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SilenceOnParle

Although this is intended be a local blog and is not meant to be overtly political, I can no longer ignore the sweeping changes to environmental legislation that are about to be enacted by Canada’s federal government.

On April 26, 2012, the Harper government tabled its budget implementation bill, Bill C-38. But this bill is not just about the budget.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May has called the bill the “single biggest assault on environmental law” (How the Conservatives stole environmental protection in broad daylight).

Among other things, the bill would significantly alter the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, changing the criteria for what projects need to be assessed, how and by who, and it would repeal the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act.

While I’d like to believe the government’s claims that changes to the environmental review process are intended to remove duplication and make it more efficient, in light of the Harper government’s other actions — such as labelling environmental groups opposing oilsands development as “adversaries” while referring to industry associations as “allies”, not to mention recent cuts to Environment Canada’s budget — I am a little worried.

No. I am very worried.

On the day the bill was tabled, Elizabeth May wrote, “putting all this in the Budget Implementation (Bill C-38) means that none of the environmental laws being changed will ever go to the Environment committee or hear from environmental experts. Nine environmental laws are changed. (I can’t think of any environmental law that isn’t touched.)” (Elizabeth May Comments on Bill C-38 Budget Implementation)

However, the Conservatives have refused demands from the opposition to split the bill into parts to allow for more thorough debate.

And since the Conservatives hold a majority in the House of Commons and the Senate, it is pretty certain this bill will be passed.

So I called my MP

When things like this happen, I receive emails from groups like the Sierra Club imploring me to contact my Member of Parliament (MP). So last week, that’s what I did.

My MP is Irwin Cotler. Given that he is a Liberal and a fierce defender of social justice and environmental issues, I knew he would be on my side. He is.

Speaking about Bill C-38 in Parliament on May 3, he stated that many of the proposals it contains “have particularly deleterious consequences for the environment” and that the bill would “overhaul, weaken and undermine the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and environmental protection as a whole”. (See full speech: A sad chapter in Canadian parliamentary history)

So the second question I asked in my email to Mr. Cotler was this: “What can citizens do to voice their opinion? For example, I have repeatedly been told to call my MP (on this and other matters), but if you already agree with me, how will this help?”

In a fairly detailed reply, one of Mr. Cotler’s assistants acknowledged that while telling your MP or Senator how you feel about a piece of legislation is important, in a majority Parliament, this may only go so far.

“What is more important is citizen advocacy and engagement — talking to your friends and neighbours — about this bill, its consequences and the manner in which it is being rushed through Parliament,” he wrote. “With a critical mass of advocacy the government might be persuaded to moderate its view, and if not, they must be held to account at the ballot box.”

He also encouraged me to submit a petition, which my MP could present. “This process allows the issue to be raised — reminding the Government that there is opposition on the issue — and requiring a response from them within 45 sitting days,” he explained.

While I admit I probably won’t be organizing a petition, citizen advocacy and engagement is precisely what I’m trying to do with this blog.

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Additional reading:

Environment laws getting facelift to accelerate projects: Joe Oliver, The Montreal Gazette, May 8, 2012

Feds set Canada back 50 years on environment regulations: critics, The Hill Times online, May 1, 2012,

Opposition MPs demand separate environment bill, CBC, April 27, 2012

Budget bill puts environmental laws on chopping block, EcoJustice, April 26,

Ottawa to unveil sweeping changes to environmental oversight, Globe and Mail, April 17, 2012

 


What do giant puppet jellyfish, green roofs, old computers, and a tax company have in common?

All were part of projects honoured at a Montreal environment and sustainable development awards gala held last week. Organized by CRE-Montréal in collaboration with the City of Montreal, the annual event aims to highlight innovative and inspiring projects being carried out by partners of Montreal’s Sustainable Development Plan.

While I didn’t attend the gala, the projects are all worth mentioning. In fact, one of the award winners and one of the nominees have already been featured on this blog.

 2012 winners

  • Business and industry category: KPMG, a company that provides audit, tax, and advisory services, won for its initiatives encouraging employees to become active in their community. The company makes social and environmental involvement part of its employees’ annual performance evaluation. It also organizes an annual volunteer day: in 2011, 91% of its employees participated in activities such as planting trees, cleaning up shorelines, and controlling invasive species in Angrignon park.
  • Public bodies and institutions: The Borough of Rosement–La Petite-Patrie won for bylaw changes aiming to reduce urban heat islands. Property developers are now obligated to devote at least 20% of the area to green space. In cases where this is difficult, a green roof (roof covered by vegetation) can be installed. In its first year, the bylaw saw the installation of 300 new green and white roofs (roof covered by reflective materials), and the greening of more than 21,000 km2 — the equivalent of four football fields.
  • Non-profit organizations, associations and groups: In 2011 Insertech Angus started its DÉDUIRre service for businesses, collecting and refurbishing old IT equipment, and then putting it to (re)use in the community. The organization also plays a social role by training and employing young people in difficulty, helping them integrate into the job market. (See enviromontreal post: A social and environmental solution for IT equipment)
  • Finally, the “Coup de cœur” award given out by Culture Montréal went to the Coopérative Les ViVaces for its show “La Conférence,” presented during Earth Day weekend at the Biodome. Using puppets made from recycled materials, it told the story of an explorer who discovers the 7th continent, a mass of garbage in the ocean which may be as large as Europe (a true phenomenon, also known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”).

You can view short videos about each of these projects on the gala’s website (in French). Even if your French is poor, watch the video on Coopérative Les ViVaces to see the giant jellyfish they made using an old umbrella frame and transparent plastic.

Also nominated

The following organizations were also nominated for their work.

  • Business and industry: Communauto, for its new fleet of electric cars; Brasserie Labatt, for its recovery of cooling water used in the pasteurization process.
  • Public bodies and institutions: Borough of Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension, for the recycling of excavation materials; City of Montreal’s Direction des immeubles, for its sustainable ice-skating rinks.
  • Non-profit organizations, associations and groups: Accès Fleuve / ZIP Ville-Marie, for its Route bleue du Grand Montréal, a way to discover the Montreal area by canoe or kayak; and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts for its “Ruelle du réemploi”.

 

I was a bit shocked and rather dismayed to read this morning about cuts planned by the National Film Board, as a result of funding cuts by the federal government. According to The Montreal Gazette, the NFB will be cutting 73 full- and part-time jobs, closing its cinemas in Toronto and Montreal, closing the NFB storefront office on St. Denis Street in Montreal, reducing the Filmmaker Assistance Program and decreasing the amount of money devoted to film production.

So I thought maybe this is a good time for some enviro-related NFB promotion. Did you know you can watch movies for free on the NFB site? In particular, The Green Channel offers “a close look at our world, the environment and sustainability,” with nearly 30 short and feature-length films available for viewing. You can watch them for free online, order them on DVD, or in some cases, download them for a small fee.

I highly recommend “Never Lose Sight,” a short film by Sarah McNair-Landry on the challenges of garbage, recycling and composting in Iqaluit, Nunavut. The challenges they face in this isolated, northern town are very different from the ones we face down here in the south — and yet, in some larger ways, they are not.

Never Lose Sight, Sarah McNair-Landry, 2009, 21 min 30 s

(also in French as “Pour ne pas perdre le Nord)

People are always asking me where to bring their stuff — old TVs, computer equipment, etc. — instead of throwing it in the garbage. So I’ve decided to start a little series on reuse and recycling. Today, we begin with computers.

The short answer would be to bring old computer equipment to your local ecocentre, because they will dispose of items containing toxic or hazardous materials in an environmentally safe way.

However, if you think there might be some salvageable components, consider bringing your old computer equipment to Insertech Angus.

Insertech is a non-profit organization with a social and environmental mission: it specializes in the collection and refurbishing of IT equipment, while employing and training young adults at risk. Each year, some fifty adults ages 18 to 35 work at salaried positions and receive technical training, as well as social support, to help them integrate into the job market.

In addition to desktop computers, the company accepts LCD screens, laptops, notebooks, and even tablets. They also accept peripherals and computer parts. Technicians verify the equipment, erase the disks, and then repair, clean and upgrade the equipment to create optimized machines that can be used by schools, community organizations, students, the elderly, or other groups or individuals.

“Insertech is an IT solution that is socially and environmentally profitable,” sums up general director Agnes Beaulieu, who helped found the company thirteen years ago. “We use the term ‘solution’ because we cover a range of computer needs.” For example, Insertech also offers repair services, gives courses on how to repair or optimize your equipment yourself, and sells affordable refurbished equipment — “all with a goal to helping people avoid consuming products needlessly.”

Services for companies

The bulk of IT materials collected come from companies. Through its ISO-certified DÉDUIRre program, Insertech offers free pick-up for 15 computers or more in the greater Montreal area, permanent and secure deletion of data from the hard drives, and guarantees maximum reuse of the hardware. If they cannot refurbish the equipment, they will dispose of it in an environmentally sound manner. Insertech can buy the equipment if it’s fully working and possesses the latest technology or, as a recognized charity, they can issue a receipt for tax purposes for the donation of working computers. Companies can also resell the refurbished equipment to their employees.

What percentage of machines can really be refurbished? “It depends on where they come from,” says Beaulieu. From individuals, about 20%. From companies, up to 70%. “Companies use their equipment for 3 or 4 years maximum before switching to higher performance machines,” she explains. Individuals, however, tend to hang on to their equipment longer, often passing it on to a friend or family member. “So by the time we get it, it’s usually pretty old.”

Last year, out of 11,515 units collected (164 metric tonnes), Insertech was able to refurbish 7142 units, or 62%.

One item they cannot do anything with, however, is old, bulky cathode-ray tube (CRT) screens. Beaulieu says individuals are better off bringing those to an ecocentre, which will dispose of them (ecologically) for free. Insertech has to charge people $15 to cover the recycling cost.

Repair, refurbish, reuse

Refurbished equipment is an environmentally friendly choice that is suitable for anyone, she stresses.  “You can get very good equipment that meets your needs, and in terms of the environment, it’s a very big gesture.”

Beaulieu cites a study conducted by Recyc-Québec which shows that reusing computers is 9 times better for the environment than recycling. In the case of LCD screens, it’s 24 times better. “It’s the manufacturing phase that causes the most damage to the environment,” she explains. “Recycling reduces the use of raw materials, but it still involves manufacturing.”

Insertech also helps extend the life of people’s existing computer equipment. “Often, people don’t realize their equipment can be repaired. Manufacturers are not interested; people are just told to buy new equipment.” For example, she says, many people think that LCD screens cannot be repaired. “It’s completely false. Our success rate for repairing LCD screens is over 70 percent.”

Ultimately, says Beaulieu, her organization wants to convince people of two things: “Yes, it’s important to get rid of your equipment in an ecological way, and not just put it in the garbage, because it contains hazardous waste,” says Beaulieu. “But, while recycling is good, reusing is much better.”

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Curious about driving an electric car? Maybe you should consider joining Communauto. The car-sharing service now has 18 electric cars available in Montreal and 7 in Quebec City; over the next few months, 25 more will be added to the network.

While a small number of members had access to the cars for a trial period, these fully electric Nissan LEAF cars can now be used by any of Communauto’s 25,000 subscribers.

My husband, Jonathan Levine, got to try one at the official launch in Montreal on January 16. The first thing that struck him, aside from the futuristic look and all the panels and buttons, was, well, the car’s silence.

“When you start the car, there’s no ‘vroom’ — you just get this kind of computer boot-up sound. But there’s no reaction from the car. The first time, you think it’s not even working.”

(For an inside glimpse of the car, watch the Communauto training video.)

Once you get used to the electronic interface, however, Levine says it handles like a regular car. “The main difference is that it accelerates instantly,” he said. “And there’s no sound. When you’re stopped at a red light, for example, there’s no engine turning.” The car does allow you to “turn on” sound, a feature that will activate when you’re driving less than 30 km/hr so that pedestrians can hear you.

A car for computer geeks?

Electric cars are considered ideal for a fleet such as Communauto’s, where the cars are used mostly for short trips within the city. When the Nissan LEAF is fully charged, it can travel over 100 km. However, because air conditioning and heating, as well as driving habits, can greatly reduce this range, drivers are cautioned to monitor the dashboard, which continually displays the battery charge and estimated number of kilometres left.

It takes 8 hours to completely recharge the car’s battery at its charging dock. At the moment, the charging docks (supplied by the Quebec firm AddÉnergie Technologies) are available only at the lots where the cars are kept.

Communauto’s electric fleet has been made possible through partnerships with the Quebec government and Hydro-Québec.

Attendees of Communauto’s January 16 launch also got to see the film Revenge of the Electric Car, a sequel to the award-winning Who Killed the Electric Car? by American filmmaker Chris Paine. The film will be playing at Cinema du Parc starting January 20.

Now on a street near you: Communauto has added 25 all-electric Nissan LEAFs to its fleet, with 25 more to come.

 

RELATED: Founding partners of The Electric Circuit — St-Hubert Restaurants, RONA, Metro, the Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT) and Hydro-Québec — have announced the locations of 90 public charging stations to be set up this spring (2012). The five groups have teamed up to roll out a network of public charging stations in the Montreal and Quebec City areas.

The Quebec government offers rebates up to $8,000 on the purchase of an electric or hybrid vehicle.

 

While some Montreal island residents already have kitchen waste pick-up, most of us will have to wait a few more years before we have access to a municipal collection service. Meanwhile, one easy composting option is Compost Montreal.

Compost Montreal is a private business that will collect your food waste each week and bring it to a composting facility. For $5/week (or $60/season), the service includes a kitchen-size bin that seals tightly and a fresh compostable liner each week. You can’t put in meat or dairy, but anything veggie, fruit or grain is good. I’ve been using their service for two years, and I can tell you that it’s truly hassle-free.

The company was founded in 2007 by Stephen McLeod. He had been taking his own compostables by bicycle to a drop-off at a local community centre, and started offering to bring other people’s too, for a small fee. Soon he needed a truck, and some extra hands. A friend put him in touch with Tye Hunt, who was working for Côte Saint-Luc to help expand the municipality’s own organic waste collection program. When Hunt’s contract came to an end, he joined McLeod.

For $5/week, Compost Montreal will collect your kitchen waste at your door — bin and compostable liner included. (Photo courtesy of Compost Montreal)

“We began with one run and 40 clients,” recalls Hunt. “Now we do 9 runs and have 1,000 clients.” From their St-Henri base, they have expanded to Mile-End, Rosemont, NDG — wherever there is enough demand. They have two trucks, one running on vegetable oil (the other to be converted soon).  Hunt estimates they collect about 5 tons of organic waste per week.

The waste is brought to a composting facility run by Montreal’s Southwest borough. While the site is intended primarily for leaves and other green waste, Compost Montreal has an agreement under which it can add up to 750 cubic metres a year (i.e. less than 10 percent of the site’s total volume). City workers turn the piles about once a week with bulldozers, which injects oxygen and promotes the growth of good bacteria to break down the matter. “The end product is A-grade compost that is good for redistribution into agriculture,” says Hunt.

In the spring, interested Compost Montreal subscribers receive a bag of compost. The rest is sold to other gardeners (including Urban Seedling, a business that will come plant a vegetable garden at your home) or used for landscaping.

Why compost?

One enviromontreal reader asked, “Why compost? After all, doesn’t organic waste decompose in landfill sites anyway, and maybe even help other matter in those sites break down?”

Good composting can greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (Photo courtesy of Compost Montreal)

“Organic matter is actually doing more harm than good in landfill sites,” says Hunt. As organic matter decomposes, and particularly if it has a chance to rot first in a plastic bag, it emits methane, which leaks up into the atmosphere. “Methane is a greenhouse gas, and it will deplete the ozone layer,” Hunt explains. “However, if you compost organic material in an open-air area with lots of carbon material such as leaves and branches, the methane reduction is dramatic.”

Hunt notes that for some larger-scale city composting sites, this is the main benefit. “Even in cases where the compost produced is not of great quality, at least the greenhouse gases are dealt with properly.” Many cities use closed composting (anaerobic) sites, which produce more greenhouse gases than open-air (aerobic) sites but have some method for capturing the methane.

As for organic matter helping other waste to break down, he does not know of any correlation. “Plastics, glass and metal take thousands of years to break down,” he says. Finally, there’s the transportation issue: most of our garbage is trucked off to landfill sites off the island, whereas Compost Montreal’s site is local.

Municipal composting by 2015?

Sadly, Montreal lags far behind other cities when it comes to organic waste collection. Toronto has been servicing single-family households since 2005, and began expanding its program to apartment buildings and condominiums in 2008.

Montreal is currently planning to build four major composting facilities on the island. Two of these would capture the methane released and convert it into electricity. The two others would be indoor compost treatment centres modeled after Ottawa’s — see Monique Beaudoin’s recent article in The Gazette.

Mayor Gérald Tremblay had originally promised kitchen waste pick-up for all homes of eight units or less by September 2014. However, according to Gazette reporter Monique Beaudoin, who has been following the public hearings on the proposed sites for the compost treatment facilities, the City is now talking about island-wide pick-up by 2015 (given the time it will take to get the new facilities built and operational).

Compost Montreal’s other services

So what will happen to Compost Montreal once kitchen waste collection is finally provided as a municipal service? Well, the company may bid on one of the city’s collection contracts. But it is also expanding in other ways.

Compost Montreal already collects food waste from about two dozen businesses, and hopes to increase its commercial client base. Clients include Bell on Nun’s Island (cafeteria), several local cafés, TV celebrity Chuck Hughes’ restaurant Garde-Manger in Old Montreal, the Fairmont hotel, and some buildings at the Université de Montréal and UQAM.

They also collect used vegetable oil from restaurants, selling it to a biodiesel manufacturer.

And soon, they plan to launch an organic food delivery service, offering staples such as soymilk, peanut butter and toilet paper.

To find out if Compost Montreal services your area, call (514) 690-5773 or visit their website, www.compostmontreal.com.


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