In the grand scheme of things, it all seems so insignificant. Does it really matter if you spray a little pesticide on your lawn, or cut down on the amount of water you use? When you see all the consumption and pollution caused by industry, do you wonder if anybody else is trying to reduce the environment impact of their home?
The answer is yes, lots of Canadians are doing the "little things" at home to do their part. A new report by Statistics Canada shows that while we still have a long way to go before everyone takes part, most homeowners are doing some things to reduce their home's environmental footprint – and save a few bucks as well.
Take water conservation, for example. Environment Canada estimates than in 2004, the average person used 329 litres of water per day. In the Households and the Environment survey taken in 2007, 62 per cent of households had a low-flow showerhead, which uses up to 70 per cent less water than a standard shower head, and can save up to 15 per cent of the cost of heating the water. Low-flow toilets had been installed in 39 per cent of Canadian homes, up from 34 per cent in 2006.
Simple measures like turning off the tap while brushing teeth were being embraced in 60 per cent of households. And 87 per cent of households said they always or often wait until their washing machine is full before turning it on.
The survey also shows that Canadians are concerned about the water quality in their home. Fifty-nine per cent of households drank tap water most of the time, while about 30 per cent drank primarily bottled water. The bottle water industry has been under fire from some environmental groups lately, and some municipalities have taken the symbolic measure of not allowing bottled water to be sold in their government buildings.
Eighty-six per cent of those surveyed had a municipal water supply, and of those, 54 per cent treated their water before drinking it. That's up from 48 per cent in 2006. The survey says "actual or perceived health risks such as bacterial contamination, the presence of metals or minerals and esthetic reasons (appearance, taste and odour), along with the desire to remove water treatment chemicals such as chlorine, were cited as reasons why they treated their water."
Of the households with a non-municipal water supply, 35 per cent had their water tested to make sure it was safe to drink, and 87 per cent of those people found no problems. Forty-nine per cent of those with a non-municipal water supply said they treat their water before drinking it.
With many governments across the country banning the use of pesticides, it's not surprising that its use is dropping. Thirty-three per cent of non-apartment households with a lawn or garden applied an organic or chemical pesticide in 2007. Twenty-five per cent used the chemicals.
Herbicides were the most commonly used, with weed killer applied by 80 per cent of those using them.
Most people who used pesticides did it to address specific problems rather than as a regular maintenance schedule (61 per cent versus 39 per cent).
More than half of non-apartment households with a lawn or garden also used fertilizer. Twenty-seven per cent used a chemical fertilizer, with 34 per cent using an organic fertilizer such as compost, manure, mulch or products labeled as 'natural' or 'organic', says Statistics Canada.
Inside the home, the use of chemicals products for cleaning is still widespread. More than 70 per cent of households surveyed used a commercial chemical product to clean their windows, although many also tried biodegradable alternatives such as vinegar. Stove cleaners and degreasers were used by 41 per cent of households; solvents such as paint thinners by 22 per cent and indoor pesticides by 15 per cent.
A trip to the grocery store is another measure of how average Canadians are trying to improve the environment. The availability of organic foods has been embraced by five per cent of those surveyed, who always purchase them, and 45 per cent who sometimes purchase them. The use of plastic grocery bags is another hot topic. In 2007, Leaf Rapids, Man. became the first municipality to ban them. The City of Toronto will soon require grocery stores to charge customers five cents per plastic bag.
The survey showed that 30 per cent of Canadians "have always" used recycled or reusable bags, while another 41 per cent say they often or sometimes use them.
An easy way to save energy and money is by turning down your thermostat, and 57 per cent of households report they do that while they are sleeping. Forty-two per cent of households had programmable thermostats, slightly more than in 2006.
Energy-saving light bulbs are also popular. Sixty-nine per cent of those surveyed had at least one compact fluorescent light bulb in their home, an increase of 56 per cent from 2006.
For homes with forced-air heating, changing the furnace filter regularly improves indoor air quality and helps the furnace run more efficiently. Most households reported changing their filters at least every six months, with 40 per cent changing them every three months or more often. However, six per cent couldn't remember the last time they changed their filter.