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Last year, we began to try to buy toilet paper and paper towels that were made only from recycled paper. (I know, I know, we shouldn’t use paper towels. I’m working on it!!)

According to Greenpeace Canada, if each household in Canada replaced 1 roll of virgin toilet paper with just one roll of recycled toilet paper, it would save 47,962 trees.

It isn’t always easy, with the limited amount of information that companies put on their packaging, to figure out which brand of paper products is greener.  Some were obvious — like the individually-wrapped plastic-covered mega-rolls we used to buy at Costco. We stopped buying those, opting for the ones that said they were made from recycled paper. But it wasn’t clear which was the greenest. Some said they were made with recycled paper, others said post-consumer fibres, some had packages made of recycled material, others said they were biodegradable. Some just had green colours on their packages.

Thanks to Greenpeace Canada, now I know which ones to put in my shopping cart. Their campaign to preserve Canada’s boreal forest includes a guide to greener toilet paper products sold in Canada, and which ones to avoid. You can see it here.

And the last time we were at Costco, we found the Cascades brand recycled-paper toilet paper, so that’s what we’re stocking up on now. Here’s a story from the Globe and Mail about how Cascades is tooting its green horn after years of hiding the fact that it used recycled paper in its products.

These rolls of paper are all green

Normally quiet Cascades Inc. wants to shout out to its customers that its recycled paper products are truly good for the environment

When an Ottawa consulting firm conducted a study of the environmental claims of 1,018 consumer products sold in North American big-box stores, there was just one item that presented truly accurate information: a package of paper towels from Quebec paper company Cascades Inc.
  Those paper towels really are made from 100-per-cent recycled material, TerraChoice Environmental Marketing Inc. found, and they are biodegradable and compostable.
Every other product surveyed – all 1,017 of them – made one or more unsupportable marketing claims.
  Cascades, a quiet player in Canada’s huge paper industry, is about to boost its profile to try to take advantage of its long-time, and pristine, environmental record.
  For years, most of Cascades’ consumer products – paper towels, toilet paper, and napkins – hid behind private-label brands. But with a new environmental sensibility pervasive in the marketplace, the company wants to flaunt its green credentials by expanding sales of products sold under its own name. 
You can read the rest here.

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This would be one of the many squirrels that has discovered the buffet at our backyard compost bin. Hard to see the bins, buried under the 26cm of snow that fell here on Saturday night.

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But what hungry squirrel would let 26cm of snow keep them from a tasty snack? Not this one, who dug a path down through the snow into the bin yesterday. That’s the very tip of his tail, sticking out of the snow while he dumpster dives.

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Victory! He found something to eat.

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Last summer you could hardly go a couple of days in Quebec without hearing about blue-green algae, a toxin affecting the province’s lakes and chasing swimmers out of the water.

While agriculture and sewage from lakefront homes greatly contribute to the spread of blue-green algae, a small part of the problem is phosphates coming from things like dishwasher detergents. So we switched to a phosphate-free brand that we picked up at our local health food store. But at $8 a box, it seemed awfully pricy. I thought there had to be a better way.

So I mixed up some homemade dishwasher detergent — half baking soda and half Borax. It cleaned well for a while, and I felt very virtuous and thrifty. But then we started to get a whitish film on our dishes. That’s when we started alternating the homemade with the outrageously expensive store brand.

Then our dishwasher conked out. My husband spent hours taking it apart, peering inside, and swearing. We thought we would have to buy a new one, but he managed to resurrect it from the near-dead. And then put a ban on the Borax after he found a warning on the company’s website to not use it in the dishwasher.

So my ears perked right up today when I heard that the federal government is instituting a country-wide ban on any detergents with more than 0.5 per cent phosphates, something the Quebec provincial government has already done. The bummer in today’s announcement from Ottawa? It doesn’t take effect until 2010. Greenpeace slammed the decision today, saying Quebec pharmacy chain Jean Coutu has done more to restrict phosphates by refusing to stock phosphate-containing soaps.

Even Quebec’s Environment Minister says even with the new restrictions on phosphates, we’ll be stuck with the blue-green algae for at least another 10 years.

Until the phosphate bans come into effect, I’m going to try this homemade dishwasher detergent and see if we can do our small part in the crusade against blue-green algae — and not break the dishwasher while we do it.

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This story by my colleague Michelle Lalonde at the Montreal Gazette had me rounding up our plastic sippy cups and the kids’ drinking cups and checking their bottoms for the right recycling symbols – if it has a 7 inside that little triangle, there’s a good chance they contain the dangerous chemical bisphenol A.

Here’s what Environmental Defence had to say this week about its new research on baby bottles and bisphenol A:

A new study by Environmental Defence shows that a harmful chemical, bisphenol A, leaches from popular brands of plastic baby bottles found on Canadian store shelves. Bisphenol A, is a known hormone disruptor and is associated with adverse health effects, including breast and prostate cancer, early puberty in girls, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, and obesity.

From Toxic Nation, here’s a list of safe plastic baby bottle alternatives.

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 We’ve toyed with vegetarianism over the years. Sick of meat, we launch into delicious veggies, legumes, tofu,  eggs and even texturized vegetable protein for a few weeks. But we always slide back into meat eating, either with a hamburger or some crispy slabs of bacon. Or a big juicy steak from The Keg.

Our flip-flopping on food was in my mind as I read this piece in the Globe and Mail. The author, from the Vancouver Humane Society, argues that we should reduce our meat consumption in order to reduce the impact of climate change. He’s not saying go veggie, just eat less red meat.

The head of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the scientists who won the Nobel Prize) recently called on us meat-eaters to cut back on eating meat by 10 per cent, use bikes and stop shopping for the sake of shopping.

Well, our Christmas credit card bills continue to roll in, so that’s put a big damper on the shopping. Our bikes are packed away for the winter, but we are walking more. So I think it’s time we look at the meat question.

In the past week we’ve eaten meat almost every day. Mostly chicken, but there was some lamb and a meal of pork chops. One thing we eat very rarely is beef and that’s because the sight of a big slab of raw beef turns me right off cooking. It makes me think of flesh, which I know all meat is, but there’s just something about the raw beef that brings it home every time.

We can’t all be like British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, who adores meat and is always suggesting to cook it way rarer than I could ever consider eating it. In her latest cookbook, Nigella Express, she recounts how she tells restaurant staff how she’d like her meat cooked. No rare or medium for her: “I tell them just to hit it on the head and walk it straight through.”

Bring on the vegetables.

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