Holiday Gift Ideas from EnviroCentre

Guest post from Carol Burnup, EnviroCentre.

Photo courtesy of EnviroCentre
Photo courtesy of EnviroCentre

Carol Burnup at EnviroCentre asked Green Living Ottawa to help get the word out about the earth-friendly products available in their recently renovated boutique.

She says EnviroCentre’s products are intended “to help people conserve energy, reduce waste, or assist in increasing sustainable transportation usage. They are also, where possible, upcycled, minimally packaged, locally or domestically made and functional.”

Here are some of her gift or stocking stuffer suggestions:

1. Pure Beeswax Candles: Handcrafted in Ontario from pure beeswax by the artisans at Pheylonian Bee Works, beeswax candles make a beautiful and functional gift. Beeswax burns with a bright and hot flame producing none of the toxins associated with paraffin wax candles.

2. Mohair Socks: Made just outside of Ottawa, these socks are warm and comfortable with cashmere-like feel. Theromhair Mohair is not wool and those with wool sensitivities can enjoy these premium quality socks. Great for outdoor enthusiasts, as well as those with poor circulation or diabetes.

3. Organic Cotton Bath Sets: Glo-organics offers the finest quality cotton bath products for your gift giving pleasure. Made in India where cotton has a long history of cultivation, Glo-organics uses only certified fair-trade and organic cotton ensuring that both worker and the environment are respected.

4. Wool Felt Dryer Balls: Wool Felt Dryer Balls from Didi Bahini allow you to give the gift of savings and better health. The David Suzuki Foundation reports energy savings as high as 50% (of dyer energy use) through the use of dryer balls. Our wool felt dryer balls come in a set of four balls and are stored in an attractive crocheted style cotton bag.

5. Abeego Food Wraps: Abeego reusable beeswax food wrap products are made in Vancouver from hemp, cotton, beeswax and tree resins, Abeego food wraps can be used many times and eliminate the use of petroleum based, non-recyclable food wrap. Abeego wraps keep food fresher and are a functional gift that you can give with pride.

The boutique is currently open longer for the holiday season and holiday hours of operation and location are on EnviroCentre’s website:

Here’s more from Carol about EnviroCentre:

EnviroCentre is the go-to source of practical services and programs that help individuals and organizations conserve energy, improve environmental health and act more sustainably.

We have three main areas of focus:

Building Energy Efficiency: We offer energy assessments and energy retrofit solutions for your home, business or property.

Sustainable Transportation: We offer workshops, tools and incentives to help you or your organization discover the benefits of transit, biking, walking, carpooling or car sharing.

EnviroBoutique: We sell environmentally-friendly products related to energy efficiency and sustainable transportation and are an e-waste drop-off centre.

For more information on the services and programs we provide, please visit


Green Finds: Soap, Shampoo, Deodorant

Written by Denise Deby.

D. Deby photo

In my quest to find healthier and more sustainable personal care and household products, I’ve come across a few that I’d like to tell you about.

As you know, many of the soaps, shampoos and cosmetics available on store shelves contain substances that have been documented as harmful to human health and the environment. According to Bruce Lourie and Rick Smith, authors of Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health and Toxin Toxout: Getting Harmful Chemicals Out of Our Bodies and Our World, synthetic chemicals such as phthalates and parabens are among the toxins that find their way from consumer products into our bodies and our ecosystems.

Fortunately, healthier alternatives are becoming more widely available. Here are three that I’ve discovered recently:

Oneka shampoo, conditioner and shower gel. By happy circumstance, I received an Oneka gift pack after entering a contest on the website of local writer Tudor Robins. (Tudor blogs on writing and occasionally on environmental and community issues–check out her website here. She’s a wonderful writer, with an engaging young adult novel called Objects in Mirror, and a second novel, Appaloosa Summer, out this spring.) Thanks to Tudor and Oneka, I’ve tried out Oneka’s angelica and lavender shampoo, unscented conditioner and goldenseal and citrus shower gel–all great.

Oneka’s products are organic plant-based, paraben-free and sulfate-free, vegan, biodegradable and not tested on animals. Some are unscented, a must for those of us with scent sensitivities. The company, located southeast of Montreal in Frelighsburg, was founded by Philippe Choiniere and Stacey Lecuyer, who’ve had sensitivities themselves. You can find their products at Market Organics and sometimes Rainbow Foods, or order online.

Purple Urchin soap. Purple Urchin is based right here in Ottawa, and makes handmade natural, biodegradable and vegetarian–some vegan–products, also not tested on animals. I picked up some of their soap at terra20. Purple Urchin bar soaps come in a variety of ingredient combinations (think “Luscious Lemongrass” or “Coffee Bitters,” for example) but I went for the unscented Goat’s Milk bar, which is nice and creamy without being oily. Purple Urchin’s soaps, shampoos, facial and other products are available at their shop (884 Somerset St. W.) and quite a few other spots around town.

Purelygreat deodorant. I have to say this is an amazing discovery. Many “green” deodorants aren’t very effective, but this one works really well. It was recommended by a customer service staff person at terra20 in Wellington West, who told me it works even for her hockey-playing brother. It’s an unscented, cream deodorant, containing only sodium bicarbonate, zea mays (corn) starch and glycerin. You have to stir it on opening, and you apply it with a finger—but don’t let that stop you; you get used to that quickly, and it’s not much different than applying some other cosmetics. Purelygreat is located in Toronto; several Ottawa shops sell their deodorants.

You can even make deodorant yourself, if you’re so inclined—check out the recipes on the A\J blog.

Have you found any other great personal care products? Please let us know in the comments section.

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!