Friday, April 11, 2014

When feeding wildlife is fowl

Did someone mention sauce?
What’s the difference between feeding a chipmunk and feeding a goose? In Barrie, one is illegal, the other is not.
Last year the City passed a bylaw wisely banning the feeding of wildlife, with the notable exception of well-maintained backyard bird feeders, because wildlife feeding causes many problems. It attracts animals that become habituated to humans, and can then be more aggressive. Their feces on our lawns and beaches can be a health risk. And the foods people commonly throw to them –bread, crackers, popcorn – is “junk food” not suited to their nutritional needs.
But in their wisdom, Council restricted the bylaw to mammals; feeding ducks and geese is still permitted, although discouraged in parks. Yet this is one of the more problematic feeding issues. It is one thing to attract squirrels or raccoons to your backyard – you (and your immediate neighbours) will suffer the direct consequences. But feeding waterfowl at Barrie’s waterfront ends up despoiling the area for all of us who share this wonderful natural feature.
As other cities like Mississauga and Oakville have shown, you can include waterfowl among animals prohibited to feed. Doing so is probably easier to enforce, too, because squirrel-feeding usually happens at home while duck-feeding is usually done in public parks and waterways. And even if the by-law isn’t aggressively enforced, visible signage can help reduce the harms.
And the harms will become more apparent. Canada goose populations are at an all-time peak, and continue to rise. These geese thrive under human development, which actually provides more convenient spaces for them to live & eat than nature does. Their increase is most noticeable at the waterfront upon which rest so many of Barrie’s hopes for economic growth and amenity improvement. Do we want to attract more geese, and their poop, to the same place we are drawing people? Will aggressive geese and ducks make visiting the waterfront more fun?
There are even some who feel it’s such a problem that the City should start aggressively reducing the goose population. In more rural areas, hunting them is permitted but I don’t think we want guns around our lakeshore. You can also destroy eggs or nests, or try to scare geese away periodically (usually with guns or aircraft – again, not great for our waterfront), or even have the birds relocated. But none of that works in the long term if we keep attracting them by feeding them junk food.
There may be options for bird relocation the City would not have to pay for, which would be a good way to get a handle on the problem, but when it comes to dealing with nature, prevention beats a cure. We should learn to watch wildlife behaving naturally, which for geese means eating plants and seeds, not running after us to eat a scattering of human food. It’s not like there will be a sudden shortage of these common birds; they are very capable of feeding themselves and don’t need our help.
So what do you think? Should Barrie expand its bylaw to disallow feeding geese and ducks? Should we look into ways to reduce excess birds, by increasing suitable natural spaces away from the parklands maintained for human use, and trying not to attract them to the places we use? Should we be more aggressive in removing geese to other locations? As spring finally lets us return to enjoying a cherished green lakeshore whose amenity value grows with our own population, this is a conversation worth having.

An accidentally-truncated version of this was published in the Barrie Examiner as "Should we keep feeding ducks and geese at the waterfront?"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Friday, April 4, 2014

The other end of the organic pipe

As Barrie slowly increases waste diversion, with measures like every-other-week trash collection, residents must keep up. And with spring weather finally approaching, composting resumes.
In fact, I know at least 4 ways to compost. First is the traditional backyard method. Growing up, my grandparents, early adopters of neighbourhood bottle recycling, also had two compost piles: an enclosed one at their Toronto house and an open pile at their farm. From them I learned not all garbage was created equal: some went into different containers and was even a valuable resource.
I follow that tradition at my own Barrie home, where a rotating composter improves the process greatly, providing rich fertilizer for our vegetable gardens. However, backyard composting has limitations. You need yard space for it, not an option for apartment-dwellers, and you must keep it mainly to fruit & vegetable peels, because meat scraps, bones, bread, dairy or oils draw unwanted pests and spoil the composting process. You must also mix or alternate wet, rich kitchen waste (“greens”) with drier carbon (“browns”) like shredded paper, dried grass clippings or raked leaves.
On the other hand, if you have the space, you can do a lot of composting in raised garden beds in a practice known as sheet composting or lasagnagardening (named for alternating layers of mulch) which I have found a wonderful improvement on traditional backyard gardening.
But other options are available, too. One is vermicomposting: red wiggler worms in a container under the sink who eat your diced food scraps and rapidly turn them into finished humus for your plants indoors, outdoors, or on a balcony. You can get worms and other supplies from in Bradford. Vermicomposting works at home, in an apartment, or as a class project to learn about worms, soil, the nutrient cycle, and waste reduction.
Just recently I discovered another method called bokashi composting. In your special anaerobic (airtight) container, you press down each layer of food scraps and sprinkle on top bokashi (a mixture of friendly microbes, bran and molasses) so instead of rotting, your scraps get pickled. After 1-2 weeks fermenting, you bury the compost under soil in a container or garden. Bokashi eliminates odourous gasses, flies, or animal attraction and can process a much wider variety of scraps, including meat, fat, cheese, bread, fish, even bones! It becomes a rich, organic amendment to revitalize your soil, improve water penetration, and increase plant growth and yields. An expert in nearby Utopia is hosting workshops where you can learn Bokashi hands-on; visit to sign up or access e-books or email Vera at
Last but certainly not least is Barrie’s Green Bin organics program. This most closely resembles the traditional out-of-sight, out-of-mind model of trash collection, accepting the widest variety of organics, including used tissues and paper towels and various used paper or cardboard food containers, as well as any kind of actual food waste. In fact, with the notable exception of diapers and pet waste, the green bin takes just about every kind of “stinky” trash – so luckily, it still goes away every week!
Within our own average family of four we produce almost nothing that ends up in the traditional garbage can, and our consumption patterns aren’t that far outside the norm. So if you’re finding your trash can is stinky or overflowing, you can probably solve it by better learning and practicing Barrie’s various diversion programs, including one or more kinds of composting.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Reduce garbage with innovative compost methods"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Thinking outside the (blue) box to make money from waste

It gets the idea across powerfully, and it gets you banned from advertising in a local publication!

People realize we can’t just keep on throwing things away; some embrace it as a value, others simply have to deal with diminishing free public garbage removal and diversion programs that are either mandatory, or the only way to avoid high bag-tag or dumping fees.
The blue/grey box programs are pretty well known by now; we understand metal cans are sold for scrap, bottle glass gets crushed and re-used somehow, paper and cardboard get recycled back into new paper.
But other forms of recycling are more complex. How do they work? One thing we discard at an increasing rate, although not quite as much as weekly trash, is e-waste (or e-scrap): all the electrical devices we get rid of as we upgrade, or as they break down. They are toxic in landfill or incineration, but don’t go in the blue box. So what to do with them?
Well, this Saturday morning (March 29) you can bring them to the Earth Hour Super-Drive, hosted by Barrie’s Green Party on behalf of Off the Rack Free Clothing and the Barrie Food Bank. Along with donations of food items or used clothing, bring in your e-scrap and we’ll weigh it and pay you cash! The Super-Drive runs from 10 AM to noon in the parking lot behind 110 Dunlop St. W., off Toronto Street.
What do we do with your e-waste? It goes to Barrie’s own GreenGo Recycling, the first company in Canada to pay the public for e-scrap founded by Recychologist Rudy Westerneng, a specialized broker for members of the public who want to recycle beyond the blue box. GreenGo collects scrap from the public, pays for it, then separates it by category before shipping it to a wide variety of end-of-line processors across North America.
If you’ve ever heard Rudy singing in local radio spots, you’ll know that at “GreenGo Recycling they recycle everything”. Even better, they’ll pay you for most of it. Rates start low for steel, most e-scrap, batteries, and appliances, but metals like zinc, aluminum, stainless steel, brass, and copper command a premium, as do some electronics like PC towers, laptops, and cell phones, because these contain small but significant amounts of precious metals or rare earths.
Another item worth a bit more is low-grade motors, because of their copper content. Think power drills, kitchen blenders, even electric toothbrushes.
Rudy even pays for TVs (flat screen or tube), broken electric toys, lamps, vacuum cleaners, old fax machines or scanners or printers, cables, your mouse & keyboard, whatever had a plug or batteries or a chip or contains metal, even if it’s largely plastic.
Some of these are valuable on the commodity market; others (like old televisions) are reimbursed from the stewardship fee you pay whenever you buy new electronics in Ontario. Think of it like a bottle deposit: pay when you get the new stuff, bring back your old stuff to get it back.
As a participant in Ontario’s Orange Drop program, Rudy will also take your leftover or unused paint, and even has a rack where you can pick some up for free! He also buys unwanted clothing (clean & dry) for ten cents a pound, which either gets shipped to poorer nations for wearing or is ripped down to recover fibre, plastic, and metal.
So whether you come to our Super-Drive this Saturday morning or visit Rudy’s GreenGo operation on John Street, there is no excuse for just throwing things away, or leaving them to gather dust in the basement, attic, garage or shed. Recycle it!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Get rid of your e-waste this weekend in Barrie, maybe earn some cash"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Friday, March 21, 2014

Take the time to join this bank

Hour time has come, Barrie!
When Occupy Wall Street moved on to projects like providing relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy or funding a rolling jubilee of debt buyouts & forgiveness, it left many people still eager to make a difference in the world. One was Donna Halliday, who knew she couldn’t change the world but could make a difference by weaving community ties. She founded Barrie’s Time Bank with a $1000 grant from the Huronia Unitarian Fellowship for web design and promotion, because time banking aligns with the Unitarian passion for social justice.
After signing up some new members at last September’s Ecofest, the project caught the eye of Climate Action Now (Barrie), a vibrant new group of activists seeking local projects where they could be the “spark plug” to enable success. Time banking represents a form of re-localizing the economy, one strategy to reduce our carbon footprint and help address the climate crisis.
So what is the Time Bank? Basically, it’s a way for you to offer something you can do, and receive something else in exchange, on an hour-for-hour basis. If you have a knack for sewing, or carpentry, or baking, you can provide that for someone else and take advantage of a manicure, or a facial, or someone to run errands. The beauty of the time bank is you don’t have to find a person who offers exactly what you need and needs what you offer; you provide a service to one person, someone else provides one to you, and the time bank squares it all up.
It’s easy and free to register, and to start giving or getting. You can get a sense of activities by looking for the Barrie Community Time Bank page on Facebook, and click to their site where you can sign up. Current offers include gutter cleaning, rides, photography, manicures, classes such as yoga or forest kindergarten or ethnic cooking, while needs include electrical and carpentry help, or lessons in Spanish or sign language. Services are deposited or withdrawn on an hour-for-hour basis, because regardless how skilled or trained you may be, each of us has only 24 hours in the day.
Time banking enhances people’s sense of self-worth and connection to the community. Even if you are unemployed, or a struggling single parent, there are things you can do for others that they will appreciate. Time banking restores the dignity of sharing and helping that used to fill our communities but has faded from our modern cash-transaction-based economy.
There is no age barrier in time banking – children, adults, seniors can all take part. You can save up hours for a major project or use as you create them. You can even start by using a service, instead of having to give hours first. A working time bank needs withdrawals as much as deposits!
Another project supporter is Transition Barrie, because time banking increases community resilience. After the devastating New Zealand earthquakes in 2011, a well-developed local time bank served as a vital hub, coordinating clean-up and rebuilding efforts by matching available assistance with people in need.
If you’re intrigued by time banking but want to understand it better, drop by the Saturday Social on March 29th, between 5 and 9:30 pm at the DIY Arts Collective at 67 Toronto St. Computers will be set up where you can try it hands-on, with activity stations for children, and even a brief candle-lit Earth Hour ceremony. Time is money – so bank it!

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Time banking a form of re-localizing the economy"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Charged up about battery recycling for Earth Hour

Don't throw me away!

As Earth Hour approaches, preparations for the Barrie Green Party’s fifth annual Earth Hour Super-Drive heat up. Once again, this event combines clothing & food donation drives for Barrie’s Free Clothing Centre and Food Bank with an opportunity for you to bring your old electronics or other e-waste in and get cash back for it. Yes, anything with a battery, plug, or chip can be recycled (through our partner GreenGo) instead of going to landfill, and you get paid by the pound for your trouble. As usual, it’s the Saturday morning of Earth Hour (March 29th 10 am to noon), in the parking lot off Toronto Street behind 110 Dunlop St. W.
Earth Hour aims to make us mindful of our energy use’s ecological footprint. Even as we unplug, more and more of our world runs on battery power, and those batteries become a real problem once used up and discarded. If you visit websites of major battery companies like Duracell or Energizer, they will tell you batteries can’t be recycled and you should throw them out with your garbage. Yet Barrie’s own waste calendar urges you not to do that, and even more importantly, batteries can indeed be recycled, right here in Ontario!
Raw Materials Company (RMC) in Port Colborne has actually been recycling alkaline batteries since 1989, using their own mechanical process that separates the batteries into components, some of which (zinc, manganese, potassium) are “upcycled” as agricultural fertilizer and some of which (steel and other metals) are recycled back into the metal supply stream, with the remainder (cardboard and plastic) being used to generate process energy to reduce carbon footprint.
And the connection is even more local than that – recently I spoke with executives at RMC’s local partner LEI Electronics Inc, headquartered right in here in Barrie, who have proudly pioneered and patented the Eco Alkalinestm battery brand. Although it’s still best to recycle them, these batteries are completely free of toxins like cadmium, lead, or mercury (not even trace amounts) so are harmless if they end up in landfill. And that’s important, because apparently only about 2% of batteries currently make it into the recycling process.
As partner & VP Lionel Lalonde explained, LEI’s passion for the environment goes much deeper. Their non-toxic battery line is certified as carbon-neutral, and they use 80% recycled material in all of their packaging. They have done everything they can to go the extra step and make a sustainable battery product, from factory to shelf to disposal, while keeping their prices in line with the market and their battery quality equal to the leading brands, those efforts earning them LEED certification.
Sadly, the two leading brands have almost a strangle-hold on retail shelves, so if you want these green batteries, you’ll need to order them online for now. But Eco Alkalinestm have seen much greater success at the institutional level, being used by governments, colleges & universities, theme parks, the Canadian Forces.
Unfortunately, there is a chance that Ontario’s battery recycling might be captured by a project of the major suppliers, resulting in our batteries going to a smelter in the US instead of the cleaner and more thorough process invented right here. It’s all up to Waste Diversion Ontario, our provincially-mandated stewardship organization, so be sure to let your elected officials know that you want batteries fully mechanically recycled in Ontario instead of shipped to the US to be burned and melted into slag.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, March 6, 2014

What does the wolf say? (About human effects on climate)

What does the Wolf say?
In discussions about the human-caused climate crisis, I sometimes see an odd argument: that the world is too large for tiny humans to change a major system like climate. I always find this to be a strange assertion, and the Yellowstone wolves illustrate why.
Early in the 20th century, wolves were extirpated from Yellowstone National Park in the American northwest, as part of widespread general anti-wolf campaigns. Not long after, it became clear the wolf was an important part of the park ecosystem, as the elk rapidly multiplied and overgrazed the vegetation. Park management resorted to trapping, moving, and eventually killing elk to preserve the rest of the park. Eventually they killed too many and stopped, then the elk resurged, and the problem recurred.
The idea grew to restore wolves to naturally control elk. In 1995 and 1996, 31 wolves brought from Canada were released in the park. With plentiful prey, their numbers grew, exceeding 100 before stabilizing. Killing about 22 elk per wolf each year, they not only reduced elk population, they also changed herd behaviour, pushing them back from open riverbanks into less favourable habitats and even naturally reducing their birth rate. Many other changes in predator and prey relationships followed: wolves hunted and reduced the overpopulated coyote pack, which led to a resurgence of foxes; wolves pushed cougars back to the high mountain slopes; wolf kills became food for a variety of other scavenging species. Changes in predation of birds and small animals in turn affected the roots, buds, seeds and insects they ate, allowing the natural flora to re-establish and the beavers to return.
The restored vegetation strengthened the soil. Rivers that had eroded their banks and meandered returned to flowing straighter courses. That’s right, as a direct result of the introduction of 31 wolves, mighty rivers actually changed their courses and flows! The transformations of physical geography are extensive and ongoing. You can watch a wonderful short video on this here.
How can so few wolves cause such big changes, just by doing what comes naturally? Quite simply, all things are connected in a living web; whatever we do affects everything else. We humans may feel disconnected but we’re not, and one person’s actions, magnified by modern technology and multiplied by 7 billion people can distort that web, especially when we all lean in the same direction.
Every year our species adds nearly 35 billion tonnes of additional greenhouse gasses to our atmosphere. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, we’ve increased atmospheric carbon levels from about 280 parts per million to 400, and are on course to have doubled it within a few more decades.
In addition to putting all this fossil carbon into the air, we’ve cleared continents of forests, washed eons of topsoil into oceans, removed entire species from existence as we either hunt them or push them out of their habitat, extending our reach from miles underground to the edge of space and beyond. How can anyone believe we can stretch or cut all those ties and not affect the planet’s life-support systems in profound ways?
We are the first and only species to comprehend the pervasive effects of our personal, national, and global actions. We have a solemn duty to understand how, and modify our behaviour to enhance the web of life, not degrade it. For our own sake, if nothing else.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Modifying our behaviour will spare the web of life"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The question of leadership

Now that's my kind of Leader!
Much ado was made this week about Liberal Party leader and (perhaps) Prime-Minister-in-waiting Justin Trudeau’s gaffe of a failed Olympic hockey joke in reference to the ongoing civil unrest in Ukraine. Of course other parties jumped all over it, turning an insensitive remark into major fodder for domestic attack politics, completely divorced from any actual concern for the Ukrainian plight which continues unnoticed among our own recriminations.
The narrative is that if Trudeau can say something so offensive, then clearly he isn’t fit to lead the country. Because a true leader must always say the right thing and make the right decisions, and quickly, too, or we all suffer. Right?
Well, I guess that’s the case, if your model of leadership is a single person who makes all the key decisions himself and does all the talking for us. But is that what we really want or need in a leader? Do we want to put all our eggs in one basket, and leave everyone else out? Not me. I live in a nation growing in size and diversity. As we do, it becomes less possible for any single person to represent us all at once, to take into consideration all our many and diverse needs and interests and decide our course for us. Good decisions are group decisions.
We truly do need better leadership than is on offer, but not in the one-for-all fashion these narratives suggest. The best decisions aren’t made by the single wisest, most mature, most experienced, or most charismatic leader; they are made when many of us share concerns and find consensus together. Our political system is actually designed for this, with each far-flung community electing their own local spokesperson to take their concerns to Ottawa, to gather with over three hundred other such local spokespersons and find, together, the solution that works best for all of us. This isn’t supposed to be lightning-round, either; laws are meant to take days, weeks, months or even in some cases years of careful deliberation and revision before being imposed, sufficient time for these hundreds of local representatives to examine all sides, see all views incorporated, correct mistakes and redress omissions. To talk until everything has been said, then decide.
I don’t want one person to make the one, right decision in every situation and then tell me what it is. That’s not a leader, that’s a dictator. I want someone to listen to my concerns, and your concerns, make sure all stakeholders are part of the process, and help us make the best decisions together. The leader’s job isn’t to decide, but to make us decide. Ensure that important issues (like, for instance, the climate crisis) are discussed and dealt with, not ignored or left for future generations. Make sure experts, taxpayers, citizens, victims, benefactors, and all other stakeholders take part in deciding. Then the leader carries out that decision.
With that vision of leadership, what matters most isn’t experience or knowledge or a confident voice to drown out the rest, but a commitment to process and an ability to listen and ensure everyone is heard.
Sadly, this kind of leadership is neither supported nor rewarded in our current hyper-partisan winner-takes-all approach to politics, so none of the major parties currently offer that kind of leader, nor does it look like they will any time soon. And that’s the real leadership failure: the kind we need most of all is the kind we’re least likely to get.

Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "None of the major parties offer ideal leadership"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation