Issuing T.O. an eco report card
Does our city make the grade when it comes to fostering a sustainable community?
Environmental hero and Post columnist David Suzuki
As we spring forward into warmer weather, many of us begin to spend more time outdoors — which inevitably gets us thinking about the natural environment and our place within it. How can we be better to our planet? To our own communities? In this exclusive report, the David Suzuki Foundation details what we, as Torontonians, are doing right, where we need to improve and the small steps every one of us can take to reduce our city’s collective carbon footprint.
Food wasted vs. food rescued
THE BAD: Single-family house-holds in Toronto discard more than 600 pounds of food per average household, each year, most of which ends up in landfills. One reason is because many high-rise buildings still do not have organic waste collection. Taxpayers spend nearly $10 million a year getting rid of food waste that could otherwise be composted — or used before it spoils.
THE GOOD: Every year Toronto trees produce 1.5 million pounds of fruit, much of which goes to waste simply because homeowners aren’t able to keep up with the harvest. But since 2008, a small group called Not Far From The Tree has mobilized hundreds of volunteers to collect more than 30,000 pounds of fruit from tree owners throughout the city. The bounty is split between the volunteers, the tree owner and neighbourhood food banks and shelters — a win-win-win solution!
THE BETTER: In your own kitchen, there are simple ways you can avoid wasting food: eat perishable items first; keep them cool and remove airtight wrappings, which speed up decay; and keep fruits and vegetables whole (don’t break off stems or leaves) — once living cells are broken, micro-organisms grow.
“Greedbelt” vs. greenbelt
THE BAD: Many of the natural spaces in our communities have been paved over to make way for buildings, roads and parking lots. The GTA has lost an estimated 97 per cent of its wetlands and a majority of its original forest cover since early settlement. Believe it or not, the land now covered with six lanes of toll roads stretching across the top of the GTA was once heralded as Toronto’s “greenbelt.” The only green reaped from that space now is money collected by the private firm that runs the 407 toll highway.
THE GOOD: Thankfully, our government leaders had the foresight to protect remaining undeveloped green space north of the city, and in 2005, the province established the Ontario Greenbelt, protecting 1.8 million acres of farmland, forests, watersheds and wetlands. The David Suzuki Foundation conservatively estimates that the Greenbelt provides $2.6 billion in ecological services each year: filtering our air and water, keeping the region cool, storing carbon dioxide and producing local agricultural goods.
THE BETTER: The next big green space that is slated for permanent protection is the Rouge River watershed, straddling the borders of Toronto, Markham and Pickering from the Oak Ridges Moraine to Lake Ontario. The federal government has committed to making the Rouge Canada’s first urban national park, and the David Suzuki Foundation has teamed up with 11 local groups to help launch community projects that will connect GTA residents to the natural wonders of the Rouge. To check out the community events from Camp Suzuki, go to www.davidsuzuki.org/rouge.
From left: One of Rouge Park’s scenic walking trails, and a “borrow-a-bike” Bixi stand
Gas guzzlers vs. pedal power
THE BAD: Canadians make an average of 2,000 car trips each year that are less than three kilometres. These are trips that could often be made by bike, even in the suburbs. But to get folks onto pedal-powered wheels will require more extensive bike infrastructure and better education for cyclists, drivers and pedestrians about how to safely share the road. The city’s decision last year to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to remove existing bike lanes is clearly a move in the wrong direction.
THE GOOD: Bells on Bloor is an annual parade that brings together thousands of cyclists of all ages in a musical ride across the city, inspiring city residents to consider the many perks of cycling. Culturelink Settlement Services and Toronto Cyclist Union have also created a program that connects newcomers to Canada with “bike hosts” that take them on a two-wheeled tour of their neighbourhood and give practical tips on how to safely navigate the city by bike.
THE BETTER: Since launching last spring, Bixi has provided Torontonians with access to 1,000 rental bikes at 80 stations across the city. Try one the next time you’re in a rush, as a greener alternative to jumping in a cab.
And to keep up to speed on our city’s cycling issues, join the Toronto Cyclists Union (bikeunion.to), which advocates for cyclists’ rights and safer streets.
Bee bans vs. native plants
THE BAD: While many of us are interested in raising food in our backyards, the GTA remains a relatively lonely place for backyard bees and chickens. Ontario laws state that a beekeeper’s colony must be at least 30 metres from neighbouring properties, restricting keen groups, such as the Toronto Beekeeping Co-operative, to rooftops.
Chickens are faring worse, with City of Toronto: Licensing and Standards Committee’s decision to indefinitely postpone a motion to investigate legalizing egg-laying hens in the city.
THE GOOD: Incorporating nature into our urban environment is essential in creating a resilient and healthy community. And fortunately, there are far fewer restrictions on growing fruits, veggies and other plants in our backyards. With respect to trees and shrubs, organizations like LEAF (yourleaf.org) can guide you through selecting the right plants for our ecosystem — and even deliver native species to your door. For those without backyards, check out local farmers’ markets and consider joining a community garden.
THE BETTER: While you may not be able to operate a bee colony, you can still bring bees to your backyard, which will double the yield of fruit and veggies in your garden. Create a bee-friendly garden by cultivating a variety of plants that flower at different times of the season, ensuring a constant supply of nectar and pollen to attract our buzzing buddies.
Post City Magazines’ environmental columnist, David Suzuki, is the host of the CBC’s The Nature of Things. David is also the author of more than 30 books on ecology.