unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions you can create a policy that urges parents, bus drivers, and anyone else who visits your school to turn their vehicles off while waiting. According to Friends of the Earth, Canadians idle away $1.3 million in greenhouse-gas-producing fuel each year! Turning idling vehicles off immediately can go a long way in reducing this amount.

Teach students about the environment and sustainability

Teachers play a significant role in encouraging environmental thinkers for society; in a few short years your students will be helping to decide the fate of the planet. Teach kids simple things such as the principles of zero-waste, the carbon footprint calculations of their commute to school, the basic science behind climate change, and the benefits of making decisions for the planet as well as themselves. Steps like growing your own food, supporting local businesses, buying second hand, and minimizing waste can make a big difference when practised for a lifetime. Teaching children about the planet early can help inspire kids to think and learn more about the world around them and humankind’s significant impacts on it. The basic skills and knowledge students learn today can grow into planet-saving capabilities they could put into use tomorrow!

You can check out these easy ways to get kids thinking about the environment early, use these Renewable Energy Documentaries and films by The Story of Stuff project to environmentally engage students, and visit the rest of our blog for more information on many other green topics to reference in the classroom.

Remember to stay tuned to our Twitter account for daily green updates as well as our special #TeacherTuesday tweets for eco-friendly education!

Some other helpful environmental teaching resources are: