Eco-Friendly Bags – a Users Guide

You have probably already seen that nearly every grocery or department store is offering eco-friendly bags made of recycled material, such as post-consumer plastics, or fabric. These bags can be rather stylish, and in many cases cost less than a dollar. The use of these bags is a good alternative to the use of plastic bags, which have been a heavy burden on the natural environment.

Here are some of the facts about plastic bags:

  • Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. That comes out to over one million per minute.
  • Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food.
  • Plastic bags don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade— that means they don’t breakdown into harmless components, they just breakdown into smaller and smaller toxic bits contaminating soil and waterways and entering the food web when animals accidentally ingest.

Using high quality reusable bags for taking your groceries home has the potential for reducing thousands of plastic bags per household. These bags have become quite a fad in the current eco-chic era. The question is though, how committed are we to trying to make a difference rather than just making a fashion statement?

In many cases we tend to buy eco-friendly bags to tame our desire to be eco-conscious, and lead a green style of living, but we then forget to bring the bags along with us to the grocery store. We end up either using plastic bags, or even worse, buy a new eco-friendly bag. Now its probably a good idea to have a few eco-bags to hold all the groceries we have, but when we are buying them at the same rate as we would normally use plastic bags, then there is a problem. And here lies the flip side of using eco-friendly bags; they are only as useful as the number of times they replace plastic bags, and reduce the amount of waste we generate.

Don’t fret too much if you’ve forgotten your eco-bags and feel that it has to be one way or the other and give up on eco-bags. If you find that you’ve forgotten your bags and need to use plastic bags, you can take them to some of the large grocery stores, such as Loeb and Loblaws, where they have receptacles for recycling plastic grocery bags.

The underlying message should be that we should actually lead moderate lives and try not to accumulate too much stuff, thus generating a lot of waste. Buy what you need and suffice yourself with that. There is an old Arabic proverb that states:
Contentedness is an everlasting treasure.

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The reality of some "eco-friendly" alternative energy sources.


The problem we are facing regarding environmental challenges, such as climate change, is not solely the onset of such dramatic shifts in global trends, but is the ill-devised approach to dealing with these issues.

Lets take the example of carbon dioxide emissions that have been linked to climate change and may very well be the amplifier of global warming. The approach that major stakeholders are taking doesn’t seem to be so much as a move to cleaner, more sustainable fuels than it is a move from oil-reliant technologies, and the reliance on foreign energy sources. This kind of mentality seems to be driven primarily by international politics and the fact that reliance upon international energy sources is not politically or economically stable.

The question begs, why not resort to alternative fuels that will allow nations to be independent of one another? Well, with that kind of mentality driving innovation we may find ourselves falling backwards in our greenness and the greenness of our energy technologies, by resorting to less viable energy sources, that in fact can be even more harmful to human health and the environment either directly or indirectly.

One very important concept to understand before we proceed is that we will not be running out of oil any time soon (just over 42 years – not a lot though). This may come as a shock, but it is true. What we will be running out of is economically viable sources of oil and other fossil fuels. What this means is that oil will still exist past the “oil crisis”, but will not provide the desirable return on investment from extracting such fuels as oil, and tar sands. This concept is referred to as the EROI or Energy Return On Investment. In this case, investment not only means financial, but also energy investment.
After all, as it costs money to make money, it costs energy to get energy. Lets start off with oil, which has an EROI of 1:20 globally. This means that for every unit of energy spent to extract crude oil, 20 units of energy are gained. This doesn’t seem too dire, but consider that it used to get 1:60 a couple of decades ago.


With the current EROI of oil in mind, lets take a look at some of the alternatives to crude oil and how it measures up. Now, you will notice that I will not be discuss wind energy, or solar energy because neither technology is really being given much attention by the big energy companies who hold just short of a monopoly on the market. Because of that, advancement of these technologies is not moving at the speed that would be accomplished had there been a stronger focus on these truly renewable, sustainable, and unlimited sources of energy.

As for some of these new technologies that are being labeled as “green”, “environmentally friendly”, or “Eco-conscious,” in fact still derive their energy from not so green sources, or non-viable environmental resources. Lets take ethanol for example, which is an extraction of corn through a distillation process. This fuel source has an EROI of close to 1:1, which is not at all viable. We’d be better off preserving the energy that goes into growing, farming, and cultivation, which by the way is done by machines that run dirty inefficient fossil fuels. In addition to the ill-planned “greenness” of ethanol production, cutting into food staple yields for fuel production creates a tight food budget, driving up food costs, and placing a greater demand on other grains. Not to mention that these grains are often transported long distances consuming energy in the process and affecting fuel prices, and the cycle goes on.

But it’s a cleaner fuel, well not really… Continue reading

Greenhouse Gases from Your Broccoli – Buy Local – Support the Environment and the Community

Greenhouse Gases From Your Broccoli
“Buy Local”
Support the Environment and the Community
(Appearing in the Muslim Link newspaper – by Omar Mahfoudhi)

On average the fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat and poultry we consume travel between 2,400 to 4,000 kilometers from the farm to your home. This long-haul transportation of our food is quite energy intensive considering the volumes being transported and the required refrigeration of perishable goods during transport. This is referred to as the food carbon footprint.

The concept of reducing our food’s carbon footprint is becoming a commendable endeavor that communities can collaborate on to reduce greenhouse gas emission from their daily practices. The carbon footprint of our food is the amount of carbon dioxide produced from processing, transporting, and storing the food we eat. Buying local is a simple concept, but in practice it may not be that attainable on an individual level. Soon you will understand why this needs to be a community endeavor.

Buying local means committing to buying produce and meats cultivated within 100 kilometers of your city. Not only does this reduce environmentally harmful emissions, but it also reduces the waste generated from packaging, the food remains fresh, and of course reduces the cost, which is passed on to the consumer.

So why don’t we just buy from our local farms? Well this is where it gets interesting. On a broad scale the evil of globalization has masked the true cost of the food we eat, and most large cities are ecologically dead since they no longer produce the goods needed to sustain themselves. On a more manageable scale, there are challenges that can be addressed with social awareness and community collaboration, which is the case here in Ottawa. As it happens, Ottawa has the largest local agro-economy of any major Canadian city. But there are some hindrances to committing to a dynamic market of locally produced meat and vegetables. Some salient hindrances are:

• Inconvenience/not consistently available
• Lack of awareness – where/how to access the food
• Lack of variety
• Lack of consumer support/demand
• Labour and financial constraints

There are already local organizations who are committed to promoting and facilitating the distribution and sale of locally grown produce. Community Shared Agriculture (CAS) is an approach to growing and purchasing food products in which the farmer and consumer are working cooperatively. Along with CAS is the Ottawa Buy Local Project, which also supports and advertises the wholesale component of the Ottawa Farmers’ market with businesses. Moreover, the Ottawa Buy Local Project delivers “Buy Local” presentations that highlights what is needed for a healthy food system in Ottawa.
A quick survey of some of our local halal grocers yielded that most of the halal grocers already provide locally raised meats and some provide locally grown produce. There was also a willingness of grocers to place signs that their foods are locally cultivated.

Here is where this endeavor becomes a communal effort. Encourage your local grocer to buy locally grown produce, and make a commitment to buy your fruits, vegetables and meats from them. This way the grocers can offset the cost and effort it takes to seek out locally grown produce with a committed market for this environmentally righteous source of food we would be buying anyway. This will also, create this demand that will motivate other halal grocers to enter the market of locally cultivated foods.

In this way we can support both environmentally righteous consumerism and our local Muslim businesses.

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