Thursday, December 30, 2010

Be a diligent recycler and reap rewards

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner; published under the title "Recycling options are, indeed, plentiful"

A constant thing people proudly tell me is that they recycle. Now a normal part of daily life, there are yet wide differences in how well people truly take advantage of our many recycling opportunities. I often notice people throwing away a huge variety of materials which should go in the blue, grey, or green box. Did you know that used paper plates, paper towels, and tissues go in the green bin? That disposable plastic cutlery, foam plates and cups go in your blue box, and Timmy cups in the green? Many people trash these recyclables.

Separating is also crucial. Christmas may have brought a lot of new items in cardboard-backed plastic blister-packs. Hopefully you peeled those apart, putting plastic in your blue box and cardboard in the grey. (I sure hope you didn’t just chuck them in the trash!) Corrugated cardboard should be bundled flat beside your boxes, not in with paper. And unlike the old days, pretty much all paper recycles, including glossy or colourful wrapping papers and magazines.

Recycling conserves precious resources, but also protects our water and soil from harmful chemicals. Leftover cleaning products and medications should always be delivered to hazardous waste depots, never thrown in landfill to leak their poisons. Batteries must never be trashed – and now are easier than ever to recycle. Most major hardware chains have old battery drop-off bins (in the hopes you’ll buy new ones, of course). Many also take used paint for recycling. Car tires are now free to leave at approved collection points.

The latest wave of waste, but also the newest frontier of recycling, is so-called “e-waste”. No, this isn’t another name for spam emails, but refers to discarded electronic or electric devices. This includes not only computers and cell-phones, but anything with a chip, plug, or batteries. Old lamps, coffee makers, beeping toys, even flashing sneakers qualify as e-waste. All contain metals & plastics very bad to release to the environment but valuable to reclaim.

Disposing of e-waste has become much easier. Only a few years ago you had to pay to leave it; last year it became free; now, you get paid! This past spring, Barrie’s own GreenGo Recycling (“they recycle everything”) at 151 John St. became first in Ontario to pay for e-waste. At 5 cents a pound, it’s not gold, but it beats going out of pocket! And you’d be surprised how quickly e-waste piles up in this world of planned obsolescence. GreenGo also take batteries and paint and pay top dollar for scrap metal.

As you count your Christmas blessings and clear out the old to make room for the new, please reduce waste by getting everything to the right recycling program.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Planning, flexibility key to holiday happiness

Written by Karen Fox & Ruth Blaicher, guest authors for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.

Transition Barrie recently held 'Simplify the Holidays' at the Barrie Public Library, to help folks get through the season with as little stress as possible.

Ideas were shared on gifts, entertaining and plans for activities. Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or whatever is being celebrated, is very personal. As we went around the circle hearing about people's traditions and cultures, we learned everyone celebrates in their own way and family traditions are rich. Some follow age-old customs, while others have created their own tradition, special foods and activities that the guests always look forward to.

Many anticipated finding an orange at the bottom of their stocking, and many mentioned some form of Christmas pudding, or other dish traditionally served on their special holiday. Customs ranged from decorating the tree and opening presents Christmas Eve, to large family turkey dinners on Dec. 25. Food seems to be a central theme for all celebrations. The holidays are a time to get together with family and friends to share a meal or exchange gifts.

However you choose to celebrate, planning is key to making your event more enjoyable. Are you having a one-day event, eight days of Hanukkah, or a week of Kwanzaa? Plan each day in respect to what type of food will be prepared, what groceries are needed to prepare those special meals, who will do the cooking, when will it be done or stored. Plan weeks ahead. Consider asking your guests to each contribute a special dish; they may enjoy helping and feel more a part of the celebration.

Presents can be daunting. Simplify gift-giving by drawing names and buying for only one person in your group. Perhaps you could buy everyone on your list the same thing such as a book, movie tickets, a gift certificate or homemade treat. The general rule of thumb is that if it does not feel right, don't do it. You don't have to spend exactly the same amount on each person, you don't have to buy for everyone you know and you don't have to spend your entire day cooking if you don't want.

The most important part of holidays is getting together with loved ones. It does not matter which day they come, just that you see them. Sometimes, everyone can't get together on one day. Be flexible. There's always numerous parties and events to attend. Choose wisely; you can only be in one place at a time. Prioritize and do the things of most interest to you. Talk to your family, share your scheduling concerns. Create your own traditions. Do it your way; people adapt. By delegating duties and being realistic about what you can accomplish you can make it through the holidays with your sanity intact.

Ruth Blaicher and Karen Fox are local realtors and founding members of Transition Barrie with a passion for green issues and are directors of Living Green.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Home retrofit program worth cashing in on

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.

Last spring I wrote about the premature end to the federal ecoENERGY home retrofit grants. A popular and successful program which created good local jobs while helping Canadians save energy and money, there was no good reason to end it. (Unless, of course, to re-introduce it with much fanfare next spring, which is what I suspect and hope will happen.)

But in the meantime, there is still an option. The federal program offered $5,000 in rebates per home; provinces like Ontario matched it, getting you up to $10,000. And although federal funding stopped last spring, provincial grants continue for now. That means you can still get support to increase your home’s energy efficiency. Ontario will even put $150 towards your initial evaluation.

I took advantage of this program last year, accessing federal and provincial grants to replace doors and a furnace and add roof insulation. The rebates were good, but the energy savings are great. Looking forward, I predict our family will save thousands of dollars in heating, gas and water costs. That’s tax-free money in our pockets.

The first step is having your home audited by a certified inspector. They give you a custom report listing things you could do to improve efficiency, and how much each measure will save. Standard are replacing windows and doors with newer, better-insulated ones, or upgrading your furnace to a more efficient model. One of the best ways to use this program is with something you need to do anyway. If your furnace is getting on in years, or you plan to redo your windows, it can’t hurt to have the province pitch in.

Sometimes you can combine grants. Periodically the gas company offers rebates on furnace or water heater upgrades, which can be stacked with the provincial program. We replaced toilets with new low-flow dual-flush models on sale at Home Depot, received a City rebate for installing them, then got federal and Ontario grants on top of that. All told we got back more than the purchase price, so we are ahead from Day One, even before the water savings kick in.

Ontario’s Home Energy Savings Program expires in March and might not be renewed; no-one can predict when a federal program will be re-launched. But the sooner you lock in savings, the more you save. That’s why I recommend getting your home evaluated and doing some of the retrofits now. You have nothing to lose but waste, and that’s something we can all do without.

Update: last week I wrote about the Barrie Free Clothing Centre. They have a particular need for men’s clothing right now, so if you have any to spare, please donate. The Centre is open Thursday to Saturday, 12:30 – 3:30 pm, behind 110 Dunlop St. E.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Volunteering would be a 'Nifty' idea

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.

As we enter the holiday season I’d like to recognize someone who has been making holidays and everydays easier for the needy in Barrie for many years, and is herself now in need of some assistance.

Valerie Scrivner founded the Barrie Free Clothing Centre in 2006. Operating from a surplus portable at Ferris Lane Community Church, she received donated clothing and distributed it to the needy. Like a food bank, the Centre didn’t charge. But after several successful years, the Church needed their portable back for expanded programming.

A local landlord was generous enough to give some downtown retail space, but Valerie needed a registered charity to issue receipts for the donated rent. Living Green, Barrie’s environmental NGO, stepped up and agreed to adopt the Barrie Free Clothing Centre as one of its projects. Redistributing used clothing reduces the waste stream, and providing it to the needy helps maintain an economically sustainable diverse community.

The move created some new costs for the Centre, however, because now there was insurance, and HST on the donated rent. To help cover this, the Centre added a second project, Nifty Thrifty, selling high-end clothing at deep discounts.

Standard items accepted by the Centre for free distribution are clothing which is clean and in good shape and perfectly good for continued wearing. High-end items, such as designer or expensive outfits, are set aside for sale at rock-bottom prices, such as $3 for a $60 blouse or $4 for like-new designer jeans. These prices are even lower than one would find in a standard thrift store, and allow people short of money to acquire decent clothes for work or a job interview.

Overall, Nifty Thrifty has been growing despite hurdles. One major issue has been the extended reconstruction of Toronto Street, which has cut most of the traffic from passing the Centre’s storefront (behind 110 Dunlop St. West, between Toronto and High Streets). The City promises this will soon be completed, and we anxiously await that day. But the greatest need is for reliable volunteers to help the Centre stay open and expand hours. It’s a fairly simple job, keeping clothing sorted on the racks and helping clients find what they need. Anyone with a few hours a week or even a few hours a month could sign on and help keep the Centre running smoothly. Valerie has been a stalwart and reliable volunteer for many years, but can’t do it all on her own. Perhaps this holiday season you can find it in your heart to donate some time to this worthy cause.

You can contact the Centre and Nifty Thrifty by calling Valerie at 252-2179 or emailing, or drop by between 12:30 and 3:30 on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Synchronicity may have led to chocolate

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner.

There's a theory called synchronicity, which puts forth that coincidences are actually the universe making necessary connections. I don't know if there's truth to that or if it's just wishful thinking, but lately I've experienced some convenient coincidences.

I'd long been planning a Root Issues food series, and the topics have recently been falling into my lap. A friend is planning to open a local food store. (More on that early next year). Last month, my guest authors sent me a column about global food issues.

Today's coincidence is about chocolate. Not just any chocolate, and certainly not what you buy on impulse as you pass by the checkout counter. No, I've discovered a local (yes!) organic source, and I'm happy to share.

It's called MB Chocolate and it's made this side of Orangeville. It's an artisanal product lovingly crafted in small batches from raw organic cacao. The growing raw food movement recognizes that heat alters or destroys many of the healthiest elements and compounds in food, and seeks instead to preserve them for a healthier diet. This product proves that raw and healthy can also be tasty.

MB augments the natural healthiness of raw cacao with special boosters like an algae called E3Live BrainON, which contains high levels of many very special proteins, enzymes, minerals, vitamins, and essential fatty acids. But their chocolate doesn't taste at all like algae -- it's lightly sweetened with healthy palm sugar and herbal stevia, then flavoured with organic spices like ginger or cayenne and essential oils such as orange, lemon, or mint.

I say lightly sweetened -- this chocolate is far from the sickly-sweet, over-processed confections we often think of as chocolate bars that really don't deserve the title.

No, this is chocolate as it was first conceived, winning favour and acclaim amongst the ancients. This is truly guilt-free chocolate, without the artificial chemicals or processed sugars so common in modern sweets. Those with dietary restrictions can take comfort that it is free of nuts, soy, gluten and lactose. The creaminess comes from cacao butter rather than dairy products.

But back to synchronicity. I would never have known about MB except that they appeared as guests on Rogers Daytime the same morning I was there to promote a community event. I was very interested to learn about their product, and that they were making it near where I grew up, just down the road from my brother-in-law's home.

After trying some samples, I knew I'd have to pass it along. And the good news is that they are ramping up production to meet growing demand. Look for M & B Alchemy at Barrie's own Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings, or at their website.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.