My Green City Life

Happy Car Free Day!
September 22, 2008, 8:30 am
Filed under: on the town

Today is Car Free Day! Are there Car Free activities going on where you live? Here in Montreal, part of downtown will be blocked off to cars for part of the day. The area is bounded by but doesn’t include some major streets, and the hours are after morning rush hour and before afternoon rush hour, so the street closure is perhaps more symbolic than trying to affect real change. However, having lived most of my life in a city with public transportation that can be described as poor at best, I still appreciate the gesture.


Green vs. frugal
May 31, 2008, 4:16 pm
Filed under: on the town, your green lifestyle

Much of the time, living environmentally friendly and living frugal go hand in hand. One of the reasons to go green that those easy-to-swallow articles and top ten lists often reference is the money you save when you switch to CFLs or take public transportation or whatever. But sometimes being green and being frugal go head to head. One of the obvious times when this happens is at the grocery store, and you are deciding being conventionally grown food and local/organic/sustainable food. If being environmentally friendly is your top goal, you’ll choose the latter; if being frugal is your top goal, you’ll choose the former.

A few months ago, we got a chest freezer. The reason for its purchase was to store veggies purchased at the market at the height of the season. I completely filled our normal freezer last year and didn’t feel as though I had done enough. (I must admit there is still a bit of eggplant and cauliflower in there.) I realized recently that I could finally start doing that frugal thing where you more than you need of stuff when it’s on sale and then stash it in your freezer. It all seems rather suburban mom to me if taken to a certain extreme, but if you do it wisely, it’s a smart move, I think.

Anyway, in a google search to find out if you can freeze milk (you can) I stumbled across The Grocery Game which is a site for those ultra-frugal, coupon-crazy suburban moms (or, to be fair, non-suburban non-moms) who know and utilize every trick in the frugal grocery book. On the site, there is a link to a morning show interview the Grocery Game founder did, and in the video, one of the things she mentions is that sometimes with sales or coupons or whatever, buying two small packages is a better deal than buying a big package when you get down to the ounce-to-ounce value.

This is the part that got me. I am definitely a shopper with an eye for the per-ounce (well, per 100 grams around these parts) price on the price tags at the store. But this can’t always be the only determining factor! Sure, you may save twenty cents by buying two small boxes of Cheerios instead of one big one, but you end up with more packaging being thrown away or recycled. It took more resources to make those two little boxes, and they probably took up more space on a truck being shipped across the country than that one big box.

It’s a delicate balance, and it makes me a little sad. For a lot of people, that twenty cents is an important twenty cents and not something that can be wasted, not even in the name of less packaging. I wish that being green and being frugal went together all the time.

Snow Removal
January 28, 2008, 11:44 am
Filed under: on the town, Uncategorized

So it snowed a few inches last week. I got excited like a little kid when all the big snow plowing tractor guys came rumbling by. I ran to the window when I heard the snow removal/farm equipment tractors coming down the street. I swear, I’m like a little boy, all excited about the big machines!

But then I started thinking about all the resources it takes to clear just a few inches of snow from this city. Fossil fuels, of course, but even just the cost in dollars is astounding. Montreal has a $128-million budget for snow removal this winter. The record snow fall in December took a very sizable chunk out of that money.

So what happens when fuel costs get too high? Does the city stop clearing snow on side streets? Does it only clear one lane on a two-lane street? Will the increased fuel costs have caused more people to ditch their cars, warranting a smaller snow removal operation anyway? Will there come a day when the city doesn’t even remove the snow anymore? Is there a better alternative?

If you like, you can learn more about Montreal’s snow removal procedures here.

Image: snow removal. Originally uploaded by ben soo

Local news: Curbside composting
October 30, 2007, 1:32 pm
Filed under: on the town, your outdoor space

Recycling has been in the news around here a lot lately as Montréal is planning to double its ability to process recycled materials. More interesting to me, however, is the news that by 2012 Montréal and the surrounding neighborhoods are expected to be composting 60% of its organic waste — more than five times the amount that is composted now. There is currently a small trial program for curbside compostables pick-up in the municipality of Côte St. Luc. There are also some old compost drop-off boxes around town, but most of them have been closed and/or abandoned because of lack of upkeep.

Composting is so simple that it is almost criminal that so much compostable organic waste ends up in the landfill at all. For us apartment dwellers without access to a compost pile, we have the option of vermicomposting — that is, feeding our food scraps to worms in a plastic bin. (Unfortunately, I usually end up with more organic waste than my worms can handle, so some of it still ends up in the trash.) Folks with access to a yard can make individual or community compost piles. A friend of mine with a backyard has a black plastic composter. She throws food scraps in the top and occasionally digs fresh compost out from the bottom. It really is that simple.

Does something as dead easy as composting — something you can literally do in your own backyard — need a municipal collection service? Whose responsibility is it: the individuals or the city government? As a city dweller without a backyard, I think it’s great. It would also encourage people who don’t want to bother with a compost pile or who don’t think they create enough waste to justify the purchase of a composter. But at the same time, a well maintained composter on every block would probably work just as well.

Read a local co-op’s take on the situation here.

Change The Margins
September 13, 2007, 9:30 am
Filed under: on the town, your green lifestyle

Doing my green blog rounds this morning, I came across a link (I can’t remember where I found it!) to Change The Margins, a site encouraging people to make the margins on their documents smaller to save paper. I have always been one to fiddle with the margins before printing from Microsoft Word and other similar programs. I also tend to shrink the text size and the leading (the space between the lines). Is it because I like saving paper and creating less waste? Probably. Is it because I want to save money by not having to buy as much paper? Probably that too. I also like to think it’s the graphic designer in me trying to keep the world a little less full of ugly Word docs. All three are good reasons to make the tiny change that over time and with enough people implementing the change can have a big effect.

Some highlights on the site: A study at Penn State shows that changing the default margin settings campus wide could save 72 acres of forest. Also, a petition to get Microsoft to change the default margins in Word. I’d say that’s worth the click.

Two ways green
August 3, 2007, 3:44 pm
Filed under: on the town, the green apartment, your green lifestyle

In Montréal, July 1 is the crazy day when most leases are up and everyone moves. It’s also the time to head to the streets and look for treasure! When people move, they don’t necessarily want to move everything, so a lot of pre-loved furniture and other goodies end up on the street. I took a few walks in the first few days of July and didn’t find much worth nabbing. (Although, there was an 8.5 x 11.5-foot brown and white shag area rug that Matt and I dragged up to our apartment only to find it to be too dirty and worn out to keep. Back to the curb it went.)

Then last weekend, some girls down the hall moved out. I guess their lease was up August 1. I watched them load up the U-Haul all day. It pulled away. I went downstairs to check the curb. Those silly girls! They left behind a perfectly good drying rack! When I say perfectly good, I mean that it was slightly bent with a few bars missing and others being held on only by duct tape, but these things can be forgiven when it’s sitting right there on the curb, waiting for you to take it home and make it new again. I love curbside freebies!

Today I got to use my new drying rack for the first time. Matt is fixing the broken parts, so I only got to use part of it, but that’s OK; the load of laundry was mostly sheets, and those go on the clothesline anyway. I get to pat myself on the back for being green two ways today: I used a very functional drying rack that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill, and I didn’t use the dryer. Electricity saved, gasoline saved, raw materials saved, money saved. I’m a happy camper!

The real world
August 1, 2007, 1:19 am
Filed under: on the town, your green lifestyle

I have been in Harry Potter land in my head for the last two days. A friend let me borrow her copy of the final Harry Potter book. I started it yesterday morning and finished it this afternoon. It was probably the fastest I’ve ever read a 600 page book in my life, but I contend that if you’re going to geek out on something, you might as well go whole hog. As you might expect, this reading marathon warped my brain a little bit. When I stopped reading and got up to do something normal like eat lunch, my mind stayed in Harry Potter land. Seeing my husband and my cats in the apartment was a bit of a shock. They didn’t belong in Harry Potter land. In fact, they were completely oblivious to Horcruxes and Imperius curses and house elves. They were Muggles!

This afternoon, I’ve been trying to return my brain to the real world. I decided a real world task would do me some good, so I picked up my shopping bag and went to the grocery store. I only needed to buy a couple of items, so I quickly made my selection and went to stand in the “six items or fewer” line. It was dinner time, so there were quite a few people in line ahead of me, and to keep my mind off Harry Potter, I watched them as they paid. As the line ahead of me shrunk, I grew more and more incredulous and annoyed. Not a single person had so many items — or so bulky an item — to warrant a cart or a basket, yet every single one of them let the cashier put their purchases in a plastic bag. Some of them were already carrying bags from purchases at other stores, bags that surely had room for their six or fewer groceries. I looked around to see customers picking up single-serving, packaging-laden, convenient “heat and eat” meals and heading for the cashiers with their one item in hand — an item that would no doubt be swathed in a plastic bag for the ride home and then tossed in the trash along with the plastic bag once the food it contained was consumed.

I was honestly shocked. Like lifting my nose out of the Harry Potter book earlier in the day, I’d been thrust into the real world while my mind remained in the happy green world where everyone is environmentally responsible. It was depressing, and I don’t really have any concluding remarks about it. I told the cashier I didn’t need a plastic bag, thanks, and I can only hope the people in line behind me witnessed it and thought about it. Perhaps they decided against the plastic bag too.

It seems like such a small action, almost worthless. I saved one plastic bag and hopefully made someone think about saving one himself. Is that the best I could have done? Is there something more one should do in a situation like that? I wanted to get on the intercom system and tell everyone to stop taking the unnecessary plastic bags and to stop buying over-packaged items and to put down all the produce and go to the farmers market for local food instead. But of course I didn’t do that. I didn’t even proselytize to anyone standing near me. I don’t want to be seen as *that crazy person* but I do want to wake people up. I think that there is a fine line between crazy and communicative.