Reducing Harmful Chemicals with “Toxin Toxout”

Written by Denise Deby.


You already know that many of the soaps, cosmetics, food containers, cleaning products, furniture and other household and consumer items we use are full of substances that aren’t healthy for us or the environment. Phthalates, parabens, pesticides, lead—a reported 80,000 synthetic chemicals are found in the food and products we buy, and in our bodies.

Bruce Lourie and Rick Smith have investigated these chemicals and their harmful effects. Not content just to research the topic, Smith and Lourie subjected themselves to toxins to see how easily these enter our bodies, and wrote about their experiences in Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health (2010).

Now they’ve gone a step further by looking into what’s being done to reduce harmful chemicals in products, and options for “detoxing” to decrease the toxins in our homes and ourselves. Again they offered themselves up as human subjects, and have written Toxin Toxout: Getting Harmful Chemicals Out of Our Bodies and Our World (Knopf Canada, 2013).

The book is reported to be a humorous and sobering look at what we can do to protect our health, our children’s health and our environment. It’s also a glimpse into how to build an economy that’s not dependent on polluting ourselves and our surroundings. (Rick Smith provides a perspective on that here.)

As well as being environmental thinkers and authors, Bruce Lourie and Rick Smith are otherwise active: Smith is executive director of the Broadbent Institute, and Lourie has led numerous non-profit and for-profit organizations.

They’ll both be on hand for the Ottawa launch of Toxin Toxout on Thursday, January 16, 2013 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Social Restaurant + Lounge, 537 Sussex Dr. You can RSVP on Facebook or by email at cleblanc [at] broadbentinstitute [dot] ca.

14 Ways to Green Your 2014

Written by Denise Deby.

Mud Lake trail, Britannia, Ottawa – Denise Deby photo

For most of us, living more sustainably is a work in progress. If the new year has inspired you to think about making eco-friendly lifestyle changes, or you’re seeking encouragement to continue and deepen what you’re already doing, here are a few ideas:

1. Go outside. Studies show that spending time in nature makes us happier, healthier and more engaged in protecting the world around us. Go for a walk around your neighbourhood, try out a recreational path or nature trail, run errands on foot or on your bike.

2. Find out what’s happening in your community. Get involved with a community garden, sign up with a group or organization working on environmental issues, stay informed about what’s happening locally, provincially and nationally.

3. Take sustainable transportation more often: walk, bike, bus or carpool. Remember that most of us use more than one of these modes of transportation in our lives; variety is okay.

4. Buy local food. Look for local producers. Invest in area farmers through a Community-Supported Agriculture share. Participate in a garden-sharing or tree-food program. In the spring, find a local farmers’ market. Grow some of your own food if you’re able. Join Just Food to help create a vibrant, just, sustainable food system in Ottawa.

5. Support clean energy. Contribute to green energy through Bullfrog Power—when you use electricity or natural gas, they’ll replace it with energy from clean sources. Invest in solar and renewable energy systems through the Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-opReduce the energy you do use.

6. Conserve and protect water. Start with the Ottawa Riverkeeper’s “10 things you can do to protect your river,” and “10 reasons to say No to bottled water.”

7. Put fewer chemicals into the environment. Check the City of Ottawa’s list of more sustainable alternatives to common household cleaning products.

8. Get toxins out of your system. Download Environmental Defence’s guide to top 10 ingredients to avoid in personal care products, and the David Suzuki Foundation’s “Dirty Dozen” cosmetic chemicals to avoid.

9. Reduce the plastic in your life. Plastics are made with non-renewable resources, and they get into our landfills, waterways and oceans. To reduce your dependence on plastic, get inspiration from Beth Terry at “My Plastic-Free Life”—she has a good list of practical suggestions on her website.

10. Compost and recycle. Many of us still don’t! Use your green bin; according to the City of Ottawa, almost half of the city’s garbage by weight can be put into green bins. Check the city’s website for information on where to take your electronic waste for reuse or recycling.

11. Consume less and still get what you need by contributing to the collaborative economy. If you have a library card, you’re already participating; we get books from the common pool so we don’t all need to buy and own the same books. Curb your buying and expand your sharing with services such as Ottawa Freecycle or Swapsity. Join a bikeshare or carshare. Organize tool-sharing or a clothing exchange with neighbours and friends.

12. Take responsibility for the land we inhabit and the water we share by taking some time to find out what Idle No More is all about. Check out the local initiative Niigaan In Conversation, which is bringing people together to try to build a positive relationship between Indigenous peoples and non-native Canadians, in order “to create a future that is just and peaceful and beneficial to everyone living on this land.”

13. Keep learning. Find out what’s going on, for example, with Canada’s environmental laws and capacity to protect our environment through science, research, programs and facilities, and what we’re doing–or not—about climate change.

14. Make your voice heard. Write letters to decision-makers, sign petitions, take a stand on things that are important to you. Vote. Positive change happens when people take action themselves and when they demand action from their leaders and representatives.

Feel free to give one or more of these ideas a try, and please share other suggestions you have.

Greening the Season 1: Green Gift-Giving

Written by Denise Deby.

"Gifted" by Christer (brandsvig) on Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial—NoDerivs 2.0 Generic
“Gifted” by Christer (brandsvig) on Flickr (Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial—NoDerivs 2.0 Generic)

This is a lovely time of year to slow down, enjoy being with family and friends, and give meaningful gifts. Too often, though, it’s a time when many people find themselves buying too much, trying to accomplish too much and feeling like they can’t cope.

Here are a few suggestions for giving sustainably while giving back:

1. Consider buying your loved one a food-bearing tree (or a gift card for one) from Hidden Harvest Ottawa. Alternatively, you can donate a tree to a community group, such as Ottawa Community Housing, in someone’s name.

2. Buy a South March Highlands 2014 calendar, with beautiful photos of the landscapes, flora and fauna of this special place in Ottawa’s west end.

3. Offer to teach someone something, or give them the gift of learning. Many art, music and other places offer gift certificates. Check out the Westboro Brainery, a community initiative that has short (around 2 hour) courses on a wide variety of subjects, including vegan cooking, solar power for the home, beginner salsa dancing and indoor plant care, for starters.

4. Give the gift of fun, fitness and social interaction with a gift certificate for the City of Ottawa’s recreation and culture programs. You’ll find everything from skating lessons to yoga to playgroups for preschoolers.

5. Consider a book or e-book on environmental issues from your favourite independent bookstore, or a digital or paper subscription to an environmental magazine. A\J Alternatives Journal is one of my favourites. Browse for others at Magazine Canada’s website; search under “Science and Nature” or another category of interest, and check out their Buy 2 Get 1 Free sale.

6. Give a no-waste, renewable, recyclable gift: give a library book! See guest blogger Eloise Collison’s 2007 post on how this works.

7. Search Swapsity for a gift that you can obtain by swapping something you no longer need—you’ll save cash and keep things out of the landfill.

8. Give a gift of seeds, trees or clean water for someone who can use it through USC CanadaUNICEF CanadaKiva and many other organizations offer global gifts as well.

9. For the person who wants to live more sustainably, EnviroCentre’s enviroBoutique may have something, like a Fireplace Package with Eco-Logs or a Water Wise kit with a low-flow showerhead and aerators.

10. Check out eco-store terra20’s gift suggestions, or their gift cards (made out of birch!) You’ll find terra20 in the Pinecrest Shopping Centre, Wellington St. W. and online.

11. Buy local and send a gift to someone in Ottawa or elsewhere in Canada through SMAKK, which stands for “Share Meaningful Acts of Kindness and Karma.” You browse their website for what’s on offer from participating shops and services, choose a gift and they’ll send a gift card to your family member or friend. Offerings include yoga from PranaShanti Yoga Centre, jewellry from TUBEDJewelry made out of old bike inner tubes and Bôhten’s designer eyeglasses made from recycled materials.

12. Shop locally through Givopoly: you choose a gift from their website—like soap from Purple Urchin or local foodie gift boxes—and they’ll deliver it the next day.

13. Look for a merchant that pays as much attention to the environment and the community as to profits. The Ottawa-based Centre for Innovative Social Enterprise Development (CISED) has a holiday gift guide to buying from socially and environmentally-conscious companies, such as Camino which makes fair trade, organic chocolate, or Cycle Salvation where you can find used, reconditioned bikes and parts.

14. If you know a local food aficionado, you may find something appropriate at a local food producer or retailer who’s a Savour Ottawa member. You’ll find more suggestions on the Earthward blog. Don’t forget that the Ottawa Farmers’ Market is holding its Christmas Market on Saturday, December 21 and Sunday, December 22, 2013, and the Ottawa Specialty Food Association has a Flavours of Ottawa Stocking Stuffer Specialty Food Fair on Saturday, December 21, 2013.

15. With a donation to Ecology Ottawa, you get a free subscription to EcoParent Magazine.

Please share any other suggestions you have in the comments section below!

Earth Month April 2013 at terra20

Written by Denise Deby.

terra20 books photo by Denise Deby

Living green, for many of us, means trying to do the best we can as consumers, by reducing, reusing, recycling, and choosing environmentally-friendly goods and services over harmful ones, when options and information exist.

Bringing a wide range of sustainable products to the Ottawa market is the approach of eco-store terra20, which opened last year. Billed as North America’s largest eco-store, Ottawa-based terra20 sells an array of items, from household goods and cleaning products to office supplies, clothing and more. In one visit, you could pick up non-toxic shampoo, bamboo and organic cotton bed sheets, a backpack made of recycled soda bottles with a solar cell phone recharger, a copy of Adria Vasil’s Ecoholic, and fair-trade chocolate.

Terra20 posts the ingredients of the products it sells, and adds its own labels to let customers know what eco-principles it considers those products to be consistent with—for example, “organic,” “made in Canada” or “waste-reducing.” Few products do everything, but terra20’s overall message is upbeat: its name comes from the idea that “the year 20-something will be the year we achieve sustainability.”

Sustainability may be more of an ongoing process, but one interesting thing about terra20 is that—like smaller stores in Ottawa that sell environmentally-friendly products, but on a bigger scale—it’s working to build a community where people think about and share ideas about green living.

Terra20 is continuing to do that this month in a big way, through social media and in-store promotions. Its Earth Month celebration focuses on a new theme each week. Last week’s was cloth and alternative diapering.

This week’s topic is litterless lunches, and on Saturday, April 13 from noon-4 p.m. at the store, there’ll be presentations on products as well as a litterless lunch food prep demonstration (with samples) by the amazing Judi Varga-Toth of Credible Edibles.

The third week is about reducing waste, and includes an Earth Day celebration on Saturday April 20 from noon-4 p.m. Several companies will present products that use recycled materials or help you reuse your own, including EcoJot, which makes stationery from recycled paper, and local business naCoille which produces hand-crafted cutting boards and furniture from reclaimed wood. The afternoon will be hosted by the always-impressive Ian Capstick of MediaStyle.

Week 4 will be all about terra20’s ecobar, where customers can purchase household cleaning solutions in refillable bottles. Further details on all the Earth Month events are at

Terra20 is located at 2685 Iris St. in the mall beside Ikea, on bus routes 96, 101 and 172 (or bike along Iris), and offers online browsing and shopping as well.

Sustainable Food Events in Ottawa–Nov 2011

Written by guest blogger Denise Deby, who writes on local and global social and environmental issues.

Judging by the number of food-related events that keep coming up in Ottawa, more and more people are interested in sustainable, local and healthy food options—and they have more support than ever. Here are some events taking place this week:

Sustainable Food for Thought

CUSO-VSO hosts a discussion on sustainable farming with panellists from Nigeria, Southeast Asia and Ottawa. It’s Tuesday, November 15, 7-9 p.m. at the Cube Gallery, 1285 Wellington St. W. Free (suggested donation $5). Information at—-ottawa.

Resilient Kitchen Workshop

Also on Tuesday, November 15: a workshop on Kitchen Cupboard Medicine: Healing Herbs and Spices, with Transition Ottawa and Amber Westfall. Learn about treating minor ailments with common herbs and spices. 7-9 p.m. at the Beaver Barracks, 464 Metcalfe St. Free (but bring your own mug). RSVP; details at

Food for All – A Food Action Plan for Ottawa
Just Food has developed an exciting new community vision and plan for food in Ottawa, based on consultations about local food issues and concerns. The plan centres on building a sustainable local food system, ensuring everybody has access to good food and promoting health through food security and nutrition. Just Food and Transition Ottawa are inviting “everybody who eats” to a workshop to help make the plan a reality. It’s on Thursday November 17 at 7:30 p.m. at Ecclesiax Sanctuary, 2 Monk St. (one block from 5th Ave. and Bank St.) More information at and

More Eco-activities in Ottawa during April

Written by guest blogger Denise Deby, who writes on local and global social and environmental issues.

Here are more environment-related events this month that have come to our attention:

  • National Wildlife Week is April 10-16, with the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s second annual Walk for Wildlife. Events in Ottawa include a walk in the South March Highlands on Saturday, April 16 at 11 a.m. Meet at the corner of Klondike Rd. and Second Line Rd. Contact Deanna Wright at for information.
  • ORIGINALS – The Spring Craft Sale, with over 180 artists, artisans and designers, runs April 14-17 at Lansdowne Park. Thursday, April 14 will feature a “green” fashion show with fashions and accessories made from recycled materials by Canadian designers (7 p.m.). The Sale runs Thursday and Friday 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
  • ECO EXPO: Ottawa Healthy Living Show will be held on Earth Day Weekend, Saturday and Sunday, April 23-24, from 10 am to 4 pm at the RA Centre, 2451 Riverside Drive in Ottawa. “Our mantra is: Go Green, Eat Local, Be Healthy.”  In addition to a wide selection of local exhibitors the show will include a series of informative workshops and presentations.
  • Earth Day Ottawa will hold a free concert with Amanda Rheaume and Jeff Logan on Thursday, April 21 7-9 p.m., and a children’s concert on Friday, April 22 1:30-2:30 p.m., both at the Museum of Nature. The Museum is free on Earth Day, April 22. See the Earth Day Ottawa website for other Earth Day events.
  • Diana Beresford-Kroeger, author of The Global Forest, will speak on the healing power of trees Thursday, April 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the Museum of Nature. Reserve on arrival at reception or in advance at 613-566-4791 or
  • Just Food is offering beginner-level Organic Vegetable Growing Workshops at various locations around the city. Cost $5.00 or pay what you can. There’s one Wednesday, April 27 6-8 p.m. at the Centretown Community Health Centre, 420 Cooper between Bank St. & Kent St. Contact Susannah Juteau at 613-233-4443 x 2198 to reserve a spot. Check Just Food’s website for upcoming workshops on this and other food- and gardening-related topics.
  • Ottawa Veg Fest ’11, presented by the National Capital Vegetarian Association and The Table Vegetarian Restaurant will feature vegetarian (vegan) food. The festival will include over 30 exhibitors, guest speakers, a silent auction, food demonstrations and a vegan cupcake challenge. It takes place Sunday, May 1 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. at the Glebe Community Centre, 175 Third Avenue. Free admission.

Handkerchief Season

Written by guest blogger Denise Deby, who has worked in international and community development, and is trying to figure out how to connect the local with the global in her everyday life.

I’m glad it’s spring.

I don’t know what it was these past few months, but my family went through two kinds of stomach flu, two bouts with low fevers and coughs, and a nasty cold. Nothing serious, thankfully, but low-grade annoying.

I’m grateful that we have (1) a ready supply of water (and an energy-efficient washing machine); (2) a green bin that allows for composting tissues; and (3) Hankettes.

Hankettes are these soft organic cotton cloth handkerchiefs that are great for wiping noses as well as cleaning washable marker off 4-year-olds’ stomachs (don’t ask), and numerous other uses. I picked up a pocket pack of them a few years ago at Arbour Environmental Shoppe in the Glebe. They still look and feel almost new.

I must admit to a deeper connection with those small off-white squares of cloth. After I’d first purchased some, I was visiting my dad in BC a year or two after my mom passed away. I found out that Hankettes is a small family-run business near where my parents lived in Sechelt on BC’s Sunshine Coast. My dad and I found their trailer on a wooded lot near a small house. The proprieter, Lesley, was friendly and we laughed about me coming all the way from Ottawa seeking Hankettes. I bought a few more, along with a colourful box to fold them into so they pull out like tissues. I also ended up with two organic cotton towels, and my dad, a long-time handkerchief user, bought a few of the larger Hankettes.

My dad passed away a couple of years later, and I haven’t been back to Sechelt or the trailer. But when my sisters and I cleared out my parents’ house, I found a couple of my dad’s Hankettes — somehow comforting, in more ways than one.

When I checked recently, Arbour was still carrying Hankettes, which can also be found online.

After all, allergy season is coming soon.