Earth Day was launched in April 1970 by Denis Hayes and has evolved into an international day of action – observed by 200 countries around the world – to inspire people to make environmentally conscious decisions while provoking policy changes.
Every year on April 22nd environmentalists, activists and citizens organize and attend events that demonstrate support for environmental protection. They scour the beaches for plastic waste, they organize vegetarian potlucks, they attend swaps, they hold rallies, they discuss much-needed political action to stop the harmful impacts of climate change.
Given that we are running out of time to make the structural changes necessary to save the planet, at the Toronto Tool Library & Sharing Depot, we like to live like it’s Earth Day every day. Keeping in mind that we aren’t going to save the earth with a better kind of disposable coffee cup and that 60-80% of the negative impacts on the planet come from household consumption, we like to focus on the root of the problem: the inefficient use of the earth’s resources and the act of individual mass consumption itself.
How do we do this? By focusing on four Rs:
- RECIRCULATE – provide spaces of access where people can borrow things they don’t need to own as individuals. If the average drill is used for just 13 minutes in its useable lifespan, what is the point of having a drill in every household? It makes more sense to share things like tools, camping gear, party supplies, toys, board games, etc as a community. We also host swapping events throughout the year (such as this one and this one), giving people an opportunity to recirculate items that already exist rather than purchasing new in store.
- REGENERATE – provide spaces and tools for people to learn the art of repair. We host weekly events with Repair Cafe Toronto at our 830 St Clair W location, an opportunity for people to not only get broken items fixed, but learn how to do it themselves.
- REIMAGINE – closely related to repair, reimagining involves taking materials that already exist but may no longer be useful and transforming them into something people need. We provide space to organizations like Boomerang Bags Toronto who take used textiles and transform them into reusable bags for the community. We’ve also just launched a new initiative called CraftWorks, which will provide classes to empower people with skills in repair, sewing, mending, making and creating, with a focus on upcycling and reusing materials. Buy less, waste less, create more.
- REFUSE – some materials just shouldn’t exist at all, such as single-use plastic. We partner with organizations like Saponetti to provide greater access to package-free items.
Do you see the through line? By focusing on recirculating, regenerating, reimagining and refusing, we can shift our relationship with resources from a take-use-waste linear approach to a circular approach where waste is designed out. This is about reinventing our relationship to the earth’s resources, and by extension, our relationships to each other.
While it’s going to take more than bringing your own reuable bag to the grocery store to scale these things to make the four Rs above the norm for our society (for instance, we should have libraries of things in every neighborhood and we should have repair malls like in Sweden) we can begin making choices to generate a culture shift that will lay the foundation for larger scale changes.
Here is a guide to give you some inspiration on how to live like it’s #EarthDayEveryday:
1) Avoid Buying Things New
When you purchase an item new in a store, you are creating demand in the market for that product, essentially voting for more of that thing to be made. But over-consumption is harming the planet, with research showing connections between the environmental consequences of consumerism and climate destabilization.
Drop below the radar of the invisible hand by swapping, trading, borrowing and utilizing Toronto’s ‘free markets.’
- organize and attend community swaps, such as the ones we run throughout the year like Swap, Mend & Make and Holiday Gift Swap. You can sign up for our community newsletter to get notified about upcoming swaps.
- Trade for items using the popular Toronto-based app Bunz Trading Zone. This is a particularly efficient and easy way to find what you need second hand thanks to the app’s handy search function: if there is something in particular you are looking for, you just plug it into the search bar and any user with that item up for trade pops up.
- Borrow items from your local Library of Things or from your neighbours using the handy app Peerby.
- Borrow clothes rather than constantly purchasing new items that eventually become boring or fall out of style. You can become a member of Fresh Fashion Library to get access to their entire inventory of clothing, shoes and accessories – like a big community closet! You can borrow fancy outfits and dresses for special occasions via Rent Frock Repeat and stylish designer clothes via Boro. Or purchase clothes second hand from thrift or consignment stores (one of our personal favourites is Common Sort)
- Go on a treasure hunt at Toronto’s Really Really Free Market, which takes place the first Saturday of every month. And yes, it’s exactly as it sounds – all the pre-loved items are really, really free.
- Look for items on Toronto’s Freecycle app, another great resource where Torontonians post items they no longer want, offering to the community for free. This app also has a search function, making it easy to find specific items.
- Get your community involved with a Secondhand Sunday event, which is a city-wide event taking place on Sunday, April 28. During Secondhand Sunday, participating neighborhoods simply leave unwanted items next to the sidewalk or curb for their neighbours to browse and take. That thing your neighbour no longer wants could be exactly what you need!
2) Dare To Repair
When something breaks down, don’t throw it away! Take it to the amazing ‘fixperts’ at your local Repair Café. Repair Café Toronto is an invaluable resource in this city and we now have a space for them at our 830 St Clair West location where they hold weekly repair events every Sunday afternoon from 12-4pm! Bring your broken treasures and get them fixed!
Getting things repaired not only pushes back against the wasteful practice of built-in obsolescence, it also supports a culture of repair by showing governments that there is a demand for this sort of thing. These are the kinds of movements that can encourage sustainable policy changes that tackle throwaway culture. For example, Sweden implemented tax breaks on repairs to incentivize people to utilize repair services, create jobs in the repair sector and put pressure on companies to design better products.
Toronto also has an amazing clothing repair service – Toronto Clothing Repairathon – which pops up at various farmer’s markets and community events around the city to repair people’s damaged textiles for free. Join their Facebook group to stay up-to-date on their events.
SIGN THE RIGHT TO REPAIR PETITION
MPP for Don Valley East Michael Coteau has finally brought the right to repair movement to Ontario with the introduction of a private members bill that would force companies to provide instructions and parts to consumers and local repair shops.
Currently, big tech companies do not provide these, creating a monopoly on the repair of their products. This often makes it more expensive to repair a device than to replace it, forcing people to purchase new devices. Excellent for corporate profits – bad for people and planet.
Right to repair laws will:
- make it cheaper to get your broken devices fixed
- support local repair shops and businesses
- keep electronics in circulation and out of landfill
3) Practice Proper Disposal
When an item has definitely reached the end of its useable lifespan or you no longer have use for it, retire it with dignity by disposing of it properly and with care or donating it responsibly:
- Check out this list of charities in Toronto for where to donate various items that are still in good working order.
- Use the search bar on Toronto’s Waste Wizard for inspiration and answers to questions about where to properly dispose of items (which will also generate a list of charities for still functional goods).
- For textiles that are no longer suitable for donation or swaps, check out this amazing service in Toronto – Textile Waste Diversion. They take everything in their bins and ensure it’s properly recycled. Textile waste is a growing problem and we should do everything we can to keep textiles from entering the regular waste stream.
- For electronics recycling, check out this list of resources for e-waste recyclers in Toronto.
4) Reduce Your Reliance on Single-Use Packaging & Plastics
We are in the midst of a shift in relation to the global plastic epidemic. Since plastic production ramped up in the 1950s, scientists estimate that we’ve produced upwards of 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic, most of which has gone into landfills and waterways rather than recycling centres (only 9% of plastic gets recycled globally Even if recycling rates were increased, the amount of destruction involved in the creation and distribution of plastic materials is just as problematic for the environment.
“By the time waste gets recycled, 95% of the environmental damage has already occurred – in manufacturing, in oil extraction, in the poisoning of our rivers and air…the output of carbon.”– Daniel Hoornweg
By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, which explains why we are finding so many plastic particles in the sea food we eat and why whales and other marine animals are dying due to plastic ingestion (researchers estimate over 100,000 marine mammals and over 1 million sea birds die by plastic each year). Broken down bits of plastic (microplastics) are now being found inside bottled water, in our soil and even in human poop.
The solution to the plastic epidemic lies in stopping the creation and distribution of the materials – in other words, government bans and regulations. Kenya enacted a plastic bag ban that carries with it a hefty fine and a jail sentence for possession of plastic bags. Vanatu, Chile and, most recently, New Zealand have enacted their own plastic bag bans. France banned plastic plates, cups and cutlery. The EU has backed what is being called the most extensive single-use plastic action plan in the world and the conversation has also begun in Canada. While what we really need is a comprehensive, global strategy, at least this is a start.
In the meantime, you can take action on your own to reduce your reliance on single-use plastics by making strategic decisions about what and where you get your products from. Here’s how to assemble a zero waste kit to avoid single use plastics while on the go and here’s a zero waste lifestyle guide for Toronto to get you started.
5) Make Your Own Cleaners/Personal Care Products
Skip the nasty chemicals found in everyday cleaning and personal care products by learning how to make them yourself out of natural ingredients (this will simultaneously help you reduce waste as you won’t have to buy them pre-packaged):
- Anarres Natural Health in Toronto runs workshopson how to make your own cleaners and personal care products.
- Check out our Pinterest Board full of DIY recipes for skin-care and personal care products.
- Follow the SheMade Factory, who runs courses on natural DIY personal care products and natural cleaners.
- For The Love Of Body in Toronto runs DIY Workshops on nutrition and healthy living, including a range of personal care products. They will also run custom workshops for small groups so you can request something specific.
- Wanna Be Toxic Free runs monthly meetup groups in Toronto that discuss these issues.
- Follow @YourEcoFriend on Instagram who runs workshops through the Toronto Public Library on how to make zero waste, eco-friendly cleaning products.
Need a new reusable bag? Garden watering can on the fritz? Wallet seen better days? Before you go searching out new items, explore the many ways that the things around your house can magically transform into that thing you were about to go out and spend money on. For instance:
- An old t-shirt becomes a no-sew tote or reusable shopping bag (the same thing can be done using a pillow case).
- Sign-up with Boomerang Bags Toronto, who make reusable bags out of deadstock and unwanted textiles.
- An old juice or milk jug is actually just a watering can waiting to happen.
- A juice carton can be made into a surprisingly durable wallet.
- Plastic bottles have too many alternative uses to even count.
The Internet is full of creative, interesting and fun transformations for old items that will keep them from ending up in landfill while saving you money. To support you in learning some of the more complicated techniques of repair and upcycling – such as visible mending, weaving, rug-making, crochet, knitting, sewing, etc. – we’ve launched a group dedicated to teaching such skills: CraftWorks.
7) Eat Less Meat
The environmental impact on the planet of diets that rely heavily on meat and animal products has been the subject of much debate and many a documentary over the last few years. Farming animals for food generates more carbon emissions than ships, planes, trucks, cars and all other forms of transport put together, threatens delicate aquatic ecosystems by polluting global waterways with runoff from farms, and contributes to a loss of biodiversity due to the clear-cutting of land required to raise and feed the animals. In a world that is entering an era of water shortages, we need to be mindful that meat production is also extremely water-intensive: it takes 2500 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef and only 220 gallons of water necessary to produce one pound of tofu. The UN has begun urging governments to promote diets less reliant on meat, and Health Canada has responded by revamping the Canada Food Guideto encourage a plant-based, low-meat diet.
While you might not be ready to give up meat entirely, you could consider cutting back. This has been the goal of the Earth Day Network’s #MeatlessMondays, a campaign that encourages people to skip animal products for at least one day a week. The impact of this is bigger than it sounds – for instance, skipping meat and cheese for just one day a week would be the equivalent of taking your car off the road for five weeks.
8) Choose Green Transportation Options
This is perhaps an obvious one, but it’s important. Air pollution from cars, pick-up trucks, minivans and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) continues to be one of the highest environmental priorities and challenges in Canada. When you can, opt for a greener transportation option to keep fewer cars on the road:
- get on a bicycle – Bike Share Toronto has many conveniently located access points across the city and for the cost of an annual membership, you can ditch your four-wheeler for a two-wheeler.
- take public transportation
- #ShareTheRide with BlancRide – this Toronto-based app connects you with drivers or passengers that are heading in the same direction as you, car-pooling made easy.
9) Reduce Food Waste
Wasted food has a HUGE impact on the environment – not to mention the insult of wasting food when billions of people on the planet don’t have enough to eat.
One third of food produced globally is wasted annually and when it end up in landfills, food waste releases methane gas – which has 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. In Canada, half of the 27 billion dollars worth of food wasted every year comes from homes. Let’s repeat that: we throw out $27 billion dollars worth of food in Canada every year and half of that is coming form our household refrigerators. In Toronto alone, single-family households are throwing out about 275 kilos each year.
Taking steps to cut back on our food waste is a great way to make it #EarthDayEveryday:
- Try implementing and following a weekly meal plan so you only buy what you need and use it up on time.
- Support Toronto’s first pay-what-you-can grocery store – Feed It Forward – which is stocked using ‘food waste,’ more appropriately termed ‘surplus food.’
- Test out the app Foodful.ly, which will help you keep track of what’s in your fridge and prompt you with recipes to help you use what you have before it expires.
- If you haven’t already, check out the app FlashFood which will enable you to purchase discounted food that is coming up to its expiry date at participating grocery stores.
- Support the work of LifTOvers, a start-up in Toronto that is connecting perfectly good leftover food from social and catering events to those who are hungry in the city. You can follow them on Twitter @lifTOvers
10) Organize Community Cleanups
Community cleanups often happen around environment days such as Earth Day. These are a great way to not only cleanse our public spaces of trash, but also serve to bring people together to strengthen community.
Consider launching a community group that organizes regular cleanups around various parts of your city or register with Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup to join cleanups close to you. You can combine this with a potluck picnic (but make sure its a zero waste picnic) to facilitate connections between people. Since we all know conscious consumerism alone isn’t going to save the world, these meet-ups can be an opportunity to strategize and brainstorm various ways to become politically engaged, developing an action plan to make environmental issues key election issues. Encourage people to support groups like Toronto Environmental Alliance who are actively pushing for policy changes that would help us all live more sustainably in Toronto (it’s thanks to them that we have green bins in this city).
When we live our lives like it’s #EarthDayEveryday we contribute to a cultural shift, laying the foundation for the political and economic changes needed on a structural level to design waste and excess out of our system.
I’m @itsahashtaglife, a social media manager, storyteller and blogger for non-profits and charities in Toronto. I take the tools and techniques of traditional digital media marketing and apply them to organizations working hard to shift our world into a new story – one that is more sustainable and supportive of people and the planet.
Share more, waste less
“The miracle is this, the more we share, the more we have.” – Leonard Nimoy
Learn more about joining the Library of Things movement in Toronto.