Disclaimer: Unfortunately, in today’s social climate, the ability to go eco-friendly is a privilege. Sustainable products have yet to become accessible to the masses and changing one’s lifestyle can be challenging when limited by socioeconomic status, disability, etc. NO ONE should feel obliged to implement ‘green’ solutions nor should they feel ashamed if they cannot. What is important is that you positively contribute to your community in a way that YOU feel most comfortable.
After endless months of torturously cold winters in Canada, summer is a time to jump out of hibernation, enjoy longer days, and soak up some vitamin D. Even during the quarantine, there are an abundance of summer activities we can enjoy that are safe and allow us to optimize the fleeting warm weather. However, whether you’re simply sitting pool side or looking for adventure, there are always ways you can make summer plans environmentally friendly.
1. Say NO to Oxybenzone in your Sunscreen:
The smell of sunscreen never fails to bring back childhood memories of trips to the ocean, and weeks at summer camp. That first whiff after months spent bundled under layers of wool and cotton always manages to put a smile on my face. Yet something I never knew as a naïve sunscreen enthusiast was the damaging components many companies use to make it. As global temperatures continue to rise and sun exposure becomes a bigger problem, it is important that we all educate ourselves on what is inside our bottle.
Oxybenzone is the leading chemical to be weary of when browsing sunscreen options. It is a very common UV filter used to protect against UVA and UVB radiation. However, despite its widespread use, there is little evidence to suggest that this chemical is any more effective than others available (such as zinc-oxide). It can also cause severe damage to environments and humans.
Because oxybenzone has to protect us against UV absorption it stays on the surface of our skin and only 4% is actually absorbed. This means that when you apply sunscreen and proceed to jump into the lake, pool, or any other body of water, it will inevitably contaminate it. It was estimated that roughly 8000-16000 tons of sunscreen are washed off in tourist reef areas annually. This type of pollution can be very harmful and has been known to cause coral reef bleaching and to pollute marine life. One study was able to sample oxybenzone in fish such as rainbow trout, barb, chub, and mussels.
Always remember to read the ingredient list before you buy sunscreen- many companies have yet to make the switch and go oxybenzone free.
To further avoid polluting with sunscreen, refrain from going outdoors at peak UV hours which are usually between 11am and 3pm. Both your skin, and the environment will love you for it. You may also want to consider using a cream instead of spray bottles. Although sprays are often preferred out of convenience, they do a poor job of concentrating the product on your skin and can further pollute the environment.
2. Visit Your Local Farmer’s Market:
The changing seasons bring a new bounty of fruits and vegetables that renew our excitement to visit the grocery store and browse its colourful produce aisles. But have you ever truly examined the little sticker on your apple? Where did it come from? If you are shopping at big-box stores, most of their produce is likely shipped internationally. In fact, food typically travels over 1500 miles before reaching its ultimate destination. While importing food may be a convenient way for chain grocery stores to cut costs, it can be very damaging to the environment. It requires mass emissions of greenhouse gases and the large-scale farms from which food is often sourced demand plenty of irrigation and fertilizer. Furthermore, the greater the distance your food travels, the less money goes into farmers’ pockets. This is because most of the money will instead go towards paying the middleman to deliver the produce. Today, only 7 cents of every dollar you spend on food is given back to farmers.
Farmer’s markets are good alternatives to grocery stores and are especially accessible in the summer. They sell good foods that are typically grown ethically and without the extreme use of pesticides, fertilizers, or irrigation. Supporting local farms will also ensure that farmers are properly compensated for their work and that minimal fossil fuels are emitted when distributing their food.
So, the next time you are craving a crisp apple or juicy watermelon, grab your family, friends, neighbour, or dog and visit the local farmer’s market!
3. Off with the AC!
While Canadians can weather extremely cold conditions, for roughly 4 months of the year, temperatures become very hot in The North. For the privileged group, this means off with the heating and on with the air conditioning. For the less fortunate who do not have access to adequate temperature control, this could mean dehydration, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. However, while it can quite literally save one’s life, air conditioning is often abused during the summer months and it can rack up energy bills, short-circuit homes, and cause the emission of unnecessary greenhouse gases. In fact, air conditioning can consume more than 50% of the total electricity demand in hotter seasons. We should therefore take extra care to ensure that we are only using it when necessary.
One of the most wasteful uses of air conditioning is when it is run in un-used rooms. While this may be appreciated during those first moments back home as you welcome the cold blast of air on your sweaty frame, it will most certainly not feel good when the energy bill arrives.
It is also especially damaging to run air conditioning at night in countries such as Canada where temperatures tend to drop as the sun goes down. The use of cooling systems at night heat urban atmospheres by 1°C which only further increases the need for AC.
There are many alternatives to cooling systems. Fans are an excellent way to cool your house and there are many variations such as ceiling, window, and free-standing fans that can be accessed for a fraction of the cost of an AC unit. You can also make or purchase evaporative coolers which have been said to work even better than fans. A more long-term solution would involve upgrading the insulation of your house as houses with poor insulation require more energy to be heated and cooled and are thus bigger polluters.
4. Get Adventurous With how you Travel!
The summer presents us with a unique opportunity to ditch our polluting cars and adopt new ways to get around the city. Biking, skateboarding, walking, public transportation, and even boating are all excellent ways to lower your footprint as temperatures increase. These types of transportation also help reduce sedentary behaviour by getting people moving rather than sitting in the car for hours on end. Although it may take more time to get to your destination, a little forward planning will leave your body and environment thanking you!
5. Ease-up on the outdoor toys
Pool floaties and outdoor toys make up just about every one of my summer memories. They have the ability to turn a hose into a water park, a pool into a river ride, and your lawn into the ultimate playground. In today’s age, they have also become an Instagram staple and can be found in the background of almost everyone’s summer posts. What happens too often, however, is those toys are eventually abandoned and left floating in pools for months or cast aside in the dirt. This means, when the next summer season comes around, many chose to simply buy new toys and drop the old ones in the trash. Most of the toys are also made of plastic. So, when you send them to the garbage or leave them exposed to the sun, they will emit harmful chemicals that pollute the atmosphere. Furthermore, they easily get lost and make their way into oceans which can be deadly to marine life.
At the very least, we should consider our use patterns. If you find yourself throwing away and re-purchasing pool toys regularly, try and implement a solution that will reduce this behaviour. This could involve finding a place to store the toys or doing better to put them away if they have been out for too long. You may also consider sharing with neighbours, family, and friends.
To go the extra mile, do research into what your toys are made of. Are they produced with recycled plastics or new materials? It may be worthwhile to switch to brands who are choosing to use safer materials. With these solutions, you are sure to do good for the environment without sacrificing those blissful summer memories!
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