My First Month as the Environmentalist in Residence: So Many Questions, So Little Time

May 30, 2019 | Broti

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Time flies when you’re having fun, especially inside the spaceship, a.k.a. the S. Walter Stewart Branch! If you have not had a chance to visit yet, you might not be aware that space travel and discovery inspired the architecture of the S. Walter Stewart building where I have been exploring more earthly topics with library visitors during the first month of my residency.   

Inside the S. Walter Stewart Branch
Photo Source: Toronto Public Library 

In 4 weeks, the discussions during evening lectures, Ward 19 Community Environment Day attendees, a suggestion box and in-person visits, brought forth a range of environmental inquiries. There were questions that stumped me, suggested topics that fascinated me and then there were a few really good frequently asked questions. As the inquiries poured in, I soon realized that with only six weeks remaining of my residency and many upcoming scheduled lectures, workshops, class visits and community events, there were too many questions and not enough time. So, I went through the daunting task of picking the top seven to share with you. See if your question(s) made it to the list!
As the EnvIR, what do you exactly do?

I plan and deliver lectures and workshops, mostly at the S. Walter Stewart Branch to children, youth and adults. I aim to cover environmental topics that are relevant to Torontonians. I am also available to consult with community groups or school eco-clubs looking to engage in environmental projects, and to attend neighbourhood community events. I will be at the East York Farmer’s Market on Tuesday, June 4th from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.  

Is there any company or an organization that will come to the house to pick-up large electronic items like a TV? If so, is it free?

There are junk removal companies that will go inside your house to pick-up your electronics, such as your older, bulkier, unsmart TV, however you will be charged for it. If you are able to move your unwanted electronics to the curbside, then the City will collect it on garbage day. Check out the City of Toronto's website to learn more about electronic waste collection. Please remember to clear all personal information from your electronic devices prior to recycling it. 

What is the best type of compost for growing fruits and vegetables?
Mushroom compost has a very good reputation for growing an edible garden. It can use many different ingredients including wheat or rye straw, peat moss, used horse bedding straw, chicken manure, cottonseed or canola meal, grape crushings from wineries, soybean meal, potash, gypsum, urea, ammonium nitrate and lime. Mushroom compost is nutrient-rich and can also increase the soil's water-holding capacity. 

The down-side of mushroom compost is its high salt content. So, it needs to be diluted with garden soil and/or aged. You can either purchase aged mushroom compost or age it yourself, simply by purchasing in early fall and letting it sit outside over the winter to use during the following spring.    

Paul Zammit, the Director of Horticulture at the Toronto Botanical Garden, also suggests taking advantage of the leaf litter in the fall and spreading it in your garden beds.

Spreading compost at the Toronto Botanical Garden's Teaching Garden
Photo credit: Rebecca Niblett 

What is the migration path of the North American Eel?

This question came up a lot during my program on the Endangered Species of Toronto.

The North American Eel is an endangered species in Ontario. The Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks of Ontario’s data informs that habitat fragmentation due to dams and other in-water barriers is an imminent threat to the species’ survival. North American Eels require access to both fresh and salt-water, as they live in freshwater but meet in the Atlantic Ocean for spawning parties! So, the young eels, called elvers, start their lives in the North Atlantic Ocean’s Sargasso Sea, and then migrate along the east coast of North America with the use of ocean currents. The currents can take the elvers anywhere and not necessarily back to where their parents lived. In Canada, the eels can be found in fresh and salt water areas that are accessible from the Atlantic Ocean which includes Lake Ontario. 

 Find out more about other endangered species of Toronto during the Endangered Species of Toronto lecture on June 5th, from 6 - 7 p.m. 

Migration route of North Americal Eels

Map Source: Parks Canada

Where does the used non-reusable coffee cup really belong? What about a ball of clean aluminum foil? Biodegradable plastic cutlery and cups? Store receipts? VHS tapes? 

All used non-reusable coffee cups belong in garbage bins in the City of Toronto--no exceptions! 

Please do not throw away clean aluminum foil. However, if you must, it should go into the garbage bin. 

Biodegradable plastic cutlery and cups are garbage waste in Toronto. These biodegradable plastic items are unable to breakdown within the City's composting time frame. Also, biodegradable plastic cannot be recycled. 

Store receipts are like coffee cups, they are made from more than one material and so it needs to be put in the garbage. 

VHS tapes and any other black plastic items go to the garbage bins in Toronto. However, you can try to donate your VHS tapes to thrift stores or take them to pop-up Inorganic Market to recycle properly. You can also get creative and build with your old tapes!

Broti building a bookshelf made from old VHS tapes

Photo credit: Broti Kar

To find out more about what waste items go where, you can ask the City of Toronto's Waste Wizard. If you would like to have the Waste Wizard with you, on the go, then you can also download TOWaste app

What is the best way to dispose of cooking oil? 

If you have a very small amount of cooking oil, then you can put it into your green bin by soaking it up in paper towels. If you have a larger sum, then you can freeze it and put it into your green bin on collection day. For very large quantities of oil, please take it to a Drop-off Depot or schedule a pick-up with Toxic Taxi
Global warming will mean longer summers, right?

According to the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, global warming can increase the length of our summers, along with pests, wildfires, rainfalls, strong winds and storms. So, it is best to think of global warming as climate change. To learn more about climate change please join me for the Confronting Climate Change lecture on Monday, June 3rd from 6 - 7:30 p.m. at the S. Walter Stewart Branch. I also recommend the following books to gain a deeper understanding of climate change: 


Climate Justice by Mary Robinson Brave New Arctic The Untold Story of the Melting North by Mark C. Serreze The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

If you have any questions for me, feel free to leave them in the comment section below and I will try to get to them before my residency is over!