Sowing the Seeds – How to Grow an Eco Club for Youth

Have you ever wanted to help little Eco flowers grow?  Maybe you’re a community member, a parent or grandparent.  Over the years, I’ve belonged to four separate school groups (two of which I began from scratch) in three different cities, and I can easily say that starting a club takes very little effort, and there are loads of great activities to do with kids of all ages.

Ready to sprout some seedlings?  Visit a local primary school where you know the students or staff.  If the school already hosts an Eco club, ask to help out. Facilitators can always use an extra hand.  If a program doesn’t exist, volunteer to be a community leader.  Either option would require a vulnerable sector criminal record check – a prerequisite for anyone working with children in Ontario schools. The good news is the office staff can write you a letter that will get you a discounted rate when you apply. Another great place to encourage young minds is with your local Scouts group.  Leaders are always looking for people to share their Eco expertise.

There is a plethora of ways to engage this age group.  Younger children benefit most from playing outside in nature.  By learning to love the outdoors, they in turn strive to protect it.  Building bird/bee/bat houses, planting a garden, taking nature walks, and visiting local parks are great ways to start.  Inside, play a recycling sorting game, after which students can set up and run a program – and even compost with wiggly worms – in the school.  Another way to get youngsters on board is by creating a group name and motto, as well as making a mascot.  And there are simple activities like waste-free lunches and Lights Out! Fridays that help promote awareness and school-wide participation.

If you’re trying to foster growth in tweens and teens, look no further than your local high school (please note, volunteers here must also have a valid criminal record check on file). Most high schools already have established Eco clubs, but much like their primary counterparts, they would encourage community involvement.  High school clubs are where I’ve always found myself – and let me tell you – we never run out of things to do!  In addition to some of the aforementioned activities, the groups I’ve worked with have built outdoor classrooms with grants from the WWF, planted trees, created a graduation garden, enjoyed nature walks and community clean-ups, applied to become a certified Eco School (see next paragraph), and planned Earth Day activities.  We’ve performed school wide waste audits, run contests where we “Caught (recycling) students green-handed”, hosted documentary lunches, made t-shirts, and set-up tap water vs. bottled water taste tests.

With my current group, we’ve worked on improving recycling in the school by adding bins in strategic locations and setting up clear signage.  We’ve made GOOS (Good on one side) bins that encourage the use of scrap paper, and we’re in the midst of making a recycling station with mascot and ballot box in our front foyer.  We’ve certified our courtyard as a Wildlife Habitat with the CWF, and in doing so practised species identification, built a birdbath out of recycled materials, and dug in the dirt to plant milkweed.  We put on a holiday battery drive (and sold the car batteries brought in for fundraising!), and fostered saplings to reforest local outdoor spaces.  We’ve held a poster making session for the “Fridays for our Future” Climate March, and set up a marching spot by the school. In the future, we plan to educate the student body with a vermiculture compost for our courtyard, and team up with a local volunteer organization that maps fruit trees for harvesting (Hidden Harvest).   

Finally, no matter the age, there is no shortage of online communities that offer lessons, contests and activities.  To certify as an Eco School, visit: the beginning of September.  To participate in activities like Earth Hour, National Sweater Day, or the Polar Bear walk, sign up for WWF’s Living Planet @ School, at:  For lesson plans and units (endorsed by Environment and Climate Change Canada) that teach about Ocean Health and Plastics, visit Sea Smart’s:  And to participate in challenges that may lead to winning prizes, once a year (usually beginning of semester two), Canadian Geographic and Shell team up to present “The Classroom Energy Diet Challenge”. Staples also runs a yearly contest called: “Superpower your school”that awards 10 schools across Canada with twenty thousand dollars in tech to help with their Eco-initiatives.

As you can see, there is a myriad of ways to plant and nurture youth Eco clubs, and to have fun doing it.  So get planting!

Christmas Trees for Goats – Volunteers needed!

It started a few years ago when I heard about a local rescue accepting Christmas trees… since then I have wanted to bring my live Christmas tree to goats. But it always seemed a bit odd to drive more than 20-30 mins to deliver one tree… and I wasn’t sure my Hyundai Elantra would be up for the drive. This year while researching better ways to reuse Jack O’lanterns I was introduced to Karen from The Frugal Farm. Her goal is to reduce food waste by using it as a feedstock for her animals. I contacted her to find out if she could use and wants Christmas trees and her response was an enthusiastic YES (she taught me that goats not only enjoy Christmas trees, they benefit from eating them as they are a natural dewormer).  While Christmas trees are composted in the City (and can be used as a natural wind break for the canal), using them as food for goats and then using the remaining wood for bedding seemed a more “circular economy” approach. Thus started a long journey of figuring out how to get Christmas trees to her farm.

In the end, we were able to collect about 30 Christmas trees with this pilot by using my personal residence as a drop off point (thanks to my darling husband for simply stating “wow, there are a lot of trees in our front yard…) And we learned a few things for next year:

  • Local drop off points for Christmas trees is crucial so that people can minimize driving and maximize visibility;
  • Trees collected after January 6th are much drier, so ideally, schedule pick up before January 6th;
  • Local parks would be ideal but will require some type of agreement with the city so that participants don’t get fined for “illegal dumping”. Organizing one all day drop-off “blitz” may work;
  • Having a designated volunteer for each street to gather trees on garbage day is most efficient; 
  • Participants need be reminded that trees must be free of tinsel if they will be donated for food for goats (I didn’t even realize tinsel was still sold in stores);
  • Volunteers that have pick-up trucks, trailers, etc. will be needed if this is going to become bigger (A Hyundai Elantra can transport 4 Christmas trees at one time but loading is time-consuming…see bullet point below);
  • If loading Christmas tree(s) onto a car that has a toddler passenger, cookies and/or treats are invaluable in buying patience (as well as Christmas sing along music);
  • It would be great to have multiple farms that are closer to different parts of the city;
  • Finding a way for people to meet a goat while dropping off their trees may result in greater participation (a common question asked was: “can we meet the goats?”)

I am happy we did this pilot, and do believe that it has value; we received only positive feedback from participants. But for it to succeed next year, we will need more volunteers! If this is something that you would like to be involved in next year, even if it’s the only activity you want to help out with, send us an email.  The goats will thank you.

Eager helpers loading X-mas trees
Loading the Christmas trees into the trailer
Almost ready to deliver the trees to the farm
Happy goats munching on Christmas trees
Christmas tree picked clean and ready to be mulched

Bold Action on Climate Change – Where are the leaders?

Canada is a geographically large country, divided into geographic segments and politically disparate populations. We need leaders to lead us all to the fossil fuel free future.

Movement on the climate change front will only come if the people clamour for change. Politicians who make decisions on behalf of 37 million people will only act if they feel that political support requires it.

This support has to be communicated to them in every way possible: emails and letters to MPs, lawful demonstrations, dramatic actions in the streets, climate change questions in debates, individuals and groups divesting from fossil fuels, groups acting locally for change at the grassroots level, newspaper and online articles educating the public and demanding change, people and local environment groups working with local councillors for action on climate change at the municipal level and the City demanding change and action from higher levels of government, and clear action on reducing GHG emissions locally, not just plans.

Much of this support exists and in a way that is much more obvious than even a couple years ago. But it isn’t enough. The trajectory of carbon emissions from fossil fuel use is actually increasing globally and, despite Canada’s new net zero emission target by 2050, the federal Pan-Canadian Framework meant to address climate change doesn’t even meet our minimal Paris Agreement targets. The fossil fuel companies and their government partners are trying to tell us that we should support the sale of oil and gas as long as possible, as long as there is a market anywhere in the world for our product, that this makes us economically strong and without it, vague disaster. But we all know that every ton of carbon, wherever it is burned, adds to the burden on the entire planet and changes our climate just as it is changing the climate in the arctic or Bangladesh. All fossil fuel production must be wound down. But there is no plan to cease Canadian fossil fuel project approvals. Extraction of oil and gas continues unabated, in fact, it appears to be increasing faster than ever. This is completely inconsistent with a fossil fuel free planet. Whether this is ideology driven or driven by greed, it doesn’t really matter. The only thing that matters is that the climate is warming, droughts, fires and floods are destroying the livelihoods of millions of people around the world and the species that we humans share the planet with are suffering tremendous pain and loss of life as is becoming unbearable to watch right now in Australia. 

We need our elected officials to lead, to bring us together for a single-minded purpose. Save our planet. Our leaders need to voice why and how Canada will move forward to a fossil fuel free country. How we are going to be a rich and prosperous country in the new fossil fuel free economy? Lay out the plan on how we will get there. Shoot down the arguments against moving off of fossil fuels. Reassure fossil fuel workers that life will in fact be better for everyone in the long run. Lead other countries on how to do this. Demonstrate leadership in difficult times, because don’t let anyone fool you, there are going to be very difficult times ahead and everyone will have to do their part. Our leaders must provide a vision for Canada that inspires a largely apathetic populous. They need to show us they are serious, demonstrate it with decisions that prove they know what is needed. Don’t give us piecemeal solutions. Give us the whole plan. Communicate better and regularly, on CBC, on radio and TV, at local meetings and townhalls, lay it out for us in the newspapers. Where is our environment minister?  

Heat Pumps

Have you considered getting a heat pump to avoid using fossil fuels to heat your house? You may want to wait.

I have just recently had a gas furnace and heat pump installed, thinking that I could reduce my carbon footprint by using the heat pump as much as possible and the furnace only on really cold days. My mistake was …..

But let’s start with how I made my decision. I looked at the different types of heat pumps. First I looked at ground source heating where heat is extracted from the ground which is generally about 4° C year round. Much as I would have liked to go this route, a ground source heat pump was out of the question since I don’t have the yard space or the money to put in a ground source system. This type of system really needs to be put in at the time of building. Water sourced heat pumps also exist but you need a source of water. I had no lake in my backyard so that was out.

That left ducted or ductless air sourced heat pumps. I seriously considered the ductless heat pumps because of their efficiency. There are 2 manufacturers that make heat pumps that they claim work at temperatures to -30° C. What dissuaded me was the thought of water running through my walls and the possibility of leaks. As you may know, a heat pump works by condensing a substance (usually a refrigerant), making it hot and then pumping the substance into the house to the coils of a unit that can attach to part of your room or basement. As the blower in the unit blows air over the coils, the air heats up and is directed to warm your room(s). However, as cold air hits the warm coils, water condenses on the coils and the water has to drain to a location in your house, presumably through a pipe. In hindsight, that might not have been a bad idea. But then there are also refrigerant leaks to consider as the system ages.

Being afraid of leaks (rational or not), I chose a heat pump that would work in tandem with my new gas furnace and any condensate would drain into my already existing sump pump pit. Leaks of refrigerant would be confined to the basement. I needed the furnace because a heat pump becomes less and less efficient as the temperature outside gets colder.

I now have a much more efficient 2-stage gas furnace that works well and is much quieter than the old furnace. Time will tell if I see a decrease in the amount of natural gas I use.

I also have a new 1.5 tonne air source heat pump that the supplier assured me would work down to -15° C. It has a “heating seasonal performance factor” (HSPF) of 9.5. This is the heating efficiency rating. At the time of negotiations, I did ask about the wattage of the heat pump but I never got an answer. That should have been a red flag. My new heat pump keeps the house at my preferred temperature as long as the temperature outside is above about -8° C. At that point, the temperature in the house slowly decreases. The manual tells me that once the temperature gets to about 2° C below the thermostat setting, the furnace will kick in and the heat pump turns off. Ok, I can live with -8° C but it is a bit of a disappointment that I can’t use the heat pump in lower temperatures. Perhaps if my house was not a leaky sieve, the heat pump would perform better.

At the outside temperatures at which I have so far tested the heat pump (4° C to -8° C), the heat pump is on continuously below 0 and is on about half the time when the temperature is between 0 to 4° C. Perhaps at temperatures above 4° C it will be on even less. I hope so, because a test over several hours showed that the electrical usage was about 2kwh per hour. If it were on all day, that would be 48 kWh and for the month, that would cost me about $271 just for the heat pump depending on rates, time of day usage, etc. So, I will wait until the temperature warms up a bit and test it again. Stay tuned!

Moral of this story, unless you are using the heat pump as an air conditioner in the summer or you don’t mind spending a lot of money, or you have a source of really cheap electricity (like solar) or maybe if your house is well insulated and very tight, I would recommend waiting until there is better heating technology before installing an air source heat pump. Perhaps work on making your house more air tight with weather stripping, insulation and high quality windows and doors. If you are still keen on getting an air source heat pump, do your research and don’t be pushed around by any salesmen. Be sure to get a heat pump that has a very high efficiency rating – this means an HSPF rating as close to 14 as you can afford.

Have you experience with a heat pump? Please add your comments to this blog!

Protect Water: Boycott Nestlé

The Council of Canadians is currently running a campaign to protect underground aquifers from excessive exploitation by large multinational companies. They are drawing attention to Nestlé’s for profit water pumping and bottling operations in Southern Ontario and British Columbia. This, despite the outcries from local residents who believe that the water under their ground should first be used for local purposes, not bottled and sent away. Visit their website and show your support by clicking on the link:

TELL ONTARIO NOT TO SELL OFF OUR WATER TO NESTLÉ! – Environmental Defence is also mounting an anti-water bottling campaign. You can take action by filling out and submitting their form here.

The Ontario government has announced a proposal to extend the current moratorium on new and expanded bottled water permits to October 1, 2020, which, as explained by the Canadian Environmental Law Association, was put in place in 2016 and first extended in 2018.

You can make your voice heard by submitting your comments on the moratorium before December 18, 2019 on the Ontario Government website.

Pumpkins for Pigs

This year, OSEAN issued a call for pumpkins. Anyone who preferred to give their pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns to a farm rather than putting them in their compost were encouraged to drop them off at 2 different locations for pick up later by a local pig farmer. Given the huge interest – perhaps the pumpkin parade will be an annual event!

Climate Change – Ottawa’s Official Plan

April 13, 2019 Earth Day Event

OSEAN participated in the Earth Day event at Hunt Club-Riverside Park Community Centre last Saturday. Several well known Ottawans joined us for some fun playing the Minute-To-Win-It Plastic Sorting Game to see how well we could sort a pile of plastic in 1 minute. Most of us did very well but there were a few tricky items that Erin provided some educational guidance on.

John Fraser, our Ottawa South MPP, good heartedly joined in on the fun and maybe learned a thing or two about what can and cannot be recycled. It’s not always straightforward!
Les Schram from the Green Party joined Aija at the OSEAN table inside after learning about cloth diapers, beeswax food wraps and other OSEAN activities.

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