Green Your Neighbor: Module 1

A few weeks ago I started working with five families in my community to help them green their life. And by that, I mean I’ve taken it upon myself to light a fire under their butts and supply them with an abundance of resources and support to start making more environmentally sustainable lifestyle choices.

I’m not a complete bossy pants. It’s part of a pilot program with the David Suzuki Foundation. The Foundation's Queen of Green is working with five coaches and we’re each working with five families. 

It’s turned out to be an amazing, positive, inspiring sort of experience. I’ve been given reign to tell people to do better. And they are doing better. And they are making changes. And they’re proud of themselves. And the world will be a better place and our kids will be better people and it’s all so so good.

So I thought, why stop there? And so I'm sharing the modules here!


If you’ve never read the David Suzuki Queen of Green Blog, I suggest you check it out. Lindsay is a wealth of knowledge and her work is an awesome resource.

You can also find lots of green living knowledge in the Thrifty and Green pages, where I’m the family editor. I’ll be inviting the wider community to participate in the program sharing the resources I share with you for each module in my column Growing Up Green. Fear not, I’ll make no mention of you or your families without prior approval!


Our four modules are: waste, toxics, food and community. Each module will take two weeks. Over the course of the module we’ll work together to implement change in two specific areas related to that module.

First we’ll build on your current success. Whatever you’re already doing, we’ll figure out how to take it to the next level.

Next, we’ll identify an area that you’ve never touched on before and we’ll make change there.

There is nothing sustainable about overhauling your life. We won’t do that! Instead, we’ll work together to make meaningful change that you can build on long after the program has ended.

Finally, if you’re up to it, we’ll make a longer-term goal in this area for you to pursue after the module has ended. To be sure that you stick with it, we’ll set a timeframe for your completion of this goal and to be double sure that you stick with it, we’ll have you publically declare the goal.  That sounds lofty, really I just mean that you are going to tell your friends and family about your goals. That way, you’ll feel that added incentive to follow through.

Let’s jump right in: Module 1 Waste

Our first module is Waste. It’s clearly a huge category that includes all sorts of challenges and solutions – from curbing consumption, to reusing and repurposing, to recycling and composting, to minimizing packaging, to cloth diapering, to energy waste, to disposal of toxic household waste, to the pacific garbage patch, to cell phones and small appliances, to those horrible plastic water bottles!

So let’s start by assessing your current situation with regards to waste. How do you feel about your current use & disposal practices? On a scale of 1 – 10, how wasteful are you? And where do you want to be. What are you already doing well? What would you like to improve? What’s that nagging thing that you know you could do better, but just haven’t been able to find the time/energy/how-to to address?

I’ll start – we’re too wasteful! The kids love to draw and go through paper at a ridiculous rate. We’re buying milk in plastics jugs that get recycled instead of glass that gets reused. My yogurt making attempts have been dismal and so we buy yogurt in tubs and they pile up and I send them to the recycling because we have too many of them to keep reusing.

We’re also doing pretty well!  We manage to put out less than a full bag of garbage most weeks. In a family five. With a tenant. We compost religiously. We buy bulk, make our own granola and bread and applesauce and cookies. We eat organic. And support local. Asher takes a waste-free lunch to school every day. We shop at thrift stores more than department stores. We wash windows with newsprint and floors with steam and use homemade rags cut from old t-shirts. Our toilets are low flush. Our renovations use a lot of refurbished materials. We diaper with cloth, but at night I use disposables. We bike as much as we drive, but still drive too much. We donate everything we can and try so so hard to buy only what we need. Except for books. I can’t stop loving and buying books. It’s my vice.

What about you?  How are you doing with household waste?

I challenge you to identify one thing your family is doing well and see if there are ways you can build on it. Can you do even better? Next, what does your family really need to improve on? Can you identify a measure you've never taken before and make a plan to implement that in the next two weeks? Finally, think big. What could you do in the long term to continue making positive change and reducing your waste. If it helps, try thinking about these three categories:

1.     Recycle Less.

a.     Reduce: Did you know that large amounts of our (as in the GVRD’s) recycling is shipped to China to be processed? The number one thing we can all do is use less. How will you recycle less? Tweak your regular grocery shopping list; go on a plastic diet. Reduce the amount of plastic packaging entering your home by purchasing fewer prepared foods, buy in bulk (it’s also cheaper), choose only recyclable packaging, or packaging made with recycled content.  And what if you put your garbage and recycling to the curb on alternate weeks? Passing on weekly collection will test your ability to buy less, and buy smarter to produce less waste, even recyclables. 

b.      Reuse: Glass is one of my favorite forms of packaging because jars are easily washed (dishwasher-friendly) and reused. They also have an air-tight seal and don’t leach any toxics, like Bishenol-A (BPA). What other items could you reuse or repurpose? How about for kid crafts? Or in the garden?  Can you save your egg-cartons for seed starting?

c.     Recycle: Make sure you are not committing some of the most common blue bin sins.  Items accepted in your blue box or blue bag recycling program varies greatly city to city. Always check with your specific recycling hotline or your city’s website.  


2.     Composting

a.      Backyard : Composters are cheap. North Van sells bins for $45 here. You can also buy them at hardware stores and plant nurseries. Or you can make your own.I’m happy to help you get started!

b.     Curbside: Household garbage is about 40 per cent organic waste and composting keeps all that garbage out of the landfill. The district of North Vancouver curbside program information is available on the North Shore Recycling Page, and includes all the details about the food scrap program that is launching in May 2012!

c.     Indoor: Vermicomposting is ideal for small spaces and can be done indoors. Organic matter – like banana peels and coffee grounds— are fed to red wrigglers worms The result is a fertile mixture of decomposed food scraps and worm poop. After three to six months — depending on how much you feed your worms – harvest this excellent fertilizer for gardens, potted plants on balconies, and indoor plants. 

3.     Hard to Get Rid of Things

a.     Cell Phones: About 96 per cent of the materials in mobile devices are recyclable, but only 12 per cent of used mobile devices are being recycled in Canada. Check out: Earth 911 - an online recycling locator.  Recycle My Cell - they accept cell phones, rechargeable batteries and more regardless of condition and it’s free!  Call-2-Recycle will take used household batteries, including single-use and rechargeables, too.  Better yet, if the phone is working, donate it!  I’ll be holding a drive for donation-worthy phones shortly – details to follow.

b.     Donate things: If you’re not using it, someone else probably will

c.     Hazardous Household Waste, Polystyrene, large and small appliance recycling demystified: I’m tired, so I’m going to stop writing. But we can definitely address all of these things too!

Ready. Set. Go!


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