Recycled Crayons and a new way of doing business

November 29th, 2015 by Cathy Rust No comments »

I am always looking for real-life applications of the circular economy. If you’re not familiar with the term, while it’s been around for awhile (and put into practice more than you might recognize), it’s still not widely known outside of environmental circles. The basic point of it is that there is no waste created during the production of an item; whatever is output as waste from one production process is used as input for another, whether in the same factory or for a different business. This theory necessarily includes the actual product as well, bringing extended producer responsibility into the framework.

I am constantly coming up with applications of this concept, although I have yet to convince a company to try one of my pilot project ideas, but I have faith that sooner or later some enlightened individual will be brave enough to try one (btw, the ideas also make good business sense, since companies can sell the same product over and over again.)

I watched a BuzzFeed video about a wonderful initiative by Brian Ware, who collects old crayons, melts them down and donates the new models to local hospitals for children in California. In fact, he went so far as to get an occupational therapist to design the mold for the crayons so that they easily fit children’s hands. This commendable effort was born out of his experience at family-friendly restaurants. It turns out all those crayons the kids use often end up in the garbage even if they are not touched by the kids at the table. He came up with The Crayon Initiative, an ingenious idea and yet so simple you kind of want to slap your forehead and say, “D’oh! why didn’t I think of that?”

The idea was to stop wasting resources and to reuse them. But instead of just collecting them and dropping off a bunch of old, used crayons at hospitals, the team at TCI makes brand new crayons out them. It’s a time-consuming process where volunteer hours play a big part. The crayons need to be collected from restaurants and daycares, then sorted into colours, papers torn off, crayons melted down then poured into molds Brian had specially designed by an occupational therapist for children’s hands. Finally, they are distributed to local children’s hospitals.

The collection and reuse process extend the crayons’ lives and, therefore, fewer natural resources are used (in this case petroleum for the wax) because new ones aren’t needed. Technically, however, it doesn’t save the crayons from landfill. The website rightly points out that most crayons are made from petroleum-based wax which never biodegrades. Once the crayons are applied to paper, that piece of paper can’t be recycled in most paper recycling methods (assuming the artwork makes it to the recycling bin and not the garbage can) because the machines prohibit waxed paper, including crayon waxed paper; wax (oil) and paper pulp don’t separate well. It’s the same reason you can’t recycle your pizza boxes. But by reusing them and making them shiny new, Brian has managed to save 2000 new boxes of crayons from coming into these hospitals and, therefore, saved these resources from being used.

What would happen if the crayon companies jumped on the recycling bandwagon? Think about it: let’s start with it as a “do good” project for hospitals, shelters, refugees, etc.. The crayon companies set up dropoff points at toy stores, restaurants, libraries, daycares, schools — basically, wherever children frequent and might use (or purchase) crayons. Then there is the laborious and time-consuming task of sorting, tearing off the paper, melting down, remolding and distributing the crayons. I know what you’re thinking: “It’s a logistical nightmare! It can’t be done! It’s too expensive!” Well, tell that to Brian Ware and the TCI, because they seem to be able to do it. If your trucks are dropping off new crayons to toy stores, couldn’t you pick up old ones at the same time? If you make the paper labels easy to tear off (like a zipper back or something), wouldn’t the sorting go faster? If volunteers sort the crayons because they knew they were going to a good cause, wouldn’t it go faster and be easier for everyone? Finally, if the new-old crayons were donated to hospitals, shelters, refugee camps, etc., wouldn’t you feel good about what you are doing — all while extending the life of a crayon and saving some natural resources while helping your own Corporate Social Responsibility goals at the same time?

:: via Buzzfeed

How Far Green Can We Go? A Look at Cities and Innovative Biking Systems Around the World

November 18th, 2015 by Cathy Rust No comments »

By upyernoz from Haverford, USA (Snow Biker Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Today we have a guest contributor, Zoe Clark, who will highlight some cities that are developing solid bicycling systems from around the world. My own current city, Montreal, has the Bixi Program, which is modeled after Paris’ bike sharing program, vel-lib. Despite Montreal’s biking efforts, it slipped in the Copenhagenize Index in the past year plunging from 13 to 20. In 2011, Montreal was ranked 8th in the world for cycling  (a cycling-friendly city is defined by the number of dedicated bike paths it has). The drop in ranking could be as much about other cities pulling ahead while Montreal remains stagnant in its bike path development given its current focus on restructuring its highway system.  If you’re not familiar with Copenhagenize, it is a great blog that discusses ways to help transform cities into more bikeable areas. As the blog notes:

40 years ago Copenhagen was just as car-clogged as anywhere else but now 45% of the population arriving at work or education do so on bicycles, from all over the Metro area. 63% of Copenhageners themselves use bicycles each day.

It’s nice to know that turning a city into a bikeable area is possible even in northern climates like our own.

Zoe highlights several cities where biking is getting the priority it deserves given its health benefits for ourselves and the planet.


As you probably know already, biking is an excellent way to lose weight, keep your health in check and save money on fuel, maintenance and parking fees. Bikes are also one of the cleanest and greenest modes of transport, which is why environmentalists advocate the use of pedal-powered two-wheelers in place of cars and buses. And their plea has been heard – and upheld, too: a number of cities across the globe are encouraging the use of bicycles and providing incentives for bike-oriented infrastructure projects in view of making human settlements safer, more resilient and sustainable in the long run. Let’s take a quick peek at a few examples of urban solutions centered on the promotion of active transport.

Manchester, UK

Manchester authorities have launched a project to create a specialized bike port in Salford, which will allow cyclists to park their rides safely and make use of several other cool features on a 24/7 basis. The port will be built in the vicinity of MediaCityUK using shipping containers as another green asset of sustainable settlements. The hub will be able to accommodate up to 300 bikes and it will also feature a few other convenient options for its users, such as shower rooms, toilets and changing rooms with lockers. Sounds too green to be true? Check out all the green aspects of the Manchester bike park here.

Bike Commuter in Portland Oregon

Bike Commuter in Portland Oregon;  Image Source: Huffington Post



Bogota, Columbia

Another example of green projects starring cycles is found in Bogota, Columbia. An activist think tank formed by young urbanists, La Ciudad Verde, has been working hard to encourage the local population to switch to bikes instead of cars for the daily commute. The group’s primary mission is to put the concept of green transport back on the city commuting agenda, and to this end, they have been identifying spots around the city where cycling lanes are not properly connected and painting the junction lines with the help of locals. Their efforts eventually caught the attention of local government which has offered to collaborate with La Ciudad in certain projects aimed at improving urban cycling conditions.



Weiz, Austria

A few years ago, local authorities in Weiz, Austria, figured out that traffic congestions are for the most part cause by daily car commute. To help prevent traffic jams and reduce emission of harmful gases, the city government joined forces with the Active Travel Network project that gathers nine European cities looking to tackle the negative environmental impact of traffic, promote active transport and make their streets safer and more sustainable. Weiz government has since carried out several campaigns to promote clean transportation options, such as the two-month ‘Bike-to-work’ competition launched in 2007 which encourages employees to form two-member teams and use their bikes to commute as often as possible in return for stimulating rewards.  Now that is what the concept of green life should be all about: fun, sustainability and teamwork.


Image Source: The Guardian



Porto Alegre, Brazil

Thanks to a project launched by the Cidade da Bicicleta initiative in 2010, Porto Alegre in Brazil got its first collective space designed for discussions concerning bike activism and green urban mobility. From 2010 to 2013, the initiative organized a community workshop on bike maintenance and repairs, and it also hosted a number of activist gatherings, film screenings, parties and lectures on the benefits of non-motorized transport. The group‘s efforts waned after 2013, only to see a revival a couple of years later with a campaign for the restoration of the community workshop. The initiative is currently calling for contributions via Brazil’s crowdfunding platform Catarse.


One more similar cycling-centered volunteer movement active throughout the country that is also being crowdfunded via online platforms, Bike Anjo, aims to teach people to bike, which routes to take and how to ensure maximum road safety. The group has also launched several campaigns such as Bike to Work Day and a series of training workshops. No wonder biking is on the rise in Brazil – if the efforts persist and green movements continue to multiply, Latin America may yet become a sustainable cycling haven.


In the era of growing pollution and petrol prices, as well as shrinking parking space, green activism promoting clean transport is a matter of consideration for each and every individual. If your city is plagued by frequent traffic congestions, heavy air pollution and high noise levels due to motorized traffic, perhaps it is time you did something about it. The best place to start the shift to green lifestyle is your own parking lot: ditch the car and opt for a bike. It will save you time, money and traffic hassle – and you may also be setting a positive model for others to follow. Every global change has local roots, and by going green transport-wise, you may in fact be planting the seeds for a wider-scale shift for a sustainable future.

Zoe Clark is an environmentalist, home decorator and DIY enthusiast from the Land Down Under. Her motto is: You must be the change you wish to see in the world”, and this is what fuels her passion to blog. You can find her on Twitter.



Green Building is Dead….Long Live Green Building!!

July 24th, 2015 by Cathy Rust 1 comment »

I’ve noticed that there has been a significant transition in the green building industry, especially with respect to residential building. A few of my favourite green building haunts have reinvented themselves over the past few years. Most of them started out selling green building supplies, but those that have survived are either still the loner in their geographic area with enough demand to support their business or they’ve transitioned into building services. Why? Because many of the green building products have become so mainstream that they are no longer niche. By now, the terminology “zero and low VOC” have become so common that most people will ask for these types of products — and the vast majority of salespeople know exactly what people mean when they ask for them (believe me, this wasn’t the case in 2009). Energy efficient products are everywhere and consumers have gained enough knowledge that they feel comfortable to ask the right questions. We want to know about recycled material content in our products, where they were made, and what will happen to them at end of life.

The progress that has been made in terms of general knowledge is remarkable. I attribute a lot of that knowledge with the rise in popularity of LEED. Whether the term has made it into the vernacular at the consumer level is almost irrelevant. Most builders — whether they love it or hate it — are very familiar with the certification and all of its pros and cons. But that is the point: now that the building industry is aware of it, it can work with clients who want to build better, healthier, durable and long lasting homes with better knowledge.

So, where does that leave me? In transition mode. I feel that my job is done with respect to writing about specific building materials, energy efficiency products, etc. While these issues are still important, there is enough knowledge and information out there that my news is no longer needed. I’ve covered VOCs, recycled material, energy efficiency, LEDs, water efficiency to death! On to bigger and better things! While I will leave all the previous articles up on the blog, the scope and content of the blog will transition into the bigger picture: the circular economy, extended producer responsibility, waste management, and sustainable cities. My work-life is currently focussed on these areas so it makes sense to write about them. And, as you will see, green building materials, energy and water efficiency are key pieces of these larger issues.

In the mean time, for the best information on green materials, building science, energy efficiency and green building, here are my go-to resources:

Materia: a totally awesome website dedicated to materials of the future, many of which are bio-based, all of which are interesting and different.

Inhabitat: quite possibly the best design blog out there with lots of green and inspirational ideas.

Treehugger: love this website and all the discussions that happen under articles. It is at the heart of most eco developments so if you only want to visit one site, this is the one.

Green Building Advisor: Aside from all the fantastic green building information available, the discussion forums are excellent.

Building Green: Green building guru Alex Wilson has been building green since before it was hip and trendy. He and his team are well-known for expert advice on all things green building, including materials.

Building Science Corporation: for highly detailed, thorough explanations of the latest developments in building science, this resource provides essential information.

Enjoy your reading!


Eco Friendly Home Decor

July 23rd, 2015 by Contributor 2 comments »

By Jane Blanchard

When choosing the decor for your home, you’re probably thinking of many factors. Cost, durability and style are likely weighing heavily on your decisions, but it’s important not to forget to make eco friendly choices whenever possible. Choosing eco friendly decor will save you money in energy costs and reduce your footprint on our precious environment.


Finding ways to reuse what is already in your home eliminates waste and makes a more eco friendly place. A detailed list of repurposing tutorials can be found on Remodeling Therapy, but a few suggestions are especially eye catching. Use an old sweater to cover an ugly lampshade to create a cozy cottage-like decor.





Plugging your TV or stereo into a power strip instead of directly into the wall can save energy as well. Even when you’ve turned your electronics off, they continue to leak energy when they are plugged into an outlet. The amount leaked when they are plugged into a power strip is significantly lower plus you can turn the power off to save energy when you’re not using it. Reusing old bread ties to label your cords saves plastic and eliminates waste.



Most people are aware that some light bulbs are more eco-friendly than others. You may note that the bulbs labeled as eco-friendly or energy saving cost more initially, but these bulbs last significantly longer than traditional bulbs. If you are not able to get energy saving bulbs, you could add a dimmer to your lighting. This will make your bulbs last longer. Traditional incandescent bulbs are highly inefficient. Through the lighting process, the bulb produces 70% more heat than light and use up to ten times more energy than either CFL or LED counterparts. LED lights are relatively new to the scene but are an excellent energy efficient alternative that use hardly any energy, have a long life expectancy and don’t give off heat and have dropped in price in the last few years.



It may not seem important but deciding between a bath or a shower can impact the amount of water your home uses. A bath uses about as much water as a 10 minute shower. If you can keep your shower under 7 minutes, you could save about 3 gallons of water each time. Add a low-flow showerhead and you can save even more water and energy (the energy saved because less hot water is used, therefore less needs to be replaced). Look for the WaterSense symbol on showerheads.



When you’re choosing decor, there are lots of opportunities to make an eco friendly choice. From the type of tile you choose to the landscaping options, considering your choices will make a big impact. When you’re choosing a countertop, explore these environmentally friendly options from Apartment Therapy. With names like BottleStone and Squak Mountain Stone, they will make your home truly unique and beautiful.



You can also save water by choosing native plants for your landscape. A new trend called Xeriscaping uses 50% less water by including grass that is naturally resistant to drought as well as indigenous plants which grow naturally without extra watering. Xeriscapers plant their lawn for efficiency by grouping like plants together and advocating using mulch which retains moisture and keeps plants from drying out too quickly as well as preventing run-off.


By integrating these few ideas, you can make your home more eco-friendly and attractive. You don’t have to make any sacrifices to have an efficient home. Once you’ve begun the process of making your home more environmentally friendly, it will be exciting to see all of the ways you can cut back and watch your energy bills shrink more and more each month.


For more design ideas and inspiration, head to

The pros and cons of rain screens

July 21st, 2015 by Cathy Rust No comments »

I haven’t spent any time writing about rain screens — a building technique that has tended to be associated with wetter climates. The point of rain screens is to let the water that gets behind the facade drain out so that the building stays dry. As our buildings are designed to be tighter and tighter, any penetration can lead to water getting into a wall assembly but having nowhere to get out causing all kinds of havoc from wood rot to mould build-up. Eventually, these two things can lead to structural failure and health issues for building occupants.

I contacted Dave Petersen from Outside In Design Build to discuss rain screens, a technique for constructing a wall assembly that has gained traction over the years due to its ability to keep water away from infiltrating walls. According to Dave, it is a requirement of most local building codes. While it is used on the (usually) rainy West Coast (note they’ve instituted drought restrictions in Vancouver),  it is also a good method for building here in the east, even in colder climates, and, in fact, many cladding materials require its use with their products.

How it works (from correspondence with Dave Petersen):

The rain screen assembly allows for water getting past the outer (face) barrier to weep down and outward (gravity assisted and pressure equalized) once the wind abates through a series of engineered flashings and weep-assemblies. These often include bug screens, through wall flashings in metal and ice and water shield materials. The key with this system is to allow for pressure equalization behind the face materials which will allow the water to drain away instead of continuing its way through the wall assembly. Most wall systems (brick and stone veneer, siding, EIFS*, cement board, etc.) are designed to work as part of a rain screen wall system – there are few barrier walls left, other than precast concrete panels, which have a rain screen caulking system that helps drain these assemblies. Hot/dry climates can even benefit from a rain screen cladding as it may act as a radiant barrier and slows heat transfer through the façade into the building.


face sealed EIFS

Traditional Face-sealed facades (Diagram from:


Rain screen assemblies

Rain screen assembly (Diagram from:


The pros and cons of rain screens are listed below (again, thanks to Dave Petersen).


  • Enhanced water management in all climate zones (USA and Canada)
  • Improved material durability
  • Better IEQ
  • Effective at blocking radiant heat gains


  • Possibly higher costs
  • More detailing at the site level
  • May be prone to detailing errors that limit its effectiveness (mortar dams, etc)

The cons can be minimized by using an integrated system approach and most cladding products are readily detailed for these types of walls. Education of trades and proper site management will minimize most of the other issues.

(*EIFS – “Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems”).

For a detailed explanation of how rain screens work to keep water from infiltrating building envelopes, visit Building Science Corporation‘s thorough explanation of how they work:

and this one:

Thanks again to Dave Petersen for his time and knowledge on rain screens!

Visit: Outside In Design Build for more information on sustainable building.




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