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It was the moment I had been putting off all summer — organizing for the first day of school.

Having to find rulers, notebooks, running shoes and gym clothes during the summer holidays makes it feel like summer is over. While kids seem to like all the preparation, and the shopping that comes with it, many parents I know dread it.

The back-to-school shopping lists for the two school-age children in our house came in the mail at the beginning of August, requesting dozens of items -from compasses and calculators to Kleenexes, liquid paper and many, many notebooks, duo-tangs and binders. Oh, and by the way, don’t spend all your money at the mall, because you still have to pay for agendas and school books that are running at about $40 per kid at my house.

That made me think that this year we are going to focus on economizing and the environment for the first day of school at the Commission scolaire de Montreal next week.

A survey done over the summer in the U.S. found that consumers would spend on average $550 on back-to-school shopping this year. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have $1,100 burning a hole in my wallet right now.

So, here are some ideas for cutting costs and reducing the environmental impact of back-to-school.

The first thing we did was sort through all the used and unused school supplies that came home at the end of June. We ended up with a plastic bin full of duo-tangs, pencils, binders, rulers and pencil cases, as well as unopened boxes of tissues and reusable plastic bags.

A friend of mine does this with her sister, and in August they trade coloured duo-tangs and binders to meet the requirements of their four kids’ school-supply lists.

Then we tackled the backpacks. A kid I know has been using the same backpack since kindergarten, and she just graduated from Grade 6. We threw all of ours in the washing machine, checked for holes and declared three of them completely usable for this school year. We did the same thing with pencil cases and were able to cross them off the list. Next, we went through the house collecting pencil crayons, sorted through them and were able to make a collection of 24 for each kid.

Some things you can’t avoid buying, like the extremely specific lined and unlined notebooks that teachers request every year. With the money you’ve saved by reusing last year’s supplies, though, hopefully you can afford the (unfortunately) higher-priced environmentally friendlier versions of notebooks, lined paper, pens and binders.

I checked out a few local stores to see what was on offer last week and found notebooks made with recycled paper, pens that were made 80 per cent of recycled materials and plastic report covers made of recycled plastic.

There were staple-less staplers that hold sheets of paper together without any metal, Post-it notes made from recycled paper, as well as scissors, rulers and erasers made of recycled materials.

The good thing about buying products like these is that it helps to increase the market for recyclables we put in our green bins, like paper, plastic and metal. You can see that concept at work at places like the Cooperative du Grand Orme in Ste. Anne de Bellevue, where they sell notebooks made from recycled paper by Quebec company Cascades. They also carry pencils made from recycled newspaper, pens made of corn, as well as different kinds and colours of paper.

The other place to look for environmentally friendlier options is the lunch box.

With garbage-free lunches being encouraged at many schools, the challenge is to get all that food into reusable containers. Many people invest in plastic containers with easy-to-remove lids, and reusable drink boxes or water bottles.

This year, we’re going to do away with plastic sandwich and snack bags.

Montreal-based Credo Bags makes small snack-size drawstring bags that are not only convenient and reusable, but kids like their style. Something else that is becoming more readily available is reusable sandwich bags that can be tossed in the washing machine when they get dirty. You can order several different kinds from online stores. I’ve been using one made by a company called Reusies, and they have Velcro to keep it closed and are big enough for sandwiches, bagels and wraps. (Go to http://www.reusies.comfor more information). Still with the lunch boxes, disposable napkins and plastic cutlery can easily be replaced with reusable ones. It won’t necessarily make your kids eat the food you pack for them, but at least it cuts down on what they throw in the garbage.


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Trees are a magical addition to any garden; here are a few of the surprising tricks they can do—plus a way to keep a lid on their cost.


 In the landscape of memory, trees define the countryside. As the most prominent and long-lived of all vegetation (think giant sequoia), they are the one green symbol guaranteed to represent place. Mention Italy and Italian cypress come to mind. Images of southern France always include olive trees. The English landscape, that great affectation, is symbolized by large-scale deciduous varieties planted in “clumps” (by Capability Brown) that look from a distance like a single stylized tree. In the Pacific Northwest, iconic evergreens—Douglas fir, Western red cedar and hemlock—colour much of the landscape black-green, a situation that both pleases and perturbs me.

I have a love/hate relationship with these vertical giants. I love them unequivocally in the wild, but in the city, my feelings are mixed. They are messy for one thing, too thirsty for another. They can rob a tiny garden of sunlight, and turn otherwise amiable people in to axe murders. How many times have I read about someone topping or chopping down a neighbour’s evergreen—without asking permission—to improve his or her own view or to capture extra sunlight?

When clients ask me to preserve the large fir, cedar or hemlock on their site, I always try to do it. Rarely, however, do I choose to install these trees, and when I do, it’s usually to create a backdrop or a screen on a larger property where their height and mass can be viewed from a distance.

Most of the trees I specify are quicker growing deciduous varieties. I select them for their height and shape when fully grown; for their novel bark or branching or leaves (the majority of deciduous flowers are short-lived and uneventful); and for the work I need them to do.

What Trees Can Do For You

One of the things I love about deciduous trees is what they do in the sunlight. The leaves and branches of Victoria’s Garry oak, for example, cast a magical dappled light that is unique in Canada. The fat, flat leaves of the Sorbus aria ‘Lutescens’ (whitebeam) outside my studio window are grey-green on one side, ash white on the other. On sunny, brezzy days, they shimmer the way waves do when they’re caught in a shaft of moonlight.

If you want to illuminate a corner of your garden where the sun doesn’t shine, a shock of coloured leaves will do it. I’ve used the acid yellow foliage of Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’ (black locust) to light a dark spot, but I wouldn’t recommend putting a lot of these trees in a small space; the overall effect would be off putting, too many trees screaming “Hey, look at me!”

I once had a client from Hong Kong who collected deciduous trees the way keen plantsmen accumulate perennials. No matter what quantity I specified, he asked me to squeeze in more. “I like trees,” he told me, “because they actually relax me.” Botanists might back him on that: Trees are the earth lungs, absorbing carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen; it’s not much of a stretch to think of siting a house in the woods as a form of oxygen therapy.

This may sound illogical, but if you want to make you garden feel larger, plant more trees, not fewer. The more trees you have, the easier it is to create the layered look found in nature.  Planting in layers contributes to the sense that a garden goes on indefinitely. It also means you are going to get more shadow play, which makes it more difficult to gauge boundaries; believe it or not so does leaf size. If you want to exaggerate the depth of a property, plant larger-leafed trees close to the house and smaller leafed ones in the distance, and use more of fewer species, but clump them together the way they would grow in the wild (like the vine maples pictured here).

How To Save Money When Buying A Tree

Trees are sold one of two ways: in pots or balled and burlapped (known as B and B). The price of a tree can jump substantially once it has been removed from a pot and and wrapped in burlap, a process that requires extra labor that can be reflected in the cost. It makes good sense to find the largest specimen in a pot rather than the smallest one in burlap. Once the smaller tree is in the ground it will make up for any size differential quickly.—Ron Rule

Ron Rule is a well-known residential garden designer in Vancouver. He is the founder and head of the Certificate In Garden Design program at the University of B.C.


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Well, yesterday was the 3rd to last weighing day for our Challenge.  How is everyone doing?

We have managed to our garbage down pretty low for a family of 6 – check it ou!

I have asked Metro Van if they can make available all of our stats so that everyone can have a look at their data to ensure it has been entered accurately, and to give us some more incentive to see if we can get our weights down a little more during these last two weeks.   

Here is a photo of what has been deposited so far on the eco shed on my porch.  As you can see, there is a lot of styrofoam and polystyrene containers.  The purpose of the eco shed is to allow us to recycle items that are recyclable, but not accepted in the blue box or at the city depot; to see if we would go to the trouble of taking them out of our garbage if there were a convenient place to take them.  Bring me your styrofoam/polystyrene, #3. #6, & #7, and hard plastics (#’s 1, 2, 4 & 5 can go in your blue bin).  So please continue to make your deposits here (I will remove the full bags and put them into my garage until the end of the Challenge, and then take the final load somewhere…).

Good luck everyone!


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Compost bins can remove loads of waste and make loads of garden compost – a clean nutritious soil improver. All gardens thrive on garden compost – all soil types improve.


  • AUTUMN – sweep autumn leaves into bags and containers to make leaf mold or for composting later on.
  • Vegetable kitchen scraps, old plants and flowers provide continuous small amounts to compost.
  • SPRING – skim annual weeds into composter. Mix fresh grass with autumn leaves to make compost pile, ready by summer for autumn gardening. TIP: Spread leaves on lawn to mow into grass cuttngs.
  • SUMMER – Green manures nettles and comfrey cut from spring onwards keeps compost bin fired up.
  • In July / August cut hedges and shred into bags.
  • LATE SUMMER – Grass resumes growth. Mix cuttings with soft shredded hedge trimmings for an ideal green/brown mix for the compost bin.

Compost bins, worm bins and other techniques enable you to recycle on-site to get the nutrient value all over again – no noise, fuss, or carriage to recycling centres. Let’s start with compost making bins.

Different types of compost bin are used with different composting methods.  For more information on types of bins go here.

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Reasons to Try This Alternative

Every cat owner is familiar with the smell of a litter box that needs to be cleaned. Traditional clay kitty litter doesn’t absorb any smells created in the litter box and it tends to turn into a gooey mess when it gets saturated. It then sticks to the bottom of the litter box and makes the smell even worse. Clay kitty litters get stuck to the bottom of the cat’s feet and then are tracked throughout the entire house. Pine pellet kitty litter is an alternative that is often overlooked. There are many benefits to using pine instead of clay litter.

Odor Control

Pine has a naturally pleasing scent and it overpowers the smell of urine that causes the majority of litter box odors. The odor problem that clay litters make worse is due to the urine being collected in a ball of clay. This ball holds in the smell and it then sits at the top of the litter box. Pine pellets break apart and turn into sawdust allowing the urine to dry and sink to the bottom of the litter box along with the smell.

Environmentally Friendly

Pine kitty litter is very safe for the environment. It is 100% natural and contains no chemicals. Pine is simply a wood product that is biodegradable so it won’t collect in a landfill site. No trees are cut down to make pine litters. Manufacturers often take pride in the fact that they use wood by-products that would otherwise be going to waste.

Less Mess

Pine pellet kitty litter does not get tracked through the house like traditional clay litters tend to. The pellets are too large to stick to a cat’s feet so they stay put in the litter box where they belong. When the saturated pellets turn into sawdust it falls to the bottom of the litter box and stays below the fresh pellets so even when the litter is used the sawdust will not get tracked around either.

Easier Cleaning

When litter boxes are cleaned out the mess has to be placed in a garbage can and the horrible smell still hangs around. If the bag is tied up and thrown out in the trash immediately it has caused yet another plastic bag to be wasted and sent to the landfill. When cleaning a litter box where pine pellet litter has been used the mess can be flushed down the toilet. Pine will not clog the drain because it turns into sawdust when it gets wet and will not clump like clay litters do. When it is time to completely empty the litter box it can be dumped outside and used as mulch in the garden or around trees and shrubs.

Healthy and Safe

Pine kitty litter is a much healthier alternative for both cats and their owners. Pine is a natural product and it is dust free. The dust from clay litters can cause respiratory problems in both animals and people; not to mention the mess the clay dust can leave in the house once it settles on furniture. Pine litter is a wood product and it does not contain any chemicals that could cause health problems for animals and people.

Other Litter Uses

Pine pellets can also be used in cages for small animals such as rabbits, hamsters, and ferrets. It can even be spread out along the bottom of birdcages to control messes. If a cat owner has other animals it is very convenient only having to purchase one type of litter.

Pine kitty litter is an excellent alternative litter choice because it is safe, clean, and easy to use. The environment will be thankful and so will cat owners who no long have to vacuum up kitty litter messes on a daily basis.

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Ok so it’s been a few days and we have collected 7.5 lbs of diapers to go to the recyler. This is crazy I never would have thought that it could add up so fast. We have been using the Tushies as this is one of the brands that they will compost on site. They have been pretty good only a couple explosions. We are going to try Seventh Generations next week to see how they do. It’s been so easy to collect and store and making a trip out once every couple of weeks is routine. 

Looking forward to Monday weigh in with our veggie compost, diapers and now green cone waste it’s going to seem like we have hardley anything to put on the curb. Ya Goyan Team…

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