It's Easy Being Green

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Jul 15, 2010 1:36 PM
Simple steps to help protect the environment for ourselves and future generations.

By Shawn Hayward

In summer everyone wants to spend time communing with nature, hiking the trails, touring on all-terrain vehicles, camping in the back country or fishing on the ponds. It's what we did as kids years ago and it's how we enjoy spending time with our kids today. To ensure our children's children will also have access to the wonders of nature, in all her pristine glory, we must do our part today to protect the environment. Here are some things to keep in mind next time you and the family go exploring our wonderful land.

Keep off the bog for peat's sake
ATVs are lots of fun to drive and great for exploring the Newfoundland wilderness, but their tires can tear up the soil and damage habitat for plants and animals. Wetlands are especially fragile, and operating ATVs in bogs, marshes and barrens is prohibited by the provincial government, with fines ranging from $100-$500 or 15-60 days in jail. Beaches, forestlands, abandoned railways and private property under 10 hectares are fair game for four-wheelers. For a full listing of ATV friendly areas, visit the Department of Environment and Conservation website.

Green your ride
A study by the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2001 found while automobile emissions have decreased 56 per cent over the past 20 years, ATV emissions have actually gone up 42 per cent in that time. The EPA recommends your ATV have a catalytic converter to reduce chemicals in your exhaust, and it should use fuel injection, not a carburetor. Four-stroke engines produce a lot less emissions than two-stroke engines and take less fuel to do the same amount of work, so you save money.

LED by example
LED flashlights and lamps are much more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs and they produce more light. A 40-watt bulb used 10 hours a day will consume enough electricity to produce 89 kg of carbon dioxide a year, while an equally powered LED will only contribute 29 kg of emissions. Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are another energy-saving option, as they use 20-33 per cent of the energy spent by the same-sized incandescent bulbs. But CFLs, like all fluorescent bulbs, contain trace amount of mercury, a poison that kills wildlife. While the amount of mercury per CFL is very small, the presence of a lethal chemical in CFLs gives LED lights the environmental edge.

PVC is not A-OK
Many plastics contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is very toxic and can release dioxin, mercury and other dangerous chemicals into the environment. Certain additives to PVC have been banned by the European Union but they are still found in many camping products including tents, waterproof clothes and water bottles used in North America. Chemicals leach from the PVC into the ecosystem, making animals, plants and humans sick. Plastic containing PVC can't be recycled, and putting PVC in with recyclable plastic contaminates the whole batch. Avoid products such as vinyl that contain PVC and opt for natural materials like organic cotton and hemp.

Use the elements
There's no need to recharge your RV batteries with electricity from a public utility when you can generate it yourself. Solar panels and wind turbines are becoming more common and affordable. RVs are smaller and have less electric appliances than your typical home, making solar and wind an effective alternative to the public energy grid. You can create even greater efficiency by replacing your incandescent bulbs with LEDs or CFLs as mentioned earlier.

Be kind to bacteria
Septic tanks stink, but so does pollution. Chemicals that reduce odour coming from your RV holding tank can hurt the environment by leaching into the soil and contaminating ground water. Formaldehyde and ammonia are the chemicals used to destroy the odour-causing bacteria, but that same bacteria is what nature uses to break down waste into harmless byproducts. By killing the bacteria you turn human waste into toxic sludge that doesn't naturally decompose. Some dump stations won't even let you empty there if you've used chemical treatments such as bronopol, dowicil and glutaraldehyde. Dump your tank frequently to cut down on smell and flush it out after every dumping using a flushing device you can get at most RV service centres.

Don't be trashy
Ever get sick of seeing trees in our "pristine" woodlands waving plastic bag flags? Leave your litter where you camped and it will soon be blanketing the forest floor, choking healthy streams and, possibly, healthy animals. Birds and fish can mistake plastic for a tasty snack. Six-pack rings can kill animals by cutting off their breathing after they've gotten their neck, snout or beak caught in them, so cut the rings before you throw them in the garbage. On windy days, every wrapper and empty plastic bottle can become a projectile, so put them in a garbage bin immediately before they're sailing on the breeze. Reduce the amount of garbage you produce by using glass plates and cups instead of the plastic disposable kind. Keep dirty dishes in a sealable tub or bucket with soapy water and by the time you get return home, they'll be easy to clean. Bring along garbage bags and stuff your pockets with wrappers and packaging until you return home where you can properly dispose of it.

Keep a leash on it
Dogs love the outdoors. It gives them a chance to reconnect with their natural instincts for hunting and chasing other animals. They love to root around in the trees, sniff out game, and run along the beach with the fresh breeze in their ears. It's fun for everyone but the wild animals who call the campsite home. A dog eager to make forest friends can stress out birds and squirrels that already have natural predators to worry about. Keep your dog on a leash if no one is watching him to make sure he's not bothering the wildlife. Remember that you and your four-legged friend are only guests in a home for thousands of other living things.

Fire it up
Why burn fossil fuels when you can use old trees and downed logs to cook your food? Campfires break down dead wood into calcium-rich ash that will enrich the soil, encouraging new tree growth. Ash has a liming effect, balancing the pH level of Newfoundland's acidic soil, and it often has potash and phosphate in it, two common ingredients in artificial fertilizer. Burning propane, on the other hand, creates carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, with none of the nutrients that wood leaves behind. Make sure you check the local regulations on campfires before you light one, and bring along a Dutch oven or grate to cook delicious food over an open fire. Don't burn plastics or other unnatural material in a fire, because it will release chemicals into the air. Make sure your fire is completely extinguished by dousing it with water and burying the ashes before leaving the site.

Take the path more travelled
Each step you take in the outdoors weighs on natural habitat, so stick to the established walking trails whenever possible instead of making new ones. Trampling plants and insects has consequences that go right down the food chain, and while one person's footsteps may not make much difference, it may encourage others to follow. Soon enough another patch of nature has been scarred by human activity.

Look for the circle of arrows
If you must buy new camping gear, you can find a lot of it made from recycled materials, including flashlights, jackets, sleeping bags and backpacks. Buying equipment made from previously used polyester keeps garbage out of the landfills and makes recycling a more profitable manufacturing option.

Know the laws of attraction
Artificial bug repellent often contains DEET, a mild pesticide that can accumulate in freshwater fish such as rainbow trout. Replace artificial bug repellents with natural alternatives and knowledge about what attracts insects. Citronella oil, celery extract, rosemary and peppermint have been found to keep mosquitoes away. (Make sure you're not allergic to any repellent ingredients before you apply them to your skin.) Mosquitoes are attracted to dark clothing, so wear white or tan colours when spending time outdoors. The carbon dioxide you exhale is a sign to mosquitoes of a nearby tasty treat (you). If you are exercising or exerting yourself, causing your breathing to be heavier, be prepared for attracting more mosquitoes. Lactic acid is another mosquito attractant, so avoid foods like yogurt that contain lactic acid. And when choosing a campsite, pick one far from stagnant water, as this is where flies like to lay their eggs.

Get the lead out
A lot of people like to bring the rod or gun with them while camping to catch some wild meat. Fishing sinkers and shotgun pellets are commonly made out of lead, which is a heavy metal that builds up in the ecosystem, killing animals and contaminating their habitat. A lot of places have already banned lead sinkers and shot, but even if it's legal in your area, use non-lead alternatives if you want to keep the forests and lakes teeming with wildlife for future generations to enjoy. Steel and tungsten alloy shot and sinkers work just as well as the lead kind.