Keeping it green when the world’s gone white
by Jennifer Knoch
Winter isn’t easy on a lot of us who prefer basically any other season to polar vortexes and darkness before dinner. It’s not exactly easy on the planet either, but I’ve rounded up a few tips to help us find eco bright spots amidst the gloom.
Put your sidewalks on a low-sodium diet
A few years ago, a blue crab was found in Mississauga’s Cooksville Creek. Why is that weird? That’s an ocean creature living in fresh water, which means the regular freshwater aquatic life is not happy. High salt levels can influence species growth, reproduction, and food sources.
How did our rivers and lakes get saltier than Samin Nosrat’s pasta water? Road salt run-off, of course. While de-icing is necessary to avoid accidents, we tend to overdo it, and we’re seeing salt levels over eight times the safe limit in some areas of Southern Ontario.
On your own property, make sure you shovel well first, then salt only the areas you’ll walk on and use only about a pill bottle’s amount per sidewalk square. (This is a fraction of what most people use.) Sand’s not a bad alternative to add grip to slick surfaces. Some people shovel, then sweep — brooms are especially effective on cobblestones or uneven surfaces. The sun melts remaining snow, with no salt required.
Also check in with your condo board, workplace, or your city: what are they doing to reduce salt usage? Have they tried alternatives? (Karma sells Ecotraction, a non-corrosive high-traction mineral.) Often alternatives like calcium magnesium acetate or even beet juice are more costly, but road salt is corroding our cars, bridges, pipes (salt corrosion was a factor in Flint’s water being contaminated with lead), and buildings. Even if we’re not good at putting a price on a clean environment, crumbling infrastructure has a clear price tag.
Stop those leaks
Heat is expensive (for your bank account and the planet) so let’s keep it inside, shall we? Hunt for leaks around doors, windows, and even outlets in your home, by feeling for cool air on your hand or by holding a lit candle nearby: if the flame flickers, you’ve got unwanted airflow (or maybe a ghost).
If you have a leak, install or replace weather stripping or caulking, which can get worn out in time. Another (admittedly less glamorous) option for renters is shrink wrapping windows. It means you can’t open your windows over the winter, but past late November that’s no sacrifice.
Stay warm but keep it cool
Though we all want a warm refuge from the icy outside, challenge your set point a little, especially at night and when you’re away. Program your thermostat or consider a smart thermostat like Ecobee or Nest, which can learn from your behaviours and automatically adjust your home temperature, saving energy and money.
If you’re living in a home with central heating, make sure your cold-air returns are dust-free and not covered — you don’t want extra cold air hanging around! An extra wintertime hack: if you have ceiling fans, run them on reverse (clockwise), forcing that hot air downwards.
To stay more comfortable, dress in layers, which trap air between them and keep you toastier (and are easy to adjust). Cozying up in blankets, sweaters, and fuzzy socks is one of the (only) nice parts of winter, so hygge it up!
Keep eating local
Local eating is a little harder in cold climates, but not impossible. You don’t have to eat like a Borscht Belt farmer in the hungry months, but some simple swaps can have a painless (and positive) impact. Do you need lettuce, or can you use cabbage or kale? Can your side be brussels sprouts instead of broccoli? Local root vegetables and apples are available all winter, and we can keep supporting farmers through their lean months.