Monthly Earth Hour

By on August 15th, 2008

When I think of August a few favourite activies come to mind…floating on Lake Okanagan… drinking a cold beer on a busy patio… sneaking fresh berries and peaches into every meal…the list goes on. While these activities sound harmless and fun, they would all be considered no-no’s (or at least major challenges) for Christine Jeavans who has given up plastic for the month of August. Plastic floaties, plastic chairs, plastic packaging. Even the beer caps have plastic in them, according to Christine.

I first came across Chris’s story in BBC’s news magazine, where she published a list of plastic waste that her family of three used in one month. In her own words, the list of 603 items “isn’t pretty”. Here’s her abridged version:

  • 36 carrier bags
  • 67 food packaging bags and films such as bread bags, cheese wrappers (and a jumbo pack of Maltesers!)
  • 23 polystyrene tea cups with lids and 24 coffee cup lids
  • 15 fruit punnets and vegetable trays
  • 13 yoghurt pots
  • 16 water bottles, 10 milk bottles, 7 juice bottles
  • Two toothbrushes

Toothbrushes? That might make some of you laugh, and I admit to thinking that this was a bit extreme. But after a glance at some of Christine’s posts in her blog I came across this fascinating anecdote:

“Scientists studying seabirds in the North Pacific have found toothbrushes (and many other plastic objects) in the stomachs of dead birds.”

Christine’s list got me thinking about how much plastic my own family uses in the span of one month. With my 16 year old stepson here for the summer, there are at least 7 extra single sized water bottles in our recycling box every Sunday night, not to mention twice the amount of milk jugs and juice containers. It’s hard to convince a thirsty teenager that watering down the apple juice is better for his health, not to mention that it reduces our family’s environmental impact.

Am I going to switch my family to wooden toothbrushes, and join Chris’s “plastic-free-wagon,” no. But the story did remind me that all of the little plastic pieces can really add up, and that one person’s commitment, even for a short time, can make a difference. If there’s one thing that drives me bonkers these days it is the criticism others give to those who are merely trying to do their own small part for the earth. A quick glance at Chris or Danni’s blog and you’ll find plenty of people wasting their energy with negative comments. But, let’s focus on the positive comments like this one to Chris from a Texan named Jeremy. He congratulates Chris on her effort and reminds readers that “coffee and tea should be enjoyed sitting, not on the go.”

I’m happy that we live in a city where most of the items on Chris’s list are recyclable, including the recent addition of plastic bags and yogurt pots which go straight into our blue box. However, I am still interested in reducing our plastic use wherever we can. I’m in the process of thinking of my own plastic pledge, which I hope to tie into my family’s monthly-earth-hour challenge at the end of August. Stay tuned. And if you have made a personal commitment to the environment, whether big or small, we want to hear about it here!

“And yet we used to manage without all this plastic. In the 1950s, less than five million tonnes of plastic was produced worldwide, today it is close to 100 million tonnes.” Christine Jeavans

By on July 26th, 2008

I missed the actual Earth Hour this year. Earth Hour, as you probably know, was started in 2007 in Sydney Australia as an experiment to see how much electricity could be saved if everyone in the city was asked to cut down or eliminate their electrical usage for one hour. (See the before and after photos to the right.) The idea was to raise a little awareness of our individual and collective use of energy. This year, on the last Saturday in March, dozens of cities around the globe participated. It was a raging success, by all accounts.

Of course there are skeptics who note that cities like Sydney really only cut their power consumption for the hour by 15%, and that there was a corresponding spike in electricity demand in the hours before Earth Hour — as if everyone just decided to run their dishwasher early in order to avoid the designated hour. Even given these cranky naysayers, I do believe that the experiment is a good one, even if it’s just to make everyone a little more aware of how they use electricity in their own house.

So, since I missed Earth Hour, I decided to try my own. I even thought I might make it a monthly event, as suggested by talkgreen’s Tara Benwell.

We tried it this past Thursday night. I made sure to schedule it on a night when my 14-year-old stepson was with us, and also made sure it was after dark for full effect. I thought the stepson would hate the idea, but when we decided we would turn off everything and then play a board game, he was surprisingly into it. Even better, he chose the game “Clue,” a murder mystery game, perfect for playing by candlelight. It just so happened that my mother-in-law was also with us, so it was a big family affair.

As the appointed time approached, everyone actually seemed to be looking forward to it. “Is it time yet?” I was asked more than once. When the hour arrived, we all rushed madly around the house turning off lights and unplugging televisions. I thought I had explained that only things that can’t be shut off (like TVs that constantly draw power) need to be unplugged, but I guess I wasn’t very clear since my wife and her son went around happily unplugging everything.

Here’s the “lazy man” part: we wimped out a little, I’m ashamed to say, when it came to things that were a little more difficult. If I unplugged the yard’s sprinkler system, I explained to my wife, I will just have to reprogram it — a pain in the neck. So we left it on. And, we could not figure out to shut off the little digital clock in the oven — wired in the wall somewhere. But still: when we started the hour, the little wheel in our electrical usage meter was spinning madly, and when we were done it had slowed to a crawl. We felt pretty good.

The rest of the hour was spent playing “Clue” as Lincoln would have, by the light of several candles. This was probably the first activity that the four of us — me, my wife, her Mom, and my stepson — had participated in together for months. So, dear readers, you don’t even have to care about the environment: Earth Hour is good for family togetherness!

Now one other thing I must admit: we didn’t even make it to the full hour. I had promised to take everyone out for ice cream when the hour was done, as a reward, and the second game of “Clue” ended with five minutes left to go in the hour. We all looked at each other, then jumped up and headed for Baskin-Robbins. Yay!

Tune in next month, in which I commit to turning off the electric sprinkler system, even if it means I then have to reprogram it. I really want to see if we can get that spinning electric meter wheel to stop entirely.

By on July 26th, 2008

I missed the actual Earth Hour this year. Earth Hour, as you probably know, was started in 2007 in Sydney Australia as an experiment to see how much electricity could be saved if everyone in the city was asked to cut down or eliminate their electrical usage for one hour. (See the before and after photos to the right.) The idea was to raise a little awareness of our individual and collective use of energy. This year, on the last Saturday in March, dozens of cities around the globe participated. It was a raging success, by all accounts.

Of course there are skeptics who note that cities like Sydney really only cut their power consumption for the hour by 15%, and that there was a corresponding spike in electricity demand in the hours before Earth Hour — as if everyone just decided to run their dishwasher early in order to avoid the designated hour. Even given these cranky naysayers, I do believe that the experiment is a good one, even if it’s just to make everyone a little more aware of how they use electricity in their own house.

So, since I missed Earth Hour, I decided to try my own. I even thought I might make it a monthly event, as suggested by talkgreen’s Tara Benwell.

We tried it this past Thursday night. I made sure to schedule it on a night when my 14-year-old stepson was with us, and also made sure it was after dark for full effect. I thought the stepson would hate the idea, but when we decided we would turn off everything and then play a board game, he was surprisingly into it. Even better, he chose the game “Clue,” a murder mystery game, perfect for playing by candlelight. It just so happened that my mother-in-law was also with us, so it was a big family affair.

As the appointed time approached, everyone actually seemed to be looking forward to it. “Is it time yet?” I was asked more than once. When the hour arrived, we all rushed madly around the house turning off lights and unplugging televisions. I thought I had explained that only things that can’t be shut off (like TVs that constantly draw power) need to be unplugged, but I guess I wasn’t very clear since my wife and her son went around happily unplugging everything.

Here’s the “lazy man” part: we wimped out a little, I’m ashamed to say, when it came to things that were a little more difficult. If I unplugged the yard’s sprinkler system, I explained to my wife, I will just have to reprogram it — a pain in the neck. So we left it on. And, we could not figure out to shut off the little digital clock in the oven — wired in the wall somewhere. But still: when we started the hour, the little wheel in our electrical usage meter was spinning madly, and when we were done it had slowed to a crawl. We felt pretty good.

The rest of the hour was spent playing “Clue” as Lincoln would have, by the light of several candles. This was probably the first activity that the four of us — me, my wife, her Mom, and my stepson — had participated in together for months. So, dear readers, you don’t even have to care about the environment: Earth Hour is good for family togetherness!

Now one other thing I must admit: we didn’t even make it to the full hour. I had promised to take everyone out for ice cream when the hour was done, as a reward, and the second game of “Clue” ended with five minutes left to go in the hour. We all looked at each other, then jumped up and headed for Baskin-Robbins. Yay!

Tune in next month, in which I commit to turning off the electric sprinkler system, even if it means I then have to reprogram it. I really want to see if we can get that spinning electric meter wheel to stop entirely.

By on July 23rd, 2008

If you’re a parent like me, you’ve likely ended up with more stuffed animals than your children need. There will always be those few favourites that collect at the head or foot of your child’s bed and end up in keepsake boxes in basements to be found as treasures by subsequent generations. But due to birthdays, holidays, and not-so-special occasions, there are also dozens that your children likely pay little or no attention to and never will. Parent to parent, we all know that most of these misfits do not get adopted at your annual garage sale. (Though some do get rescued by our own children, or their pals, only to end up back in the same dark closet.)
For hygienic reasons, many thrift shops no longer accept old stuffies, no matter how ugly or cute they may be. You may also have difficulty finding a place to donate towels, blankets, baby pools, and cleaning supplies. I recently learned from a mom friend that the SPCA and other similar shelters welcome items such as stuffed animals that you may think belong in no other bin but the trash. This was great news, as my pile of “we don’t take that” was getting bigger by the day.
Whether you’re moving, downsizing, or doing your summer cleaning, now may be the time to contact your local animal shelter to find out which of the items below are on their wish list. Before you drop off your stuff, be sure to contact your local shelter to make sure your donations will be accepted.

SPCA Wish List

Animal Needs:

Office Supplies:

  • Paper (letter, legal)
  • Cartridges
  • Scotch Tape
  • Whiteout
  • All Occasions Greetings Cards
  • Stamps
  • Legal size file folders
  • Gift Cards from local retail stores

Seasonal:

  • Small children paddling pools
  • Planters

Have you and your family started a monthly Earth Hour yet? July 26th is the last Saturday of the month. Why not call your local shelter and find out what they are in need of? As you go around the house turning lights and power bars off for the evening, why not collect a few donations for your local animal shelter. You may find that your children are less attached to those unnamed teddies if they know they’re going to be the new best friend for an orphaned puppy or kitten.

WARNING: You may be asked by the shelter to poke out the eyes and noses of those stuffies to prevent choking hazards for the real animals. This may be an activity you want to save until after bedtime!

By on June 26th, 2008

What better way to celebrate Earth Hour with your kids than with a little Dr. Seuss? Including an earth friendly bedtime story in your monthly earth hour ritual is a great way to get kids on the green page. And no, I’m not talking about serving green eggs and ham for a bedtime snack. This Saturday, my family will be delving into The Lorax, a seventies classic which was once denounced by the American logging industry. This colourful story, is a great way to introduce children to the dangers associated with consumption.

In this story a young boy learns about a fluffy tree called the Truffula that once grew wild in a forest and provided a home for numerous Suessy creatures. A man named the “Once-ler” explains to the child how he discovered that the fluffy Truffula tree could be used for knitting “Thneeds” (objects that all people need). Despite protests from “the Lorax” the Once-ler watches his business grow and grow until the sky turns grey and there is only one seed left.

As with all Seuss books, The Lorax can be enjoyed at different levels by children and adults of all ages. This book may be the key to convincing your children (or spouse) that they don’t thneed anything new to play with this summer. Maybe they will be inspired to help you plants some seeds beneath the blue sky instead of going shopping.

Other Recommended Reading for Kids

Here are a few other kids’ stories that deal with ecological concerns. Look for these in your local libary or bookstore, and make sure to have one on hand at the end of each month for Earth Hour.

Recycle Every Day By Nancy Elizabeth Wallace
A bunny named Minna has a school assignment to make a poster about recycling.

The Great Trash Bash By Loreen Leedy.
Mayor Hippo and his animal citizens investigate the trash problems in Beaston.

The Tower to the Sun By Colin Thompson
A rich grandfather decides to build a tower so that his grandson can see how the sun once looked before air pollution took over the world.

Uno’s Garden By Graeme Base
Adorable creatures, including lumpybums and frinklepods welcome Uno into their garden. Life is beautiful until the tourists settle in and take over. What becomes of the Snortlepig?

By on June 26th, 2008

What better way to celebrate Earth Hour with your kids than with a little Dr. Seuss? Including an earth friendly bedtime story in your monthly earth hour ritual is a great way to get kids on the green page. And no, I’m not talking about serving green eggs and ham for a bedtime snack. This Saturday, my family will be delving into The Lorax, a seventies classic which was once denounced by the American logging industry. This colourful story, is a great way to introduce children to the dangers associated with consumption.

In this story a young boy learns about a fluffy tree called the Truffula that once grew wild in a forest and provided a home for numerous Suessy creatures. A man named the “Once-ler” explains to the child how he discovered that the fluffy Truffula tree could be used for knitting “Thneeds” (objects that all people need). Despite protests from “the Lorax” the Once-ler watches his business grow and grow until the sky turns grey and there is only one seed left.

As with all Seuss books, The Lorax can be enjoyed at different levels by children and adults of all ages. This book may be the key to convincing your children (or spouse) that they don’t thneed anything new to play with this summer. Maybe they will be inspired to help you plants some seeds beneath the blue sky instead of going shopping.

Other Recommended Reading for Kids

Here are a few other kids’ stories that deal with ecological concerns. Look for these in your local libary or bookstore, and make sure to have one on hand at the end of each month for Earth Hour.

Recycle Every Day By Nancy Elizabeth Wallace
A bunny named Minna has a school assignment to make a poster about recycling.

The Great Trash Bash By Loreen Leedy.
Mayor Hippo and his animal citizens investigate the trash problems in Beaston.

The Tower to the Sun By Colin Thompson
A rich grandfather decides to build a tower so that his grandson can see how the sun once looked before air pollution took over the world.

Uno’s Garden By Graeme Base
Adorable creatures, including lumpybums and frinklepods welcome Uno into their garden. Life is beautiful until the tourists settle in and take over. What becomes of the Snortlepig?

By on May 31st, 2008

We just returned from a trip to Ontario, where I”m proud to report that recycling is in much fuller swing than it is here in the Okanagan. With a house full of B.C. guests, my father was constantly pointing to various containers for this and that type of garbage. One for paper products, one for food waste, one for plastics and one for

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regular garbage. I was impressed how little “garbage” there actually was (and also that it only gets picked up every other week). One of the main items that filled up the actual garbage container (especially while we were there with small kids) was packaging from foods.

I”m not sure about other families, but in our household, breakfast is the main event. We go through a lot of cereal, and while the cardboard boxes are recyclable, the inner best casino bonuses bags generally end up in the trash. To get around this problem I have stopped buying freezer bags and started reusing the bags that hold our kids” favourite cereals. These inner bags are sturdy and large and work well for holding baking and other portioned food for the freezer. And, even though the cardboard is recyclable, I”m trying to teach my kids that it is a good idea to reuse before we recycle. After all, the recycling process from start to finish still requires some major energy sucking. My four year old loves to cut things out, so instead of always buying plastic or stuffed toys of her favourite characters or animals (speaking of excess packaging) we draw the latest Backyardigan or My Little Pony and she colours it, cuts it out, and adds it to her cardboard collection. While this may sound too good to be true, she often takes these lovable friends to Show and Tell with her.

Tomorrow is the last Saturday of the month, and my family will be observing Earth Hour again. In case you”re new to Talk Green, please take a moment to read our monthly plan. We”d love if you would join us in encouraging kids to care for the earth by designating a no power hour in your household at the end of each month. If you”re planning on having an Earth Hour with your kids, ask them to go on a tour of the house with you while you unplug all of the power suckers for the night before putting them to bed.

Next month we will be suggesting some Earth Friendly storybooks for kids.

By on May 2nd, 2008

At 8pm on March 29th 2008, people around the world showed the earth a little love. Initiated by Sydney’s effort in 2007, Earth Hour became a global movement this year, with millions turning off their electricity and appliances to take a stand against human-induced climate change. While the media hype was focused on the darkened city skylines and landmarks, little mention was made of the young children who forfeited their night lights and lullabies in the bedtime hour.

An article in the Sydney Herald today reported that two thirds of women took part in Earth Hour, while men (especially older, single men) showed much less interest. The report also suggested that the majority of Australian households with children took part while those without kids were less likely. If you are a parent like me, and you took the time to participate in Earth Hour with your family, I have to assume you got more back than you sacrificed. Not only was Earth Hour a great excuse to teach our children earth-friendly practices, it was also an opportunity to bond and make life-lasting memories. Whether you played a board game by candle light, watched the sunset from a window, or read a bedtime story on the front porch, chances are you remember that evening better than the one before.

Most mothers I know became more environmentally alert after having children. The reason young families were quick to participate in Earth Hour is obvious. We want our children and their children to inherit the Earth we know and love. Instead of accusing elders or singles for not caring

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enough, why not take a stand to show that we parents care more?

If you’re a parent who is serious about raising earth friendly kids, consider celebrating Earth Hour once a month instead of once a year. Does the last Saturday of the month work for you? If not, pick a different day. Hand your child a green marker and ask him or her to mark your calendar! Talk Green.ca will issue a monthly Earth Hour reminder in the last week of each month. Visit regularly for tips and suggestions on how to help your children maintain tiny carbon footprints as they grow.

Please take a moment to comment if you plan to participate. Thank you!