How you get around, live in your home, and what you eat and buy all affect our environment. Small changes in each of these areas can have a big impact for you and the planet.
Our staff were asked to suggest some New Year’s resolutions for a greener environment that can also make positive changes to your wallet, time and health. Here’s what they said:
1. A lighter footprint when you move
Transportation is Ontario’s biggest greenhouse gas (GHG) problem because most cars, trucks and SUVs burn gasoline or diesel, which produces GHGs. We tend to rely on vehicles even for short distances. For example, about one fifth of work commutes are 3 km or less. More than 60% of commuters with these short commutes use personal vehicles. These distances can be easy to walk or bike – who needs a gym membership when you can use human power to get around more often? An alternative in many urban areas is public transit. If you do need to drive, reduce your impact by carpooling and idling your vehicle as little as possible. For long distances, keep air travel to a minimum or try the train.
2. Drive a low-carbon vehicle, preferably electric
If you’re in the market for a new vehicle this year, consider an electric car (best for the environment) or a hybrid (better than gas only). Either way, you’ll save on gas and maintenance, especially if you charge overnight when electricity is cheapest. If gas is your only option, consider whether you really need a big vehicle.
Government standards set for car-makers mean vehicles are more efficient now, but more people are buying bigger vehicles, so vehicle emissions are still going up! If you can’t manage electric or hybrid, a smaller vehicle is better for reducing GHG emissions and helping fight climate change.
3. Limit salt use on roads, driveways, stairs and sidewalks
Ontarians need some salt for safety reasons in winter, but we use way too much. Excess salt pollutes groundwater, creeks, rivers and lakes – so much so that some freshwater creeks have turned almost as salty as seawater. Fish and other critters that live in fresh water can die from salt that washes away from roads, sidewalks and stairs, and road salt is killing urban trees too.
No one wants to slip, but too much salt is spread just because it’s cold outside. Use salt only when ice is on the ground or is about to form, such as when freezing rain is falling or a storm is on the way. Before applying salt, first shovel snow that’s already on the ground – it reduces the amount of salt you need and makes it more effective. Sometimes sand can do the job you need. And don’t bother with salt in extreme cold conditions: as temperatures drop below -7 degrees Celsius, road salt becomes less effective, and by -18 degrees Celsius, road salt is virtually useless. Learn more facts on when salt doesn’t help – you could help save a fish today.
4. Cut down food waste
During your next shopping trip, shop smarter and lighten up your grocery cart by buying only what you really need. To avoid food waste, try meal planning before grocery shopping and think twice about a “good deal” on bulk purchases of food that can spoil quickly. Growing, processing and transporting food takes energy, and that causes too much climate pollution for food to be wasted. On top of that, rotting food in landfills generates methane – a greenhouse gas (GHG) about 86 times as potent as carbon dioxide (CO2) over 20 years.
Planning before food shopping is better for your pocketbook too. Buying only what you need, rather than throwing it out as waste, means you save money, and your municipality spends less transporting and disposing food waste.
5. Avoid single-use, and disposable plastics
Plastic is everywhere. Scientists joke that when future anthropologists (or aliens) dig up our planet they’ll call this century the “plasticene.” Plastic stays in the environment for a very long time, and animals, including us, can accidentally eat it, potentially causing great harm.
Many great things can be made with plastic – it’s useful, and sometimes indispensable. But single-use and disposable items – like plastic bags, bottles, containers and straws – are a waste. Reducing their use benefits the environment and your health, and could lower municipal costs for landfills.
6. Don't waste heat
Heating Ontario homes and businesses usually means burning natural gas, which emits CO2 and methane. After transportation and industry, it’s our third highest source of greenhouse gas emissions. And many of our homes waste heat.
Many of us can have more comfortable homes while spending less on heating bills, by improving insulation, blocking drafts, caulking and weather stripping, heat recovery devices and upgrading doors and windows. Programmable thermostats can focus heat where and when you actually use it. Don’t forget energy efficiency upgrades when you renovate. And it always helps to wear a sweater in cold weather instead of turning up the heat.
If you’re thinking of moving, consider whether you could manage in a smaller space, or share space. In smaller spaces, we’d use less fuel per person.
7. Get involved with citizen science
Let’s all protect Ontario’s biodiversity – it’s our tree of life, and our food chain. Be a scientist’s eyes on the ground! We carry supercomputers and digital cameras in our pockets every day, so put them to good use. There are many mobile applications to download like Project FeederWatch or iNaturalist. You can start using them in seconds flat.
Take a picture of a plant or an animal to learn something about native plants and wildlife in Ontario, and maybe a scientist will find your information valuable. Give them a leg up with their field work!