Reflecting on Canada’s water quality for World Rivers Day

Clara Phillips

September 23, 2022

On September 25 we celebrate World Rivers Day. This global celebration of our planet’s rivers stemmed from the success of BC Rivers Day, founded by Mark Angelo in western Canada in 1980. The first World Rivers Day was celebrated in 2005 among twelve countries and has since grown with several million people participating last year in up to 100 countries. Learn more here about the history of World Rivers Day and its founder, Mark Angelo.

Water quality efforts in healthcare settings

Pollution prevention in wastewater discharge from healthcare facilities is a challenging task. The common products used to ensure a sanitary environment produce unavoidable subject pollutants. However, certain innovations and thoughtful choices have improved water conditions:

  • Phasing out mercury in thermometers and other medical devices
  • Purchasing cleaning supplies without chemicals that are toxic to aquatic organisms, such as nonylphenol ethoxylates
  • Proper disposal of medications, and prescriptions only when truly needed, to reduce pharmaceutical levels found in sewage

West Park’s latest water quality report, completed in June 2022, follows our Pollution Prevention (P2) Plan that ensures our operations (including in the new hospital) meet the environmental legislative requirements with respect to environmental protection. The new hospital will include modern technology to improve water efficiency and lessen the strain on downstream water utilities and treatment plants:

  • Stormwater leaving the campus will be minimized with green roofs, rain water harvesting and stormwater management ponds
  • The demand for potable water will be reduced with water-efficient fixtures, like low-flow toilets and hands-free faucets, and modern landscaping techniques including a rainwater irrigation system, planting native and drought-tolerant plants, and using mulch to retain water

Water quality in First Nations communities

Canada has the 7th-largest supply of renewable freshwater per capita in the world, but this resource is not evenly distributed nor properly maintained across the entire country. According to the Fraser Institute, the overall state of water quality in Canada is very good; however there are localized areas that require urgent maintenance and monitoring. In particular, Indigenous communities face extreme water security challenges. The stats are alarming: 35% of First Nations communities in Ontario are under a drinking water advisory, meaning they have no access to safe drinking water at home. Limited access to safe water can result in serious illness, increased consumption of sweetened beverages as an alternative to water, poor hygiene, and higher infection transmission.

While the infrastructure and operation of water treatment plants plays a critical role in supplying safe water, protecting the quality of environmental water supplies is invaluable. From 2010-2013, 18% of boil water advisories for drinking water were caused by water quality issues like E. coli or other microbiological parameters. In a study from the University of Waterloo that surveyed members from 10 Indigenous communities from the Northwest Territories and Yukon, they found that 7% of participants consume water collected directly from a nearby body of water, as opposed to tap water, due to various factors influencing their trust of the tap water supply.

The Great Lakes provide a significant source of drinking water and 9 of Canada’s 20 largest cities reside in this region. However, the ability of these lakes to support viable ecosystems is strained by the associated population and the urban and industrial facilities. The Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement supports coordinated efforts to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem. The St. Lawrence River is another vital body of water in our nation, linking the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean, supplying an ecosystem of lakes and freshwater reaches, and home to diverse plant and marine life. The quality of the St. Lawrence River water is at jeopardy due to high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen from human activity through industrial wastewaters, agricultural runoff, and air pollution. As shown in the Figure below, only one water quality monitoring station in Saint-Maurice showed “Good” nutrient levels. Learn about the St. Lawrence Action Plan and the efforts being made to conserve, restore, and protect the St. Lawrence River.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Lastly, we would like to recognize the upcoming National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30. As a vital component of the reconciliation process, this day commemorates the tragic history and ongoing impacts of residential schools. Many Survivors today are unfortunately also members of the First Nations communities facing water security challenges. Across the country, hundreds of activities are taking place to commemorate the history and legacy of residential schools, and for you to learn about the rich and diverse cultures, voices, and stories of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

West Park’s flourishing Gardening Club is growing its own food

Michelle Rowe-Jardine

September 21, 2022

For anyone who has visited the rooftop patio this summer, patients, family members, staff, and bumblebees have been treated to a gorgeous splash of nature right here at the hospital. The patio is thriving with vibrant greenery and flowers – and even watermelons!

It has been the perfect backdrop to come and relax, eat, socialize, and bask in nature. At the centre of it all are planters that have been overflowing with flowers, fruits, and veggies – and we have the Gardening Club to thank for that.

The Gardening Club, run by Recreation Therapy, brings patients together to get their hands dirty while experiencing the joys of watching a living thing grow and thrive under their care.

Rec therapy has been hard at work with patients to transform the space for everyone to enjoy, and learning a lot along the way.

While neither Ksenia Melamed, Recreation Therapist, nor Jennifer DeGuzman, Recreation Therapy Assistant, were dedicated green thumbs before the program, Melamed says the club has helped her grow into one.

“We learn from each other, and we learn from the patients. The patients know so much,” she says.

Patients provided input for what they would like to grow this summer, which is why you’ll spot tomatoes, peppers, kale, green onions, watermelons and more. After all their hard work, the club harvests these goods and turns them into snacks for the patients, including kale smoothies.

Learn how to grow food in your own backyard or apartment balcony! While there is limited time for the summer harvest, use this guide today to check out what to plant next for the fall season!

Choose to Refuse During Plastic Free July

Clara Phillips

July 12 2022

This July, join the millions around the world striving to reduce single-use plastic waste. Plastic Free July is an international movement that began in 2011, and provides resources and ideas for becoming part of the solution to plastic pollution. Plastic Free July encourages sustainable habits and challenges you to reduce your overall plastic consumption at home, work, school, and in the community, with the hope that these positive habits are continued beyond a single month. Even with small changes, we can make a collective impact in reducing our carbon footprint!

How?

Embrace the 5 R’s of zero-waste:

  • Refuse… what you don’t need. Simply say no to unnecessary items, like flyers and junk mail (stick a ‘no junk mail’ notice on your letter box), and marketing freebies. Just because things are free, does not mean we need to take them. Think ahead so that you are able to refuse some single-use items when given the choice, by always keeping a reusable bag, water bottle or cutlery on hand!
  • Reduce… things that are no longer of use. Donate or sell unwanted items to give them a new home where they will be used. Additionally, reduce what you buy in the first place. Only buy what you need, and always take a good look in your fridge, freezer and pantry before grocery shopping to avoid over-buying and ending up with food waste!
  • Reuse… for as long as you can. Think about how you can repair, mend, or patch up your items to get a little more life from them, before replacing them with something new. Also, prevent your belongings from prematurely breaking down in the first place by buying higher quality items (if in your budget) or taking care of them with proper cleaning and maintenance. There is a reusable replacement for almost every single-use item. Just a few of these include:
    • Plastic straws – paper, silicone, glass or metal straws
    • Paper towels – cotton cloths (or go for plastic-free packaging, like from Who Gives a Crap or Reel. These companies also sell plastic-free toilet paper!)
    • Bottled water – reusable plastic (try to use BPA-free plastic), glass or stainless steel water bottle
  • Recycle… only if you can’t refuse, reduce or reuse! This is the “R” that we have been made to believe is the solution for reducing waste. However, the value of recycling is far less than any of the first three “R’s”. New products are being produced way too quickly for the recycling infrastructure to keep up with, and recycling is a highly energy-intensive practice. Less than 10% of Canada’s plastic waste is recycled because the process is too expensive and ineffective to compete economically with newly produced plastic. Make sure to check with your municipality about what plastic can and cannot be recycled. For instance, in Toronto, all “rigid” plastics can go in the blue bin, except for black and/or compostable plastic, and many “soft, stretchy” plastics can be recycled, as long as they are rinsed from any product or food. It is important to recycle correctly, because wrong items placed in the recycling stream can damage equipment, and contaminated recycling currently costs the City of Toronto millions annually.
  • Rot… in other words, compost. While this doesn’t apply to plastic, composting your household organic waste, or finding city compost bins when you’re out, is a great way to help reduce emissions from landfills. Check out these resources about how to efficiently and effectively compost in your backyard, or indoors if you don’t have a usable outdoor space.

While zero-waste movements are invaluable as we tackle climate change, they can often create an unreachable and anxiety-inducing vision of “zero-waste perfection”. It is important to remember not to place too much responsibility on yourself (the fact is, just 20 companies are responsible for producing 55% of the world’s plastic waste!), but to lead an environmentally-conscious lifestyle that is easy to maintain. For instance, you may decide to drive 20 minutes to a bulk store to save on plastic, or you could walk a few minutes to your supermarket with a reusable shopping bag and save on time and emissions! When it comes to saving plastic, don’t get too worked up – as Anne Marie Bonneau, Zero-Waste Chef, has said, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero-waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

It is important to recognize that zero-waste movements often exclude underprivileged and minority communities. Reducing plastic waste by any significant amount is simply not possible for some people. For example, a complete ban on plastic straws is frankly ableist, as some people with disabilities rely on the plastic straw as an accessibility device for drinking. A straw made of any material other than plastic creates even more barriers for this population. Extra time and effort are needed to clean a reusable straw (which may not even possible, depending on the person’s level of mobility), there is an increased cost to source and buy specialty straws, the inability to have a straw that bends is a major detriment for those with limited neck mobility, and there is a safety hazard associated with hard glass or metal straws for people with muscle spasms. Read more about this issue here.

In addition, people in low-income communities may not have the means to purchase reusable items, nor live close enough to a market with plastic-free options, such as fresh produce or bulk foods. As written about in our Black History Month 2022 post, it is important to not just focus on helping the planet, but to also help its people by adopting an intersectional lens and learning about environmental injustice. For more information, check out the Intersectional Environmentalist website.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it challenging to reduce plastic waste, although this has been crucial for public safety health. The increase in use of cleaning products, masks, gloves, and other single-use personal protective equipment has been vital to stopping the spread of infectious diseases, especially in healthcare settings. However, the World Health Organization has found that healthcare waste loads increased up to 10 times due to COVID-19, with much of that being plastic. As we continue to navigate the pandemic and learn more about COVID-19 protection, it is hoped that this plastic consumption will revert (safely) to pre-pandemic levels. We may be starting to see this already with the lifting of other waste-producing protective measures, such as the closure of dine-in services that caused an increase in take-out and delivery containers, the temporary banning of “bring your bags” to grocery stores, and halting the use of refillable mugs at coffee shops.

While we acknowledge that limiting plastic consumption is challenging, we encourage you to devote the month of July to educating yourself on plastic pollution (take this quiz) and accept the challenge to reduce plastic waste wherever you can (make it official, and sign up here). But remember, strive for new habits that are (perhaps imperfectly) sustainable!

If you’d like additional resources, check out the many posted by Canada’s Plastic Action Centre, categorized by topics like Circular Economy (such as this story about the University of Toronto’s Trash Team) or Facts & Stats (such as this infographic about bioplastics).

Have a safe and healthy summer. Keep it green!

Busting Myths for World Environment Day

June 6 2022

Clara Phillips

In celebration of World Environment Day on June 5 2022, we present Myth Busters: Environment Edition, where we tackle some common misconceptions surrounding every-day work activities that have an environmental impact.

Distinguishing fact from fiction is often an unavoidable battle as we are constantly exposed to content from social media and news outlets. When it comes to information about the environment and climate change, knowledge and education are powerful tools for making meaningful change! We hope these points will help to educate about sustainable work practices that we can all benefit from.

I live too far away to travel to work by bike or public transportation, so I can’t reduce my environmental impact during my commute.

False! Carpooling is a very effective way to reduce commuting emissions, and apps like this make it easy to coordinate with other carpoolers. However, if carpooling is not an option for you, making sure your vehicle is well maintained will help reduce emissions. These include things like regularly checking tire pressure, changing your engine oil on time, and driving efficiently with slow accelerations and taking it easy on the brake pedal.

Turning my computer on “Sleep” mode barely saves any energy and is not worth my time.

False! By putting your computer to sleep mode when not in use, you are saving more energy than you think. Desktop computers burn about 100-200 watts of power, and laptops burn about 20-50 watts. By turning to sleep mode, you drastically reduce that energy usage down to about 1-2 watts (close to zero, which is what you would achieve if you had turned off your computer entirely!). And, it is convenient – when the computer is turned back on from sleep mode, you can immediately begin working right where you left off. You can save energy from other electronics as well by putting them in stand-by or sleep modes, where possible. Unplugging electronics entirely furthers your energy savings!

Paper is recyclable, therefore it doesn’t matter how much I use, as long as it ends up in the correct recycle bin.

False! While it is important to make sure that paper gets thrown in the correct paper recycle bin, reducing your paper usage has huge benefits for the environment. Paper comes at a cost: “wood products” are the reason for 10% of total deforestation. This is a problem, since worldwide deforestation accounts for approximately 12% of greenhouse gas emissions, and results in reduced biodiversity, and soil and water quality. Moreover, large amounts of water and energy are used in every step of paper production. From making the pulp (which requires burning trees!), to bleaching the paper, to packaging and transportation, one A4 sheet of paper uses as much as 20 litres of water. Make a pledge with your coworkers to go paperless wherever you can!

Packing a waste-free lunch is a hassle.

True… but! We have some tips to make it easier and to stretch your environmental impact:

  • Pack snacks that already come with their own compostable or edible packaging, like bananas, oranges, and apples!
  • Make extra food for dinner throughout the week. Easily and quickly throw leftovers in a reusable container for lunch the next day.
  • Learn how to pack salad into one jar.
  • Scan your fridge for lunch items to pack, and try to use up older food before it goes bad! Get in the habit of rotating older food to the front of your fridge so you can see what you should be using first.
  • Use glass or dishwasher-safe plastic containers that are easy to throw in the dishwasher when you get home.
  • Leave silverware in your office and wash them right after eating so that they are ready to use the next day.
  • If you have a favourite packaged snack, don’t deprive yourself! Buy in bulk and transfer to smaller containers. Not only is it cheaper, but you eliminate waste from individual, single-serving bags.

I want to reduce my meat intake, but vegetarian lunches are too boring.

False! Check out these nutritious and flavourful vegetarian and vegan-friendly lunches, and easy one-jar salad ideas.

I have to throw out my coffee cup in the garbage.

Partially true! While the coffee cup must go in the trash, take a few seconds to remove the carboard sleeve (which can go in the paper bin) and the lid (which is plastic recycle).

Anything food-soiled must go in the garbage.

False… if there is a compost bin. Any food-soiled paper product (napkins, plates, coffee filters, etc.)  can go in the compost (along with food scraps). If there is no compost bin, these food-soiled items go in the garbage. Any wax-coated or plastic-coated paper products are always garbage. Learn more here.

West Park completes an annual waste audit executed by a third party to evaluate and documents the effectiveness of our waste diversion system, ensuring our commitment to waste management strategies. In collaboration with our waste hauler, we continually monitor and evaluate waste streams for materials that can be diverted from waste to recycling streams, saving approximately 33% of waste from the landfill. We are committed to adhering to the ‘3 R’s Hierarchy” to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle and are continually looking for opportunities to innovate or improve our waste diversion, such as through proper signage and staff education. If you have any ideas or concerns you’d like to address, please get in touch!

Community Clean Up for Earth Day

In honour of Earth Day (April 22) West Park staff members teamed up with York Humber High School on Monday to clean up our community.

Our West Park team began at the back of the Ruddy Building and worked their way down Emmett Avenue toward Eglinton Avenue, diligently filling large garbage bags full of trash along the way. They then joined with York Humber staff and students to weigh our collected garbage. Together we took 92 kilograms of garbage off the streets of our neighbourhood!

Keeping trash off our streets is a group effort. In the City of Toronto’s 2020 litter audit, it found that the rate of small litter collected from 300 sample sites had increased 8.1 per cent between 2016-2020. The most common small-litter items were chewing gum and cigarette butts. The city also ranked the amount of branded litter, with Tim Horton’s and Starbucks in the Top 10, suggesting many people toss their coffee cups instead of disposing of them properly. (Not sure where a particular piece of trash goes? Check out the City’s WasteWizard to find out how to dispose of it properly.)

Thank you to everyone who joined in!