Expat Life

How eco-friendly is Canada?

earth-day-2012, How eco-friendly is Canada?

Canada is a country of extremes

So many things exist here as polar opposites: the freezing winters and hot summers, the high quality of fresh fruit and veg and the omnipotence of junk food, the friendly polite people who turn into savages when they get behind the wheel…

The same can be said of Canada’s attitude to the environment. Where else would you struggle to buy an aerosol anti-perspirant  (they’re all roll-ons, in a bid to protect the ozone layer!) but find a race of people so loathe to step outside their over-sized, large-engined vehicles, that there exist drive-thru restaurants, coffee-shops, chemists and banks. There are laws prohibiting the use of certain chemicals in cleaning products and phosphate-free detergents aplenty, yet the ingredients list on some of the convenience foods would make you shudder! Kraft Dinner anyone?

Small scale eco-friendliness

Recycling is pretty good here in Ontario, with separate boxes for card and paper, and cans and plastics as well as compostable waste, and money back on returned bottles (just like in the old days back home!) Many people bring their own bags to grocery shop as most supermarkets charge for theirs, with the exception of Walmart, where they’re handed out willy-nilly, sometimes with only a couple of items in them. But if you want to air-dry your washing, you may be disappointed. There are by-laws prohibiting washing lines in back gardens where we live, leaving me with no choice but to tumble-dry our clothes year round, which means they last about half as long as they should and ensures our hydro (electricity) bill never gets much below $100 a month.

Large scale eco-friendliness

On a macro level, Canada’s environmental record isn’t great. There’s little government effort to encourage people out of their cars, thus reducing the transportation problems that are the greatest contributor to our greenhouse gas emissions. We pulled out of Kyoto on the grounds that if the US wasn’t going to try then we weren’t either.

Canada has a veneer of eco-friendliness but once you scratch the surface it becomes apparent that people don’t really care enough to make a difference. Attitudes towards the “biggest and best” as a reflection of your social status are deeply entrenched. Buying organic and phosphate-free makes you look educated and environmentally aware, but that concern usually stops once outside the front door.

Yes, we recycle. There are solar and wind power generators and lots of hydro-generated electricity and nuclear power, but that’s largely obliterated by personal consumption and government indifference, and a scarily large part of the population still doesn’t trust or believe the science behind global warming or acknowledge the widening gap between the “haves” and the “have nots”.

Happy Earth Day everyone!

How much consideration do you give to the environment?

Authors edit: The municipal rules concerning clotheslines here in Ontario were overruled by provincial law in 2008. Apologies for the incorrect information.


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10 thoughts on “How eco-friendly is Canada?

  1. Interesting, thanks. I think the “bigger is better” mentality would depress me. Mind you I guess there are shades of it wherever you live. I am shocked they have laws against line-drying. Why is that?

    • Line-drying was considered “unsightly”. Guess it depends on the state of your smalls! And yes, the “bigger is better” mentality IS depressing. Before we moved to Canada I read that there was less class distinction here compared to the UK, but now I’m of the opinion that it just takes different forms: the “it’s not what you know but who you know” attitude in the workplace, the customised-to-the-max gas-guzzlers that people still buy. I remember the slating people got for driving “Chelsea tractors” back home. Here, they’d have a field day…

  2. So, will you be hanging your laundry outside to dry now that you know the ban has been overruled?! I hang mine up year-round – outside in the summer and inside on foldable clotheslines. We save a lot of money this way, and I feel good about helping the environment out a little. I agree with you completely that most Canadians are talking more than doing when it comes to protecting the environment. Having lived in Germany in my twenties, I know that they are much further advanced in their mentality and actions when it comes to the environment. I think a lot of the problem in Canada is that we tend to choose present convenience over the future health of our planet, and that makes me very sad – even angry at times. Thanks for your thought-provoking post on Earthday!

    • If I could find one of those retractable lines you set up on your garden fence, I would! Don’t think the landlord would be happy if we plunked one of those umbrella gizmos into their lawn!

  3. Interesting post, Aisha. Canada has always seemed to me to be a country of contradictions. It promotes animal protection and welfare, then slaughters seals in their thousands in the name of economic reasons. It champions environmental causes on the world stage, then dramatically pulls out of Kyoto. It argues for greater UN peacekeeping participation by other nations, but its own contribution is at one the lowest levels for years (and lower than countries such as Bangladesh).

    I think the public perception of Canada in areas such as the environment is exaggerated by the media, where as the reality of the situation as enacted by the government of the day is quite different. This then leads to the contradictions you highlight above. Or at least that was my sense of things when living there.

  4. I think like many countries, there are pockets of progress here and there, but many contradictions in “eco-friendliness.” This Earth Day we had heavy downpours almost all day, which our garden welcomed! We participated in two Earth Day events this week, organized by two great environmental NGOs. I did a blog post on one, and am planning to do another – it might be a belated one tomorrow… I actually think many Jamaicans “get” climate change – even if they don’t make the connections between environmental conservation and mitigating the impact. But we can see it for ourselves, on our little island.

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