Earth Day: Sure I'll Recycle, Reduce, and Reuse... Except For That

04/21/2013 11:01 EDT | Updated 06/21/2013 05:12 EDT

On April 22, Canadians will join others across the globe to celebrate Earth Day. We will take part in projects that highlight our particular concerns to improve life on our planet.

I'm all about saving the planet. Growing up in the Caribbean and living off the land as I did, you understand very early on how we -- people, plants, and animals -- are all connected and dependent on each other. My father, a farmer, was a conservationist respecting Mother Nature and the Earth long before it became "a thing."

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Jamaica is known as the land of wood and water, so for as long as I can remember that has been my focus -- conserving the trees and reducing water consumption. But when it comes to recycling, there is one thing I've never been able to bring myself to do.

First, though, let me tell you what I have done.

As best as possible, I try to incorporate the 3Rs -- Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle -- into my daily routine. I make do, do without, or use it up. I live frugally. In fact, I'm vigilant about reducing and reusing materials and packaging whenever and wherever possible.

Reusing old materials to make new ones isn't a new concept. My mother was always very crafty; I suppose as a working mom with five children, she also found it therapeutic. It was not uncommon for her to repurpose items. She would make cushions out of old fabric, complete with buttons salvaged from old clothing, and she would even make flower beds from freshly painted old car tires. She loved it, we learned it.

So along with my pet projects, I make a point of living conservatively. Of course this is easier in Ontario. Like so many others afforded better access to the myriad of manufacturers who adopt conservation and produce a variety of green options, I'm using my purchasing power to endorse a cleaner planet. It makes perfect sense that we should close the loop and purchase recyclable and recycled products.

I honour my mother and Mother Earth by staying true to my teachings. . .making my purchases count, only buying what I need. Not a difficult decision since I'm living single in Toronto. I'm not saying I don't treat myself or my friends and family, but even then I try to avoid the waste associated with a shopping habit.

Prices do not necessarily reflect quality. It's possible to purchase quality items at a bargain. I believe in purchasing well-made items, but where the opportunity arises -- I've been known to haggle over prices. (I'm conserving my money, too.) If the item lasts longer, it not only saves me money and personal energy, but is easy on global resources.

I don't always buy new, choosing to go second-hand as long as I'm able to maintain quality. Places like thrift stores, swop-meets, yard sales, and consignment shops not only yield good finds, they can be a lot of fun. Some of my most precious and unique finds have been spotted browsing through antique stores.

Supporting the local farming community is another great way to celebrate Earth Day, and it reminds me of home and dad. He would want me to act locally even though we're thinking globally. I try to buy fresh food as often as possible from local producers. I'd encourage you to go to farmers' markets and support the independent sellers. Find someone who sells honey and extra eggs from their own chickens.

Another thing that was common in our family: lending, borrowing, and exchanging. In our extended community it was not a big deal. Eco-friendly lifestyles come in all shapes and sizes and bartering helps to build relationships and strong communities. It was not uncommon to give food in exchange for manual labour or exchange our expertise. Sharing is just another way to extend access to resources for everyone's needs, and I still practice it.

Still for all of that, conserving the trees and reducing water consumption is always on my mind.

Back on the island, windows are almost always open -- unless of course it's raining. In which case, depending of the rain drift, they are left slightly ajar. The smell of the earth during and after the rain is rejuvenating. Here in Toronto, I live in a space where I'm fortunate to have cooling and heating, but this is managed by my landlord. So with limited access to the thermostat there's little effect I can have on conserving energy. But I check the doors and windows for leaks and drafts -- using a stick of incense or a lit candle -- and cover, as best as possible any drafts I find. And report it. I do what I can even though it does not affect my rent. It is after all for the planet.

In the Caribbean, it was second nature to do laundry early in the mornings, any given morning, and hang clothing outdoors. The clothes would be dry before noon. Now, more often than not my clothes are machine washed and dried. And every time I cringe. Now laundry has become more of an effort -- checking for nice weather, or if the clothes are to remain inside when it's cold -- hanging on an inside line device or laying sweaters flat etc., etc.

Reports say that an estimated 50 per cent of all household water is wasted; going down the drain while we wait for it to warm up or it evaporates. I drink tap water whenever possible, and boil and store the same in my refrigerator, rather than using a home filtration system. Nothing wrong with a filtration system but this is my answer to bottled water. I take shorter showers using a low-flow showerhead and turning off the tap when not in use -- like while lathering and brushing teeth. The toilet tank in my home has old juice bottles filled with rocks (to weigh it down) ensuring less water is used to fill the tank and decreasing the amount used to flush.

Yes, I think I'm not doing too bad with celebrating the Earth, even long after Earth day. So I believe that I have earned the right to refuse to do that one thing I can't quite stomach ...using recycled toilet paper.

I know it seems so much better than non-recycled. And it reduces the harvesting of my beloved trees (even though it's from tree farms). But when you consider the processing of the paper, the shipping, and sales -- because it's still a novel product-- it buck my quality purchase rule. Besides, the thought of using recycled toilet paper t is not that enticing.

There is also still work to be done. According to research published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, many recycled paper products -- including toilet paper and paper towels -- are often contaminated with BPA and BPS. As you may know, these have been linked to several diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

Heavy I know. So how about cloth toilet paper or "family cloth" you may ask? Not a novel idea; it's an economically and environmentally sound option. We use cloth for so many other sanitary things -- bathing and covering our coughs -- and it's a proven method that works. But it's still not enticing to me.

I understand that it is saves time and energy, it's softer (which is a big concern), and it's healthier and obviously more affordable. You would just be rewashing the cloth with your laundry, but no. It still is not for me.

This year, like last year, recycled toilet paper was put on my list and then taken off... again.

As the world evolves and more and more items are produced from recycled material, I'd like to believe that I will soon become that hard core purist who buys or supports more alternative methods and brands. And maybe, just maybe, toilet paper will be one day be part of it.

But for now, maybe I just tackle what I can stomach -- totally revamping my cleaning products to more sustainable options. I'm sure I can help to reduce the harmful effects these materials have on our water and air, paying tribute to my heritage, my mom, my dad, and the Earth, even if I do still make one exception in the privacy of my own bathroom.