Sunday, March 28, 2010

Earth Hour Do-Over and Over and Over and Over

For some reason that now escapes me we decided to let the 5-year-old stay up for earth hour. She coloured pictures by candlelight and was tucked in a good two hours later than usual. The upside is that she's still in bed now. The downside is I've forgotten how to sleep in. More to the point, I had a booth at the festivities at Kitchener City Hall yesterday...

Most my neighbours didn't turn out their lights last night, and I know a lot of people who roll their eyes at it, "What's one hour going to do?" What it does is remind us that we don't need to live with lights and electronics on all the time. It is possible to turn them off more. At school we did it all day Friday, and it reminds teachers they can teach with the lights off and the kids are actually calmer for it.

The regional event had very low attendance until the end - just as I packed up of course. Maybe if the focus of an evening is from 8:30-9:30, don't start at 4:00 in the afternoon. A 7:00 start would have been more intensive and perhaps more useful. People who did come by my table wanted an Earthfest flier to take away with them. I directed them to the facebook site. It's funny how people seem to take one copy of everything offered, and I can just imagine what they do with it all when they get home. We're going to plaster the city with posters soon enough anyway.  We were all filmed for a video that will be on the Living Earth Festival site one of these days. 

The best part of the afternoon was talking with the people at the other tables. There were some I knew about, some I learned about, and some I didn't agree with and was looking forward to getting to the bottom of a few issues with. Some people are more receptive to that than others.

The People's Car Co-op was there. I had been part of it at the beginning to do groceries, but I found it easier and cheaper to walk to the grocery store and call a cab to go home, than to book a car, walk to the car pick up area (past the grocery store), drive to the store and home again, drop off the car, and walk back. And it's more expensive than renting a car once you need it for a long distance or long time. It's particularly useful for anyone who needs to run many short errands in one day. KW-Y-Camps has energy-efficient digs with composting toilets. REEP was there, and their zero impact house will be done May 14th. That'll save me the trip to Montreal to see the one built there! And KCI had a few meetings with Reduce the Juice to look into getting solar at the school. It's a bit daunting, and we're not quite ready for it yet. 

I got to find out about CREW. That was a great table because the guy heading it actually had geo-thermal and solar at his house, so he could speak from experience about costs and payback. And Merlyn Power and Power Savings Blitz were right next to it. The City of Kitchener table was all about littering, and the City of Waterloo was about energy conservation.

And there was a rapid transit table. The woman there was excellent and answered all my questions even though I'm a nay-sayer. She seemed able to see both sides of the issue well enough to have an intelligent discussion with me. It will essentially replace the iXpress bus, but the LRT will take up a lane, making less room for cars which will dissuade people from driving, and they'll also get rid of free parking in the city. These alone will get people driving less. That the LRT gets a dedicated lane means it will go much faster and solve the problem with congestion in front of the bus.

I suggested doing what they do in some other areas: make a dedicated lane for buses and cyclists without ripping up the road. Just call the outside lanes of King Street car-free zones (except to move over to park, of course). People will find it harder to drive, the buses will move faster, and more people will bike on the road instead of the sidewalks, and more people will bike in general, AND it will cost NOTHING - well some advertising, and maybe the next term of whomever implements it, but that's it. Once people get used to the system, they'll see the benefits. And then I can cycle with my kids on the street!

Finally, there was a guy selling "Oxo-Biodegradable Poly Bags." I asked what they're made of: poly-ethylene (petroleum), but they're made to biodegrade faster. Okay, but what do you mean by "bio-degrade"? Are they decomposing, or are they just degrading? Do they turn back to their original components found in the earth, like a banana will, or do they just become smaller bits of a processed material? 


This is the question I really want explained thoroughly by a chemist who works with the stuff.  So far I've asked a chemistry teacher how plastics can be compostable because the big deal about plastic is that once made it can't be unmade.  It was created to last forever - which is really useful sometimes, but not with stuff we want to pitch immediately.  I was told that there's something added (like corn starch) that composts, leaving tiny bits of plastic behind.  But the plastic itself doesn't actually compost; it's just small enough not to be noticed by naked eye.  That makes sense to me based on other things I've read, but it doesn't bode well for "compostable" plastic because I don't want microscopic bits of plastic in my garden.        

So I asked, can you eat this or grow food in it once it's degraded? "Well," he said, "you can."

"But will it be full of toxins that could be harmful to you - like endocrine disruptors?"

"There's lots of that out there anyway."  The implication here is that we have so much crap in our world, hey, what's a little more!

My final question: "Why promote a new kind of plastic bag when you could just carry a cloth bag or basket when you go to the store? Why do we need more new products that will just be thrown out at the end."

"You're not going to carry a basket if you're shopping for clothes, are you?"

"I bring my knapsack to shop for clothes."

"Well, most people don't, so I make bags for clothes stores to use."

So as far as I understand, we'll have bags that degrade faster so we can inhale and ingest the plastic dust faster. We'll see fewer bags stuck in trees, but there will be more toxins stuck in us.  On the website it says there's no difference between this and regular plastic until they're exposed to UV light. That's what makes them fall apart. So really they're photo-degradable, which is how other plastics fall apart too, only not as fast.  And they're advertised as "tree-less" bags.  But they're still disposable!  We need to get rid of our single-use mentality.  Don't buy or accept anything that will be pitched immediately.  It's one really easy thing to do that will have a huge impact on our lives, and it's really really easy thing to change.  Well, it seems like a no-brainer to me.  

Finally, here's a suggestion if you're running a green event: Give everyone working at a table a travel mug at the beginning as a thank-you for coming. Then they won't all be walking around with disposable cups from the coffee shop next door.

Just a thought.

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