Your Summer Holiday Green Guide
Top 10 Tips for a Sustainable Summer
by Laura McDonald
1. Reduce your need for air conditioning
It uses a lot of energy, but there are ways to reduce your need for it. Here are a few:
- Use your windows. When it’s hotter outside, keep your windows closed and covered during the day, then open them when the outside air cools off in the evening. You can also hang damp sheets in the window if there’s a breeze. Some houses or rooms just work better with the windows open all the time, with a good cross-breeze and fans for circulation. Experiment and see what works in your house.
- Ceiling fans and standing fans really do make a huge difference. Turn them off when you’re not in the room to save energy, and make sure your ceiling fans are rotating the right direction for summer, pushing air down.
- Reduce heat-generating sources inside your house, like your dishwasher, clothes dryer, oven, computer, and lights, by using them less often and unplugging electronics when not in use.
- Drink a lot of water in the summer to stay hydrated and keep feeling cool. A one-minute shower or even just getting your feet wet before bed can also go a long way. And of course, there are many splash pads and places to swim in Kitchener and Waterloo, plus nearby at Snyder’s Flats, the Elora Quarry, and other Grand River Conservation Areas.
All of these things will help you use your A/C less, even if you do need to turn it on. And when all else fails, go somewhere that’s air conditioned anyway, like the library. (And of course, talk to REEP about even more ways to keep your house cool!)
2. Have fun outside (and without shopping)
Research shows that positive outdoor experiences can lead to a lifelong appreciation for nature, and therefore environmental stewardship (see: Making an Impact: The Lasting Effects of Children’s Experiences in Nature). So have as much outdoor fun as possible year-round, but especially in the summer!
A big key to sustainable fun is to avoid defaulting to shopping, even though the air-conditioned mall is tempting. Keeping your consumption level down means you’re using fewer natural resources. Luckily there are a lot of other things to do in town! The City of Waterloo, Cambridge and Kitchener all have event and festival listings online, plus there’s CBC KW’s Five Fun Things to do This Weekend each week, and The Community Edition’s Summertime in the City events overview.
A few ideas to consider are:
- Rent a canoe, paddleboat or kayak: in Victoria park, on the Grand River, or at a GRCA site. Or go tubing down the Elora Gorge
- Princess Cinemas puts on Music & Movies in the Park, in Waterloo Park in July and August.
- Try geocaching!
- Indoors: The programming at the KPL and WPL is impressive (and for all ages), including free movies on weekends.
If you’re heading out for a day-long or multi-day festival (like Hillside), check out the Eco-Friendly Festival-Going Guide for Families on the Alternatives Journal website.
3. Green your BBQ
Backyard BBQs and picnics are summer staples. People tend to use disposable dishes and cutlery at both, so that’s one easy area to really reduce your impact. Get some non-breakable, lightweight, reusable dishes that you won’t be afraid to use outside and drop on the lawn, even with little ones around. Yes, they’re plastic, but you’ll save a lot more resources in the long run! And think about putting lower-impact stuff on the grill like vegetables, veggie burgers, local grass-fed meat, and marinated tofu or tempeh.
4. Rethink vacations
The real benefit of ‘getting away’ doesn’t come from going somewhere far away or for a long time. It’s the change of pace and disconnecting that go along with vacations. And it’s definitely possible to achieve that feeling and get the benefits of “getting away” without a lot of energy-intensive travel!
Try a “staycation” (where you take time off from your usual schedule and act like a tourist in your own town) or a“near-cation” (a vacation just without travelling far). Both can have all the benefits of taking a break and recharging for a while.
For a near-cation, instead of flying somewhere far away, choose somewhere within Southern Ontario. Pick a kilometre limit you’d like to stick to, grab a map, and see what you can find! Stratford is 30 minutes by train, and the Bruce Peninsula will definitely give you a feeling of “being somewhere else,” just 3-4 hours away.
A few ideas for staycations:
- Hike in Homer Watson Park or at rare Charitable Research Reserve, or hike the Grand River, Avon or another local trail in sections over a few days (check out EcoParent for suggestions for hiking-suitable baby carriers and tips from the book Hikes with Tykes).
- Set up a campsite in your backyard.
- Coordinate a family board game tournament or at-home film festival.
- Plan a tour: local history sites and museums, or Grand River Conservation Area sites, or do a playground tour and have your kids write reviews (you could even publish them in a little ‘zine)
5. Use public or active transportation
Whether you’re travelling around town or a little further, try to use public or active transportation to reduce your footprint even more.
You can get to Laurel Creek Conservation Area on Grand River Transit, and Bruce Peninsula National Park, Algonquin and other provincial parks via the Park Bus out of Toronto. Greyhound, Coach Canada, and Megabus go just about everywhere, and VIA Rail offers deals on a lot of trips along the London-Montreal corridor on Tuesdays.
We also have a lot of great bike trails, and it’s a really easy ride to Laurel Creek Conservation Area (about an hour from downtown Kitchener, but almost entirely flat), or it’s two hours to Elora Gorge Conservation Area. I’ve taken a weekend camping trip to Laurel Creek with three people’s gear in one bike trailer. Or take bikes with you on a road trip for getting around town once you’re there, or see if you can rent them.
6. Buy groceries, not take-out
To cut down on food packaging waste while you’re travelling (or any time), stay somewhere with a kitchen or kitchenette if you can, or a bbq or firepit – or pack a camp stove! And if you are going to be getting take-out meals, use your own containers, dishes and cutlery whenever you can. I never leave home without my bamboo cutlery set, a water bottle, and often a reusable container.
Some foods that don’t require refrigeration or much packaging include: summer sausage, nuts & seeds, bread, dried fruit, homemade fruit leather or meat jerky, tortillas, peanut butter, apples, avocados, rice cakes, crackers, carrots, homemade granola bars and protein bars. Hard cheeses and small packages of guacamole or hummus also keep well (but do have packaging).
7. Go camping
Camping can be a very low-impact and low-cost vacation. Car-camping locally is also great, as is car-free camping locally – again, the bike ride to Laurel Creek is really nice. Before investing in a lot of gear, rent or borrow as much as you can to save money and resources – make sure you’re going to use things repeatedly before buying.
- Adventure Guide has gear rentals, and you can rent canoes when you arrive at many provincial parks.
- Learn then Leave No Trace principles for keeping your environmental impact to a minimum.
- Articles to read: Car-free camping and Camping with kids
My top tip for packing light on a camping trip: dehydrated food. You can avoid buying the pre-packaged ones by making meals (like chili) at home, dehydrating them in the oven – spread it out thin on parchment paper on a baking sheet, then heat at a really low temperature with the door propped open, probably around 12 hours, sometimes more – and then you just add boiling water to rehydrate and cook!
8. Eat locally
Speaking of food, summer is the easiest time of year to reduce your carbon footprint by eating local, in-season, and/or organic food. Driving around to a few farms to buy your meat and produce, or to pick berries, can make a great day trip!
See what’s in season at Foodland Ontario’s seasonal availability guide, and check out these places in town to get the goods:
- For buying in town, Bailey’s and The Sustainable Market are online buying clubs. You order what you want from a range of local farms and food producers, and then go pick it up all at a central location each week or two.
- Of course there’s the market – make sure to ask questions at the Kitchener Market because it’s not all local.
- And it’s not too late to get seedlings and start a container garden this year! You can get seedlings at the Uptown Market on Thursdays, among other places. Next year, look into joining a community garden – here’s a list of all the community gardens in the area.
Organic food can be expensive, so try starting with the “dirty dozen” – produce that is most likely to be grown using a lot of pesticides. Also note the “clean fifteen” – produce least likely to use pesticides, and don’t worry so much about those ones.
I really recommend eating local produce year-round by canning, freezing, and dehydrating food in the summer and fall. You can start with something easy like freezing berries, or freezing chopped herbs in oil in ice cube trays, which is what you see on the left there, but canning is really not as hard as it seems.
9. Avoid chemicals in your clothes
A clothesline is a good way to keep the heat down in your house and save energy. To avoid stiff clothes dried outside without using chemical-laden fabric softener, add a 1/2 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle. Apparently “snapping” your clothes once before you hang them also helps.
For sweat-wicking and odour-resistant clothes without chemical treatments, look for merino wool clothing which is very lightweight and cool, or BlueSign certified fabrics, which are made with less-toxic chemicals. Synthetic fabrics are made from oil, and every time you wash them, tiny plastic particles get washed into our waterways, and end up accumulating in aquatic life.
10. Use eco-friendly and non-toxic sunscreens
Avoid spray versions which are unreliable and can be easily inhaled. Look for physical sunscreens that deflect sunlight such as zinc or titanium, rather than chemical sunscreens, which change your absorption of UV rays. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s annual sunscreen guide.
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