08/23/2012 12:15 EDT | Updated 10/23/2012 05:12 EDT

Five Easy Ways To Go Green At The Cottage



If you're lucky, you're reading this with your feet propped up on a deck chair at a cottage and enjoying the last days of summer. Waves lap gently on the shore nearby and your friends and family are somewhere close. That is the cottage dream.

Heading to the cottage is an increasingly popular Canadian pastime. While most people buy or rent cottages for peace and tranquility, more people in cottage country means more air, water, noise and light pollution.

There are important -- not to mention easy -- things you can do to help protect the nature that surrounds your cottage. These green tips don't involve a trip to the supermarket and they don't require contractors.

Here are five, free, eco-friendly cottaging tips to help you end the summer:

1. Leave The Motor On The Shore

Spending time on the water is a big part of cottage life. Unfortunately, recreational boaters in North America leave 1-billion litres of hydrocarbon and oil pollution in the water each and every year. That's more oil than BP's 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico and ten times the amount of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. Boats and personal watercraft, especially those that use two-stroke engines, can leave a trail of unburned fuel on the water behind them. Once in the natural environment, fuel and oil can make it difficult for wildlife to breathe, breed, or survive.

You can navigate most lakes and rivers in a canoe or kayak without polluting the water. As an added bonus, you get some exercise and can enjoy the peace and quiet of cottage country at the same time.

2. Watch Your Wake

If you absolutely must use a motor, travel carefully and try not to kick up a wake behind you. A wake is the V-shaped pattern that spreads out from behind your boat. Most cottage waterways are small enough that the wake hits the shoreline before it fades away. When that happens, the force of the wake carves away the shoreline and destroys places where fish live and spawn or where plants grow. Wakes from your boat also churns up dirt under water, choking plants and animals that live there.

Wakes can be dangerous, too. People traveling in smaller boats or children playing near the shore may be swamped by a large wake. The US Coast Guard lists wakes as one of the top ten contributing factors for boating accidents. Nearly 200 people are injured every year because of wakes.

3. Don't Waste Water

Many cottage lakes in the west are fed by melting glaciers like in the east where water was left behind by glaciers that retreated thousands of years ago. Once we take that water, it is gone forever. This lesson is especially important this summer, when wells in rural Ontario are running dry as farmers face drought-like conditions.

You do not necessarily need to use less water; just think about ways that you can waste less water. Go for a swim instead of taking a shower. Keep the tap off when brushing your teeth. Use just enough water to get the dishes clean. When you use less water, you leave more in the lake, river, and ground. You send less polluted water back into the environment after showering, washing dishes, or doing your laundry with it. You also consume less energy.

4. Make As Little Garbage As Possible

The old camping saying applies to cottages, too: Take only pictures, leave only footprints. Paper napkins, plastic plates and cutlery, and pre-packaged foods look convenient when you are at the supermarket, but they have to go somewhere when your cottage adventure is over. That somewhere is usually a garbage dump. The supplies you throw away will sit in a landfill or be sent to an incinerator, contributing to air and water pollution for years. Even "eco-friendly" plastics can take hundreds of years to decompose in a typical city landfill. Next time you reach for a paper napkin, grab cloth instead.

5. Burn Less

Burning garbage seems like an easy way to get rid of waste, but it's incredibly dangerous. Burning even the most ordinary materials -- like paper -- releases all kinds of toxic substances into the air. Smoke from burning garbage can instantly cause headaches, nausea, and rashes. Over time, the chemicals released into the air may cause heart disease, liver problems, and cancer. If your cottage does not have a convenient garbage service, just take it home with you so you can recycle or compost it properly.

If you like the idea of low-impact cottaging (and you should), you may also want to start thinking about more significant ways to minimize your environmental footprint in 2013. You can stock up on environmentally-friendly supplies that will not pollute the water or release scary chemicals into the natural environment. If you own your own cottage, you can invest in energy and water systems that will consume fewer natural resources and pollute less. The key to keeping the cottage dream alive is keeping the nature we love alive, too.