1. REVIVE THE HANKY
We know it seems like a small point, but the cloth handkerchief was perhaps the first victim in the war on reusable consumer products. Its replacement, Kleenex facial tissues, didn't catch on until 1926, when they were peddled under the catchy new slogan "Don't carry a cold in your pocket." (Funny, that sounds just like the germ-phobic marketing that makes us want to ditch our perfectly functional reusable toilet brushes and get jazzy new disposable ones.) Eighty years later, the thought of a hanky makes most of us cringe, and we have plenty of clogged landfills and clear-cut forests to prove it.
The problem's not just the tissues or even the paper towels, plastic forks and Styrofoam cups (all bad, bad, bad), but the fact that we've taken such a liking to them and use them all the damn time. Judging by the rapid clip at which we're embracing the latest wave of throwaway mops, dusters and face cloths, we haven't even peaked, kids.
Which is why we propose a new shift. Step one of your personal green revolution is to say no to the onslaught of oh-so-convenient single-use items and take back the hanky as a metaphor for the whole landfill-clogging industry. If you can't get into the reusable cloth nose-blowing thing yet, at least buy facial tissues made with recycled content and work up to a personal boycott of all things disposable.
2. RETURN TO THE FIRE
Afraid of the shadows? You'd have to assume our whole nation is, considering our obsession with lighting every corner of our homes, offices and malls as brightly as possible. Torontonians alone landfill about 10 million bulbs a year, not including the lights many merchants toss through private garbage haulers. The solution? Embrace the darkness. We're not saying you have to listen to old Judas Priest records backwards, hang your crosses upside down or read in the dark till you go blind. But ask yourself, do you really need to turn on a light when you enter a room for a brief moment? Can you see without it? If you do need more illumination, does it need to be glaring? Can you install dimmers (which save 10 per cent on energy if you dim lights by just 25 per cent)?
After all, this is the sunless season of reflection and hibernation, and our bodies are designed to deal with the ebb and flow of light. Don't overcompensate with the artificial stuff; you're taxing the planet as well as your senses. Instead, remember the beauty of the blackout - the day we were briefly freed from the numbing flicker and hum of fluorescent lights and neon signs. Start a petition to make this a national holiday. Or kick off your own Do It In The Dark campaign. Or just get in touch with your inner pre-industrial pioneer, cavewoman, whatever, and light some candles (lead- and paraffin-free, of course). If you have a fireplace, even better. Something about firelight connects us to our origins, brings us (physically and emotionally) closer to the people around us and sends a little "fuck you" to the big, bad power generators of the world.
3. LOVE THE LOCAL
This one sounds easy enough, but it's the most radical card in your deck. And in truth, resisting the glitz of international clothing chains, the flavours of exotic fruits from faraway lands and cheap jumbo jet rides south come winter can be bloody hard. Just keep in mind that it also takes a hell of a lot of fossil fuel (hence tons of ozone-depleting CO2 and smog-inducing hydrocarbons) to fly, truck and ship all this stuff to your fingertips. We're not asking you to give it all up cold turkey. But see how far you can go with this. Get creative with local produce, even in winter. (Think Ontario apples, squashes, cauliflower and cabbage.) Cherish the charms and idiosyncrasies of your neighbourhood merchants. Rethink that one-week trip to the Caribbean and buy a guide (second hand, of course) to Toronto, Ontario, even Canada instead.
But ditching that exotic getaway is hard if you hate the season. Stop cursing out the winter and use the snow as an excuse to get cozy, get it on, make a snow angel, join a Polar Bear club. Tune in to the mind-altering beauty of falling flakes and the soft white blanket enveloping the city. Photograph it. Take midnight walks just to revel in it. Oh, yes, and dress for it, or else you'll never lose your fear of it.
And we hate to get all Bell Sympatico on your ass, but the last part of going local is just plain connecting - to the tree out back, your neighbours, your neighbourhood, your community, your local charity. Lift that urban fog of disconnection. When someone knocks on your door telling you about a meeting to stop the incinerator, the clear-cutting or the chemical company moving into your 'hood, don't turn off the lights and hide. (They know you're in there.) Take the flyer and go.
4. MAKE IT, SHARE IT, FIND IT
With the season of consumer gorging behind us, we're all feeling a little, well, bloated. Which makes this the perfect time to reassess our shop-till-you-drop mantra. And, no, we don't mean just the whole holiday crush thing. Truth is, we buy, buy, buy 365 days a year. We need some of those things to sustain ourselves, but next time you're reaching for your wallet, ask yourself: Can I make this myself? Can I borrow it from someone? Do I have to buy this brand new? Start with food. Cooking might seem like a downer in this era of fast food and faster microwaves, but lots of delicious dishes can be whipped up in the length of time it takes you to wait for your takeout. And home cooking also happens to be the tastiest act of protest against the corporate food biz we know of.
Plus, it has the same advantage as everything else you make yourself. You cut out that extra layer of fat, the Styrofoam container, the hard plastic shield, the cardboard box that separates you from what you need.
A Web search will turn up thousands of tips on how to make your own cleaning supplies for cheap, a nourishing face mask with what's in your fridge, or your own paper, pet toys, biodiesel, booze, even camping gear. Sure, it seems a little Martha Stewart, but consider yourself a warrior in the new politics of change: DIY culture.
As for sharing, why not have joint custody of things you don't (or shouldn't) use every day, like cars? This could also work for weird kitchen appliances that you don't use so often, like bread makers, pasta machines or hand-held mixers, or camping gear like tents and water pumps. Or host mass share-ins for your friends, clothing swaps or recycled gift exchanges.
If you still think you need a (fill in the blank), there's no reason to contribute to the new-product economy when you can find it in a second-hand store, your mother's attic or a garage sale for free or close to it. You'll also come across tons of great free stuff at www.freecycle.org. It's a worldwide grassroots network of people just giving and getting stuff for free in their towns. It's the face of the real "free market" economy. And as a convert to this concept, your new mantra henceforth is: make it, share it, find it. Got it?
5. I LOVE A MAN (or woman) WITH SMALL FEET
We Canucks have some of the biggest feet in the world. We're talking about our ecological footprint, so stop bragging. If everyone lived like Canadians (we have the third-largest national footprint in the world), we'd need four more planets to support us. Sheesh, people, it's time to trim those toenails to help us get on target. The first step is to measure just how much each of us is helping or harming things. We suggest you take two steps back from your life this week and either mentally or quite literally diarize all the little things you do that make you, shall we say, special (in an eco monster kind of way).
How many takeout coffees did you drink or lunches did you grab? Was the container recyclable, or did you bring your own? Was that coffee organic? Was any of your food? Did you know you can ingest 20 pesticides a day just through your fruits and veggies, not to mention the quarter-pound of pesticides it takes to grow your cotton T-shirt?
On that note, did you really need that new shirt, sweater or gadget? How often did you drive (even as a passenger) when you could've taken transit? How often, honestly, did you toss something in the trash that could've been green-binned, blue-boxed or grey-binned? Did you print on both sides of the paper at work? Is that paper recycled? Now, how easy would it be to change the way you do five of those things?
If you know there's no way in hell you'll remember to keep a proper mental tally (it is International Hangover Week, after all), you can just take the official ecological footprint quiz (www.earthday.net/footprint/index.asp). Though a bit of a simplification, it's a quick, easy way to embarrass yourself into action. And if shame is what it takes to turn your into a tree-hugger, so be it.