Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Some thoughts on how to leave a smaller footprint

Since the whole "ecosustainabiodiversorganicgreenvironmentality" noise is rampant in Vancouver, I have been using some of my spare intellect cycles to put thoughts around how we can mitigate our footprints on this planet. Many of these ideas are unique to Vancouver but some of them might be useful outside of Canada. Not all of these ideas will necessarily be useful or good for all, but I do want to offer these to anyone who is in a position to make change.

Some of these ideas are not possible at the local level and require national leadership - likely chance given our current government.

1. Require all manufacturers who ship food in glass jars to use Mason-style canning jars or other re-usable glass shapes (such as drinking glasses) which can be re-used by consumers rather than recycled. It struck me as odd that only one or two companies (Catelli Pasta/Pizza Sauce and Kuhne Mustard) seem to have caught on to this trend. It makes no sense that consumers will buy a can of pizza sauce then go to another aisle to purchase canning jars if they could get both in one purchase and repurpose the container. Accounting for the unnecessary trips to buy canning/preserving jars and for trucks to deliver these items to store shelves and the energy savings can add up. The cost to existing manufacturers would be minimal - no losers here as the canning jar manufacturers would be selling to the food manufacturers.

Caveat: Vancouver alone will not be able to force change on this and lobbying other governments at a higher level will be necessary to invoke change.

2. Immediately ban the sale of the following items from store shelves within Vancouver:

a. Disposable razor blades. Alternatives – non-disposable razors. There are no valid use cases for disposable razors over non-disposables and the plastic in the handles can be reused if a consumer could simply fit in new blades.

b. Liquid plumber and all other dangerous chemical compounds for plumbing system cleansing. These are harmful to marine wildlife and compounds end up coming back into the food chain and being consumed by humans. Alternatives – compressed air, snake lines, calling a plumber.

c. Incandescent light bulbs (except certain types). Alternatives – compact fluorescent. Old style bulbs waste a lot of energy dissipating it as thermal heat and light that is beyond the visible spectrum.

Note that the initial net costs of the alternative items are higher but all pay for themselves over time.

3. Within Schools, ban the consumption of small (200 ml or less) juice or beverage packages and require parents to use a thermos or other reusable container. While tetra packs can be recycled, the evidence suggests that the net cost is still rather high in terms of forming the packaging and using extra packaging to aggregate multiple smaller containers. A better option would be to use reusable containers for all smaller beverages.

4. Lobby the BC liquor board to relax its monopoly over alcohol sales and allow sales of beer and wine in most grocery stores. Right now, many citizens are driving longer trips to get to the small number of liquor outlets in Vancouver. The driving that could be reduced is significant. If each citizen drove an average of 5 km less in a year, the savings of energy would be spectacular. The provincial government is stuck on this old school model of alcohol sales and BC remains one of the few locations in the world that does not allow beer and wine to be sold in grocery stores. It is time for this model to die in the name of the environment.

5. Add mandatory packaging material recycling stations to all Canada Post outlets where people can return Styrofoam chips, air packaging, boxes and other re-useable packing materials. The big loser here would be Canada Post as they cannot keep selling new packaging materials. Big winner – all people who need packaging materials and do not have to purchase them.

6. Build a gypsum recycling plant and mandate that all drywall and other gypsum board waste be recycled. Included in this idea would be a fuel efficient truck fleet to pick up gypsum waste by scheduling routes to avoid owners of waste having to drive long distances to recycle. The owners would pay a small fee to cover the charge or this could be billed with the sale of new drywall.

7. Expand the current car co-op/Zip car type programs to include more free parking spaces to encourage community car sharing. The city has opted to test a few of these by providing special parking spaces for community (“co-op”) cars. Encourage people to use these at least as a second vehicle rather than buy a second car for part time use. Note that some people use these as their primary cars.

8. Begin to adopt the Israeli electric car fleet idea with battery replacement stations. The Israeli’s have the most motivation to get off foreign oil of any country in the world. They have a great plan which seems to be making sense from a physics standpoint. The scheme involves consumers buying or leasing an electric auto with a quick change battery pack that can be replaced in minutes at service stations, allowing up to 125 KM per battery. Consumers will subscribe to monthly plans.

9. Mandate all new buildings must be certified LEED Silver or higher starting in 2009. Offer tax incentives and extra floor space for buildings that make the highest standards where the NET energy gains are greatest. Encourage innovation.

10. Increase the number of roundabouts where they can replace stoplights. Roundabouts do not require cars to come to a complete stop thus save energy over requiring cars to completely stop and re-accelerate. Cars also do not have to wait at red lights idling nor does the city have to provide power for the traffic lights and spend energy replacing bulbs etc.

11. (Note: this particular item is probably not going to work as a provincial level as people would cross provincial borders to procure cheaper items. This one needs to be implemented at a national level). Require every manufacturer who sells automobiles, major appliances, small appliances, utility vehicles and other consumer items within BC to certify their items will last at least 5 years (most warranties on items like microwave ovens are less than 1 year). This will initially be more expensive for manufacturers however the cost to the consumer will be less over time if appliances and other household items do not have to be replaced every two years. Furthermore, every manufacturer who offers their items for sale in BC must be required to supply parts for their items and make them repairable vs. throw away. All major components must be orderable by certified repair centres (items like Blender motors, microwave power supplies, etc.) at an aggregate cost of less than the original product cost.

12. Increase incentives for food bank trucks to pick up and distribute unused foods from conferences, restaurants, or other events where excess food is abundant and often wasted. Food that is made available at a buffet style event can often be reused by donation to the food bank for immediate consumption. There are liability issues which cause many restaurants to elect not to join these programs and government intervention might be worth investigating (similar to the good Samaritan act) to mitigate the risk to participating donors. A study to ensure a net gain in terms of energy used vs energy saved would be required before such a policy can be implemented.

13. Lobby the federal government hard to increase the fuel efficiency for ALL passenger cars imported and sold in Canada starting as soon as possible. Set maximum NET energy requirements for all cars and offer strong incentives to both consumers and industry to abide by these standards.

14. Plant fruit bearing trees in the boulevards and more coniferous trees in urban areas to help regulate heat, cold. The fruit trees help a domestic social problem by allowing those who cannot afford food free access to fruit at certain times of the year while taking no more resources than existing trees.

15. Bring back streetcars along strategic routes (Granville Street from Waterfront Station to 16th Avenue, Waterfront Station through Gastown around false creek to Granville Island and a branch line connecting to the Canada Line ALRT termination at Clarke, Denman Avenue from Stanley Park to Davie [loop], Canada Line to Stanley Park) with an eye to moving large numbers of people along corridors where foot traffic and shopping is high.

16. Impose a fee on plastic bags at grocery stores of $0.10 each to force people to think if they *really* need a bag after all. Too many times I have witnessed a person using one bag to carry a single item leaving a store. This behavior needs to change. It needs to be painful to not think.

That's all for now. If you have other ideas, I invite you to post them here.


  1. Require mail delivery trucks to be all electric immediately. They are a perfect use case for EVs -- They have known usage cycles, can be recharged at a central depot all night, are frequently idling in use, and do not require high top-end speeds or tremendous acceleration. This should have been done years ago, IMO.

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  3. Thank you!

    I really like the mail truck bit. Agree it should have been done years ago.

  4. I'm not so convinced that recycling is the way to go. Check out this video that debunks a lot of the "good" recycling does.

  5. Ryan:

    Thanks for the link. I like the idea that considering the "net" effect is important so I went and watched it. Unfortunately, it was complete crap. I wasn't even going to comment on Penn and Teller's arguments as they are both unscientific and illogical. The paper argument for starters is errant. Whether you remove the ink in a processing plant or just dump it into the landfill, it still exists. Yes - you need trucks for recycling, but you also need trucks, chainsaws, tree harvesters, skidders etc. for logging trees.

    I prefer to use raw data from the EPA and other studies that are done by scientists, not magicians.



    In short - starting with a raw material that is as pure as possible is logically the best method. Penn and Teller did they present any raw scientific data to back up their claims. If they actually referenced factual data rather than finding people who's opinions match theirs it might be worth listening to (I always listen to opposing viewpoints and arguments as this is the mantra of an open mind). In this case though, I have to strongly disagree as they have not made any sense.

  6. Some real interesting information in your article, however many companies and people will not bother recycling unless it becomes law, governments need to enforce stricter controls, many small businesses also need help support whilst in the early stages of changeover. One of the most annoying wastes for me is food packaging, we fill a large dustbin every fortnight with paper waste of which about 85% is food-packaging waste, and this needs to be resolved by new laws enforced on retailers.

  7. Good stuff Duane. In BC we are lucky to have so much hydro electricity that everyone should also be running electric appliances in their houses like furnaces and hot water heaters.


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