Monday, April 27, 2009

Ontario’s Pesticide Ban Takes Effect

Following in Quebec’s footsteps, Ontario became the second province in Canada to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides. The ban, which took effect on Earth Day, covers over 250 products and more than 80 pesticide ingredients and covers applications on lawns, gardens, parks and schoolyards.

“We have fulfilled our commitment to ban the sale and use of cosmetic pesticides in Ontario,” said Ontario’s Minister of the Environment, John Gerretsen. I'm proud to say that we have eliminated this unnecessary risk to our environment, our families, and especially our children.”

The ban is intended to replace the many municipal bylaws that have been passed throughout the province. Exceptions include applications that are deemed necessary to protect public health or safety. These include fighting West Nile Virus, controlling poisonous plants such as poison ivy and eliminating stinging insects.

Making the transition to a chemical-free lawn can take a bit of time and effort, but in the long run it’s less work. Natural lawns need less water and fertilizer and are less likely to succumb to chinch bug and lawn diseases. They also need to be cut less frequently.

Step 1 – Water deeply once a week

Most lawns actually get more water than they need. Over watering causes shallow roots, which can leave lawns unable to tolerate dry periods. A deep watering once a week creates a well-rooted lawn that makes efficient use of the water stored in the soil. The best time to water is first thing in the morning. This reduces evaporation and prevents sunlight from acting like a magnifying glass and burning your grass. Evening watering means that roots remain wet longer, thus promoting fungus and disease. Maintaining this kind of watering schedule not only saves time and effort, but also it conserves water – thereby saving you money and preserving a valuable resource.

Step 2 – Overseed

You can keep your lawn thick and healthy by regularly adding grass seed in the early spring and late fall. Mix the seed with compost or top-dress with triple mix soil to help improve the soil and add nutrients at the same time. Choose hardy grasses that don’t require a lot of care and are specific for your property, either shady or sunny locations.

Step 3 – Hand pluck weeds

Springtime after the rain is the best time to hand-pull weeds when roots are not well established. Add some grass seed and compost to any bare areas when you’re done.

Step 4 – Mow high and mow less

Ideally, lawns should be cut around 3 inches in height (7.5 cm). Cutting foliage too short reduces the main food factory of the plant, creating a need for fertilizers. Since plants tend to keep foliage mass and root structure in balance, a short lawn also has a short root structure that cannot reach ground water. Finally, short grass can’t shade out weeds, which means relying on herbicides to kill weeds instead.

Invest in a push mover. The blades cut cleanly, which makes grass healthier and more pest resistant. They’re also better for the environment.

Step 5 - Leave grass clippings on your lawn

This simple step alone can cut lawn maintenance time by up to 40 percent, cut your garbage by 35 percent during the peak growing season, return nitrogen and other valuable nutrients to the soil and supply valuable moisture to your lawn.

Step 6 – Aerate

For those who really want to rival the perfectly manicured lawns of the 19th century, aerate your lawn once a year (either spring or fall). This involves using an aerator that cuts narrow plugs in the soil, allowing oxygen and nutrients to penetrate below the surface of your lawn. Aerating also helps restore proper drainage. You can either rent an aerator from your local rental or garden centre, or hire a professional lawn care company.

Step 7 – De-Thatch

Thatch is the dense layer of dead grass and roots that gets compacted on the soil’s surface. It can prevent water from penetrating deep into the soil and can also harbor unwanted bugs. It’s time to de-thatch when that layer gets to be more than 1/2 inch thick.


For a complete list of Ontario’s banned products and ingredients, visit the Ministry of the Environment

The Environmental Factor holds the patent on Canada’s first chemical-free pesticide.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Take a Break this Earth Day!

The current economic crisis has everyone trying to do more with less. At a time when we're already feeling stretched beyond our limits, the pressure to perform has never been as great.

It's no coincidence that we're burning ourselves out at just about the same rate that we're burning out the planet. It's all connected. If we're going to survive we need to recognize that everybody - and everything - has a limit. That's the message we need to take to heart on Earth Day, April 22nd, and every other day of the year, too.

Just look at how we use our cars as personal time machines. If we're late, we hit the gas a little harder, throwing even more greenhouse and other deadly gases into the atmosphere, while endangering ourselves and others. If we happen to get hungry along the way, we pull up to the drive-thru window of our favorite fast food restaurant. While our cars idle, someone else prepares an over-packaged, high fat meal that we then shove into our already stressed gastrointestinal tracts. The packaging produces more unnecessary garbage for the dump, while we pollute our own personal environment. And then we wonder why we never seem to have enough energy.

Which brings another type of energy into the spotlight. When Thomas Edison invented the light bulb to extend our workday, he had no idea he was creating a monster. Instead of retiring when the sun goes down as our forefathers did, we push the envelope to the point where we are open for business 24-hours a day.
Night and day have become interchangeable in a world that has learned to live better electrically. E-mail and computers makes it possible to do business virtually any hour of the night or day from anywhere on the planet.

The cost is very high. It’s estimated that 40 to 80 percent of visits to the doctor’s office are for stress related conditions. These include heart disease, chronic fatigue, high blood pressure, migraines, chronic pain, chronic fatigue and depression.

The environment is paying the price, too. Global warming, caused by the burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity and fuel our cars, is the single greatest threat to environmental stability and human survival.

What we do to the planet, we ultimately do to ourselves. To celebrate Earth Day, why not give yourself and the planet a break. Nurture your soul and the soil by spending a little time dallying in the dirt. Prepare your flowerbeds for spring or mulch last year’s compost into your garden.

While you’re at it, give a little something back to the Earth and plant a tree or two. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, the primary cause of global warming, and return life-giving oxygen to the air. In addition, planting trees around your home can reduce the need for air-conditioning by up to 40 per cent. In the winter, these same trees can cut heating costs by 10 to 20 per cent. This further reduces our energy needs, which cuts the amount of carbon dioxide and other harmful gases released into the atmosphere.

Instead of fighting traffic, take public transit and let someone else worry about the driving. Better yet, enjoy moving at your own personal pace for a change and really look around you. Take a walk in the country or saddle up the family and go for a bike ride. Carry a plastic bag and collect any recyclable bottles or cans you see along the way.

When the sun goes down, don’t bother turning on the lights or the television. Instead, light soy or beeswax candles and spend some time with your family. Take turns telling stories or share the day’s activities with each other. Go to bed early and get a good night's sleep for a change.

If this sounds like your mother talking – it is – Mother Earth. And it’s high time you both were treated with a little kindness.


Earth Day Canada

For the latest scientific reports about global warming, visit The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Home Accessible Home

From the street it looks like any other new house. But for Dennis Radovic and his family, the beautiful new bungalow has provided them with an opportunity to ease the strain of living with a terrible disease. 43 year-old Dennis, a former teacher and guidance counselor, was diagnosed with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (PPMS), in 2001.

The Radovic’s new home, the first of its kind to be built to both GreenHouse™ and Accessible Homes standards, was built by Durham Custom Homes (DCH) in Oshawa, Ontario. Earlier this year, the company received the 2008 EnerQuality Award of Excellence as Canada’s GreenHouse™ builder of the year.

The GreenHouse™ design combines the energy efficiency standards of ENERGY STAR® for New Homes with resource management, indoor air quality and water conservation. The result is a house that produces three tonnes fewer greenhouse gases, consumes 30 percent less energy, and uses 15 percent fewer raw materials and 25 less water than homes built to the Ontario Building Code. When the home is completed, 25 percent less construction waste is sent to the landfill.

When construction began on the first GreenHouse™ last year, Victor Fiume, DCH General Manager said that regardless of how environmentally responsible a house was constructed, if it wasn’t accessible to everyone, then it really wasn’t sustainable.

With the completion of the Radovic’s new home, Durham Custom Homes has taken the idea of building sustainable living to a whole new level. When the Radovics move into the house this week, its many features will help make life much easier for Dennis and his wife Melissa.

“Working with Victor Fiume, David Illiatovitch-Owen and Guy Mulder, we were able to accomplish everything we thought would be needed now and in the future,” said Dennis. Dennis and Melissa used pencils and liquid paper to finalize the design.

Dennis continued working until last year, when his MS progressed to the point where everyday activities like getting dressed and showering pushed the limits of his physical capabilities. As Dennis explained, because he is confined to a wheelchair and walker, doing anything takes a tremendous amount of energy.

The Radovic’s new home features a raised front porch slab, wider entrances, hallways and doorways, and an elevator that is accessed through the garage. When asked why Dennis opted for an elevator rather than ramp access to the house, he said, “How accessible is a ramp after an ice storm?”

Non-slip surfaces, both inside and outside the home, reduce the risk of falling, and denser materials offer stability and support. The galley kitchen features lowered countertops and appliances. Cupboards have pullout drawers for easier access, and handles and controls are placed to minimize reach.
The bathroom is barrier-free and designed to maximize turning for access to the sink, toilet and shower. Fixtures and grab bars are strategically located.

The windows are designed to open and close easily and locks are located to be within reach from a wheelchair. Even the laundry room features front-end loading appliances for lower access.

At last week’s official opening of the home, Jeff Goldman, DCH principal used the opportunity to challenge other builders.

“As excited as I am though of our collective accomplishment, I cannot help feeling a degree of frustration,” said Goldman.

“We have built this house because we believe that constructing a better-built, environmentally-responsible, energy-efficient dwelling that is healthier for its inhabitants and can speak to individual needs is not just a corporate responsibility, but it makes good business sense.”

Perhaps what makes Canada’s first Accessible GreenHouse™ so remarkable is the price. With the exception of the added cost of the elevator, the price of the Radovic’s new home is comparable to other houses on the street.

“We did this on our own dime with support and encouragement from others, but without handouts or special treatment,” said Goldman. “So, if we can, it begs the question of why not for others?”

For Dennis and Melissa, the accessible features in their new home will help Dennis to conserve his remaining strength and give them more time to enjoy their 3 ½ year-old son, Bryson.


For more information on GreenHouse™ and Accessible Homes standards visit

The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada

Ontario launches Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) program

It’s finally time to get rid of those obsolete computers and other electronic junk that has been piling up in your basement. Ontario Electronic Stewardship (OES) unveiled its much-anticipated Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) on March 31. The industry developed and funded program has the goal of diverting 160,000 tonnes of electronic waste from the landfill over the next five years.

Electronic waste has become a global problem as our appetite for the latest and best in technology accelerates with each passing year.

“In 2007, the average home computer was 2.5 years old, down from 2.7 only a year before. A quarter of computer owners replace their machines every year,” writes environmental lawyer Diane Saxe. “The United Nations says that 20 to 50 million tonnes of electronic waste is generated every year.” Saxe says that Ontarians produce about 70,000 tonnes of electronic waste annually.

Electronic equipment often contains dangerous toxins such as mercury, lead and arsenic. When electronics are not safely recycled, these toxins can eventually find their way into the air we breathe and the water that we drink.

Phase one of the WEEE program targets computers, printers, monitors and other computer paraphernalia along with televisions for reuse and recycling. The ultimate goal of the program is to divert 60 per cent of electronic wastes from landfill.

Until now, Ontario municipalities provided the only opportunity to recycle discarded electronics through special municipal collections and waste depots. Given the high cost of disposing of electronic waste, many of the waste depots have operated on a user-pay system. As a result, residents who have chosen to responsibly dispose of unwanted electronics sometimes ended up paying a hefty price.

The new WEEE program is funded through fees paid to the OES, a non-profit organization established to collect and distribute fees collected from brand owners, first importers into Ontario and assemblers of electronic products. The OES will pay for all of the program costs, which are estimated to be at least $ 48 million per year. The cost, which will ultimately be past on to the consumer, includes collection, transportation, consolidation, processing, research and development and consumer information and education programs.

The program will operate through a network of collection sites where businesses and consumers can drop off unwanted electronics. Cell phones and cameras will be added in later phases of the program.

“In this age of increasing electronic technology, too many of us find ourselves at a loss when it comes to dealing with unwanted waste electronics,” said Carol Hochu, OES executive director. “Too often this means they end up in the garbage or may be shipped to countries where health and environmental standards may receive less attention than here in Ontario. By setting up a network of certified collectors and processors, our waste electronics diversion program will make sure these end-of-life materials are managed properly.”

The WEEE program is the latest one to be established under the guidance of Waste Diversion Ontario (WDO) a crown corporation that was created under the Waste Diversion Act in 2002. The WDO’s mandate is to develop, implement and operate waste diversion programs for a wide range of materials. Key to the WDO’s programs is industry accountability. For example, the WDO’s Blue Box program requires that industries that contribute materials into the blue box pay 50 percent of the net cost of recycling.

Unlike the industry funded blue box program, which provides householders with the convenience of curbside pick up for many recyclable items, electronics will have to be dropped off at designated collection site. Entering a postal code, municipality or type of material to be recycled on the Do What You Can website will provide a list of nearest locations.

In addition to municipality drop-off centers and electronic retailers, as of April 1st, Salvation Army Thrift Stores will expand their electronics program to include items identified in phase one of the program.

On Saturday, April 25th, Sears Canada will host a “take-back” day in the parking lots of 14 of their stores in Eastern Ontario. The following week on May 1st, STAPLES Canada will begin collecting electronic wastes at 17 of its retail stores. It’s important to note that televisions will not be collected as part of the STAPLES program.


To find the nearest WEEE collection site or for information about the Municipal Hazardous or Special Waste (MHSW) program which was launched in January, visit

For more WEEE program information, check out

Waste Diversion Ontario

For the latest in environmental law updates, visit Dianne Saxe’s informative website at Saxe Environmental Law News.