How Can I Help?

How Can I Help? is an occasional blog to give people ideas about ways to help build a sustainable community.

Spring cleaning? Be sure to check out the City of Ottawa’s Waste Explorer (https://ottawa.ca/en/garbage-and-recycling/waste-explorer

Renovating? Consider taking your lumber waste or discarded working appliances to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore (https://habitatgo.com/restore/).  

Want to do more? 

Call, or contact your city councillor, MPP or MP and share your concerns. 

Donate your time or your money to an environmental advocacy group like Ecology Ottawa, Ottawa Riverkeepers, Environmental Defense, Nature Canada, David Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund. Local groups are many and diverse and they are looking for your support and ideas.

Call your favourite stores, ask to speak with their sustainability management and tell them you are concerned about the carbon footprint of its products. Share ideas you have with them. Ask them about their sustainability plans. 

Buy better products and reuse, recycle, resell them after. Take your old clothes and fabrics to Value Village or hold a clothing exchange. 

Shop at stores that are committed to reducing waste, improving product lifetime and repair, or that participate in recycling or Take it Back! programs. 

Send us your ideas! ocean.info@gmail.com

Heat Pump Update – Success!!

This is an update on the previous heat pump blog from last year. If you remember, I had a heat pump installed in December 2019 and I was worried that the heat pump was using a lot of electricity. It turns out that, yes, I did use more electricity but not as much as I thought. So, 3 key take aways:

  1. I saved (a tiny bit of) money year over year with the heat pump!
  2. Less carbon was emitted. YEAH!
  3. I should have put the heat pump in a sunny sheltered location instead of in the shade.

I saved money in 2020 compared with 2019 with the heat pump but not very much ($46.44). Compared with 2018, I spent $92.22 more in 2020 with the heat pump. But more importantly, I consumed over 500 m3 less natural gas in 2020 with the heat pump than in either 2018 or 2019.

  • 2018 electricity 4782 kwh used, 1802 m3 NG consumed
  • 2019 electricity 5380 kwh used, 1837 m3 NG consumed
  • 2020 electricity 6442 kwh used, 1284 m3 NG consumed

Most HVAC installers will advise you to put your heat pump in a shaded location because they are accustomed to installing air conditioners which take warm air and make it colder. To create cool air in summer from hot air is less efficient than starting with not quite so hot air. Seems to me, the same should hold true when taking cold air and making it warmer in winter.

As I am using the heat pump primarily for heating, I want it to function as efficiently as possible in winter to reduce the electricity load. Most heat pumps have an efficiency curve that you can (and should) ask the manufacturer for. It will show you the Temperature vs COP (Coefficient of performance) and kWh used. In other words, it shows how efficiently your heat pump will work over a temperature range. Unsurprisingly, it works more efficiently at the warmer temperatures because it doesn’t take as much energy to heat air when it is, say, 5 ºC compared with -5 ºC. My heat pump, for instance, at temperatures above 10 ºC, is rarely on.

I realized (too late!) that the temperature on the breezy shaded side of my house in winter is often 5 to 10 degrees colder than the south facing sheltered side of my house. That’s on a cloudy day. On a sunny day, the difference can be as much as 20 degrees or more. My heat pump is set to be off at an outdoor temperature below 0 ºC and the auxiliary heat comes on as needed. If the outdoor temperature were 5-10 degrees warmer, then the heat pump would be heating the house more of the time than currently which would save more money and use even less natural gas.

It would be nice if someone (maybe NRCan?) would test this “sunny location” hypothesis and publish their results. My heat pump seems to blow out an enormous amount of cold air when it is on. Perhaps the amount of warm air in the sunny location would be displaced by the cold air blown out and the resulting effect on efficiency would be negligible.

Nevertheless, my plan is to eventually get a cold temperature mini-split inverter type heat pump and put it in the cozy sheltered location.

If anyone has actual (as opposed to theoretical) experience with placing heat pumps in sunny locations, please let us know about it in the comments.

Invasive Species

Here are some invasive species in Ottawa that you may find in your garden. Be on the lookout for these:

This is known as Common Buckthorn or Rhamnus cathartica. Don’t be fooled by a lack of berries as only the female plants have them.
Wild Parsnip, can look like Queen’s Anne’s Lace but has yellow flowers, is more robust and can be taller. Often seen growing along roadways. Its milky fluid can cause severe rashes.
Dog Strangling Vine en masse
Dog Strangling Vine seed pods. The seed pods are narrower but look similar to Milkweed pods.

January Meet and Mingle

Let’s start 2021 together. Join us virtually on Tuesday January 12 for a discussion about personal and group goals in 2021. If you live in River Ward, Alta Vista, or Gloucester South, join us! Email to get the meeting link: ocean.info@gmail.com

And if you can’t, consider signing up to our monthly newsletter by emailing: OSEAN.info@gmail.com or join our Facebook Group Forces of Nature In Ottawa South – OSEAN

Urban biodiversity: Mulching 101

Patrick Hamel

As many of us spend more time watching our yards grow greener, the temptation to mulch can become unbearable for the unsuspecting homeowner. Adding organic matter to the ground can help to provide nutrients to plants by breaking down over time, preventing weed growth, and retaining humidity. However, adding too much, especially in the shape of a mulch volcano, (thick layer of mulch or dirt laid around a tree and up against the trunk), is detrimental and likely to lead to the slow death of the tree.

Piling mulch (or dirt) against the tree decreases the oxygen available for the roots to grow. This leads to the production of upward-growing roots into the mulch. These are called girdling roots and can sometimes be seen as enlarged roots around the base of trees. Most often, they are hidden just below the surface. As they grow, they strangle the base of the tree, impeding the flow of nutrients and water. A sign of the presence of girdling roots is a tree base that is straight, or even narrower, where it touches the ground, instead of flaring out, and can swell above the girdling roots. Symptoms include small leaves, dieback of branches, poor growth, and abnormal openings in the canopy. It is possible to have an arborist remove these superficial roots; however, it is not always practical, and prevention by appropriate planting and mulching is key to tree health and longevity. Other causes of girdling roots include leaving ropes used to secure the root-ball at the nursery during planting, or planting too deeply or close to a paved surface.

Another consequence of mulch volcanoes is to create a moist environment in the bark, ideal for bacterial and fungal diseases and crown-rot development. Once the decaying bark under the mulch has died, the outer lifeline (cambium) of the tree is exposed, effectively discontinuing the supply of water and nutrients. Pathogens, including borer insects, thrive in humid conditions, accelerating the decline of the tree. Also, above-ground stems need to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide freely. Mulch volcanoes impede these processes (in addition to making it harder for water to reach the roots), leading to tree-tissue stress and weakening.

Another risk of mulch volcanoes is harboring rodents. These are great habitats for these small animals, who may chew at the bark for food, leading to similar issues as discussed above.

Save yourself some time and money, and as a rule, do not apply more than 2 or 3 inches depth (2-in for poorly drained soil) of mulch around your tree, leaving at least an inch gap between the trunk and the mulch. Reapply only when most of the mulch has already decomposed. Remember that these problems do not occur overnight, but may take 3 to 5 years to appear, depending on the extent of the damage, and are very difficult to reverse. It is recommended to consult with an arborist for solutions to these issues.

Sources:

  • https://njaes.rutgers.edu/fs099/
  • https://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody/over-mulching.shtml
Example of over-mulching

By Patrick Hamel, June 19th 2020

Webmaster’s note: To a question about leaves as mulch, the author reminded us that “leaves or compost can be good mulch option, in moderation. A layer of compost (decomposed organic matter, as stated at the beginning of the article) or leaves is generally beneficial for the tree, as this is what is found in the forest. I’d just make sure it’s not too thick.

Meet and Greet with OSEAN about Eco Actions

On Saturday November 14th at 7 PM, come and meet your neighbours (virtually of course!) who are working to make our local communities even greener.  With all the COVID snacking, let’s do it together!

Ottawa South Eco Action Network (OSEAN) is a group of neighbours from River Ward, Alta Vista and Gloucester South who are dedicated to making our communities more environmentally friendly through local projects and conversations with our councillors and MPPs. The same people who brought you “Pumpkins for Pigs”.

What are ways we as a community can tackle climate change, protect our natural environment, promote sustainable transportation and improve food security?  Grab a beverage or favourite snack and join our Zoom chat to chat about how we can accomplish more, together. 

Please register in advance for this meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZEudOGpqTsqE9MptMMcWrDxR-KMIq0j8VWO

Pumpkins for Pigs (Again!)

This year we are hoping to divert even more pumpkins than last year!

Help us rescue pumpkins from the compost this Halloween!

With your help we can divert food waste and bring some tasty, nutritious snacks to some pigs at local farms.

What can you do? 
1) Be a contact-less collection point on Nov 1 for your neighbours (we can send you a sign to print out for your yard or make your own “Pumpkin Drop-off” sign)
2) Deliver pumpkins. If you have a trailer, truck or are willing to use your trunk, offer to deliver pumpkins from these collection points to Mooney’s Bay on Nov 2nd (will message the exact location- but the pumpkins in the front yard will likely be obvious!)
3) Help promote this initiative by sharing, liking, commenting or tweeting it!

And obviously if you are planning to eat the pumpkin yourself, even better!

Email us at osean_email@ottawasouthecoactionnetwork.ca

Check out this article in Capital Current showcasing our Pumpkins for Pigs initiative:

Halloween’s pumpkin problem: Anti-waste advocates urge end to doorstep-landfill horror show.

Comparing Poop Bags

In this blog we compare the compostability of two brands of compostable dog waste bags buried in a typical Ottawa garden. On the left is a Unni 100% compostable bag (www.unni.world) and on the right is a bag from The Original Poop-bags (Poop-bags.com).

Unni 100% Compostable (left) and The Original Poop-bags (right) before use

As can be seen in the photo, the logo for the composting standard ASTM D6400, appears on the Original Poop-bag. The Unni bag shows two standards on the bag, the TÜV AUSTRIA Home S0737 OK compost and the EN 13432. Both bags show the BPI Compostable logo. These standards are all described below.

METHOD: The 2 bags containing dog waste were buried about 3 inches below the surface of a well mulched flower garden 29 November 2019 and then dug up and reburied in April, July and 1 October 2020.

RESULTS: In April 2020, the bags showed very little degradation. In fact, they appeared to be in perfect condition. Sorry, no picture. Just imagine typical poop bags full of, well, poop.

8 MONTHS: As can be seen in the next photo, there is no waste visible in or around either bag, so it seems the dog waste completely decomposed in 8 months. The bags themselves are partially degraded. The Unni bag still has a plastic bag like appearance while The Original Poop-bag resembles a thin withered leaf.

Unni and The Original Poop-bag shown side by side after 8 months

11 MONTHS: There is minimal residual of the Poop-bag while the Unni bag has substantial residual remaining after 11 months.

A Unni bag and The Original Poop-bag shown side by side after 11 months

CONCLUSION: Temperature certainly seemed to be a critical factor as most of the degradation occurred between April and October. It was great to see that both bags showed considerable decomposition, even in our cold climate.

STANDARDS: According to the ASTM.org website regarding the D6400 specification,

1.1 This specification covers plastics and products made from plastics that are designed to be composted under aerobic conditions in municipal and industrial aerobic composting facilities, where thermophilic conditions are achieved.

1.2 This specification is intended to establish the requirements for labeling of materials and products, including packaging made from plastics, as “compostable in aerobic municipal and industrial composting facilities.”

1.3 The properties in this specification are those required to determine if end items (including packaging), which use plastics and polymers as coatings or binders will compost satisfactorily, in large scale aerobic municipal or industrial composting facilities.

Further information about the US standard ASTM D6400 can be found here and here.

According to European Bioplastics, the EN 13432, seen on the Unni bag, is the European standard that requires compostable plastics to disintegrate after 12 weeks and completely biodegrade after six months in industrial or municipal composting facilities which meet temperature, humidity, aeration and time requirements to degrade the waste to stable, sanitized products that can be used in agriculture. 90% is converted to CO2 and the rest is converted to water and biomass.

According to TÜV AUSTRIA (formerly Vinçotte) a product which meets the requirements of the EN 13432 standard may be awarded the Seedling logo seen on the lower left of the Unni bag.

The TÜV AUSTRIA Home OK compost logo, also seen at the bottom of the Unni bag, indicates that certification has been received from TÜV AUSTRIA, a Belgian company authorised by European Bioplastics.

The European Bioplastics website further notes that there are no international standards for home composting of biodegradable plastics, however there are some national standards, including the Australian norm AS 5810, the French standard NF T 510-800 and TÜV AUSTRIA OK compost Home. The latter, as well as the French standard, require at least 90% degradation in 12 months at ambient temperature.

Both bags also display the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) logo (what looks like a fish and a tree). The BPI label BPI Compostable in Industrial Facilities corresponds to the ASTM D6400 standard. The more recent Unni bag clearly indicates that it is BPI certified in industrial composting facilities. On 22 September 2020, this US certifier released their Guidelines for the Labeling and Identification of Compostable Products and Packaging which, if adopted by manufacturers, should go a long way towards reducing contamination of compostable material with non compostable plastics and other waste.

You can find the full description of the Unni bag composting certification on the Unni website.

If anyone has tried a similar experiment, we would love to hear about your observations in the comments.

UPDATE: The Original Poop-bag website displays a box of bags with the TÜV AUSTRIA Home OK compost logo. A cursor-over pop-up states that “these poop bags have an OK compost rating, making them compostable in both homes and commercial facilities.” The picture of the bag does not show this logo. Our observations are consistent with this certification.

Plants for Butterflies and Bees in Ottawa

The David Suzuki Foundation website offers information on planting for pollinators. Here is a list of butterflies and flowering native plants that they recommend for those of us who live in Eastern Canada and want to attract pollinators to our gardens.

Butterfly species native to Eastern Canada:

  • Eastern tiger swallowtail
  • Mourning cloak
  • Red admiral
  • Painted lady
  • Monarch
  • Cabbage white
  • Milbert’s tortoiseshell
  • Silver-spotted skipper
  • Black swallowtail
  • American copper
  • Clouded sulphur

Pollinator-friendly plants native to Eastern Canada:

Nectar plants:

  • New England aster Symphyotrichum novae-angliae
  • Wild strawberry Fragaria virginiana
  • Wild strawberry Fragaria vesca
  • Pearly everlasting Anaphalis margaritacea
  • Yarrow Achillea millefolium
  • Wild columbine Aquilegia canadensis
  • Wild bergamot Monarda fistulosa
  • Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta
  • Anise hyssop Agastache foeniculum
  • Virginia mountain mint Pycnanthemum virginianum
  • Lance leaf coreopsis Coreopsis lanceolata
  • Wild nodding onion Allium cernuum
  • Woodland Sunflower Helianthus divaricatus
  • Evening primrose Oenothera biennis

Host plants:

  • Pearly everlasting Anaphalis margaritacea — American lady
  • Chokecherry Prunus virginiana — swallowtail, hairstreak
  • Pacific ninebark Physocarpus capitatus — tiger swallowtail
  • Nettles Anthocharis sara ssp. gracilis — red admiral, Milbert’s Tortoiseshell
  • Thistles Cirsium — painted ladies
  • Common milkweed Asclepias syriaca — monarch
  • Swamp milkweed Asclepias incarnata — monarch
  • Butterfly milkweed Asclepias tuberosa — monarch
  • Eastern cottonwood Populus deltoides — mourning cloak, viceroy, swallowtail
  • Willow Salix sp. — white admiral, viceroy, swallowtail

Herbs for bees and butterflies:

  • Dill
  • Fennel
  • Parsley
  • Oregano
  • Chives
  • Rosemary
  • Lavender
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Lemon Balm