2023-05-15T14:43:44-04:00Nov 5, 2021|

A newcomer’s guide to living sustainably in Canada

Many newcomers choose to move to Canada in the hopes of building a better life for themselves and their families. This quality of life depends not only on the financial and professional opportunities that Canada promises, but also on environmental factors, such as the climate, cleanliness of air and water, and the possibility of building a sustainable future.

Climate change, or the long-term shift in temperatures and weather patterns, is a major global concern. It is caused by human activities, such as industrialization, deforestation and intensive agriculture, all of which emit a huge amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, where they cause temperatures to rise. A recent study found that the majority of young people around the world are “very or extremely worried” about climate change. 

Here in Canada, individuals and organizations are taking initiative to help slow down climate change, from small household steps like recycling to big commitments like the government’s participation in the Paris Agreement, which aims to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by the year 2030.

As you settle in Canada, one way to become a part of the community and build your social network is to work together with your neighbours to fight climate change. After all, limiting global warming is key to creating a safer, more secure future for all. 

Here, we’ve compiled some tips and habits that will help you embrace a sustainable lifestyle right from the day you arrive in Canada.  

In this article:

Help reduce the impact of cars on the environment

Cars are a big contributor to the harmful emissions that fuel global warming. Opting for transportation alternatives, like bikes, buses and subways, instead of driving a car can help reduce your carbon footprint. (A “carbon footprint” is the total greenhouse gas emissions you make.) Consider these suggestions for getting around in a more sustainable way.

  • Take public transportation. Throughout Canada, public transportation is typically safe and affordable, and it lessens your contribution to carbon dioxide emissions. In urban centres like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, where car commutes can be stressful and parking is scarce, buses, subways and light rail options are great modes of travel.
  • Get there on foot. Not only is walking a free and easy way to get around, it’s also good for your physical and mental health. Plus, it cuts down on pollution and can be enjoyed all year round (if you’re wearing the appropriate winter clothing, of course). If possible, consider living a walkable distance away from where you work or study. 
  • Ride a bike. Many Canadians, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, are choosing to commute by bicycle. In cities and towns across the country, it’s not unusual to see adults cycling to work or families cycling together to school and locking up the kids’ bikes in the schoolyard. Many cities have also increased their cycling infrastructure in recent years, making cycling easier and safer. Be sure to have proper safety equipment (helmet, lights, u-locks) and to ride safely.
  • Try carpooling. Sharing a ride with others is another budget-friendly way to reduce harmful emissions. To join a rideshare group near you, consider asking your new coworkers or neighbours if they carpool, or visit a trusted website that lists carpool programs across Canada. 

Eat sustainable foods and reduce waste at home

How we eat, shop for food, and dispose of our waste can make a big difference when it comes to living in a more environmentally friendly way. These steps can help you to be more sustainable in the kitchen and beyond.

  • Plan your meals so that you don’t have extra food that will go bad. Food waste is a serious issue, with a startling 58 per cent of food produced in Canada lost or wasted each year. This takes a toll on the climate in the form of almost 57 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions. 
  • Use a compost bin for all food scraps and leftovers. As a newcomer to Canada, understanding which items go into the recycling bin, the garbage or the compost bin can be confusing. So if your municipality offers a calendar or poster with details on household waste management, pin it above your bins as a helpful reminder. 
  • Cut down on meat. It’s not only better for your budget, it’s better for the environment. A recent United Nations report says that switching to a plant-based diet can be a helpful strategy to slow global warming. Add a bean-based meal (like tofu or lentils) to your menu, with the goal of adding more vegetarian meals until you’re eating several per week.  
  • Avoid single-use plastics at fast food restaurants and when you order takeout meals. The production and incineration of single-use plastics like cups, cutlery, and straws added an estimated 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere in 2019. Try to think ahead and pack your own water bottle and cutlery when you’re heading out, so it’s easier to say no to plastic at mealtime. Many Canadian coffee shops are now accepting that customers bring their own reusable cup or thermos. 

Buy more eco-friendly products

Global shopping and consumption habits are a contributor to climate change, from the overproduction of fast-fashion clothing to the lack of sustainable packaging available from retailers. The global fashion industry alone contributes 10 per cent of global carbon emissions

Plus, a scary 86 per cent of the plastics used in Canada end up in the landfill, and packaging makes up 47 per cent of Canada’s plastic waste

To lessen the impact your shopping makes on the environment, try some of these approaches. 

  • Shop second-hand. Buying used clothing, houseware and furniture helps the climate by offsetting the carbon dioxide emissions and water normally required to manufacture brand-new items. In Canada, buying used goods (called “thrifting”) has become popular, resulting in a boom of availability.
  • Apps like Poshmark and Vinted help connect you to second-hand clothing and housewares, and Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji are popular sites to find used furniture in your budget.
  • Use reusable bags. Bringing your own cloth bags when shopping will reduce your use of plastic packaging. Also, you can decline plastic bags when retailers offer them—it’s not considered rude and you’ll end up saving a few cents on your purchase. 
  • Shop locally. “Buy local” is a sign you’ll see in many stores. It does double-duty, encouraging customers to support their local economy and also allowing them to purchase items that have travelled fewer kilometres (thus contributing less carbon emissions) than goods from overseas.
  • Try to buy less. As a newcomer, it’s okay to wait and see what you’ll need so you don’t overpurchase. For instance, many Canadian parents buy back-to-school clothes in the months after the school year starts, because they have a better idea of their kids’ daily needs than they do in early September. 

Reduce your carbon footprint and create an energy-efficient home

The heating, cooling, and water we use in our homes makes up a surprising 75 per cent of our personal carbon footprints. With some simple steps, reducing your carbon footprint at home is easy, and will help your heating, cooling, and water bills go down as well. These tips are a good place to start.

  • Turn down your thermostat by a degree or two in the winter. Heating accounts for more than half of a typical Canadian household energy bill, and the heat itself comes mostly from natural gas furnaces and electric baseboards—sources that contribute to climate change. Instead of cranking up your thermostat, try dressing for winter, even when you’re inside. For instance, wearing cozy slippers and thick sweaters will help you stay warmer indoors.
  • Change your light bulbs. To save electricity (and money), buy LED light bulbs instead of incandescent or compact fluorescents. Energy Star–certified LED bulbs use up to 90 per cent less energy and last 15 years longer, according to the Canadian government. It’s true that a new LED bulb is more expensive upfront, but it can save you $75 over its lifetime. LED bulbs are readily in stock at retailers where you buy light bulbs, even at grocery stores.
  • Use your dishwasher, if you have one. Research consistently shows that using your dishwasher actually reduces water and electricity use. A 2020 study found that typical hand-washing of dishes emitted 5,620 kg of greenhouse gas over a 10-year period versus the 2,090 kg emitted by a typical dishwasher in the same timeframe. Use your dishwasher’s eco setting and be sure to run it only when it’s full—you’ll save electricity and money by doing so.
  • Unplug devices and chargers when you’re not using them. Called “vampire energy,” the power consumed by plugged-in TVs, video game consoles, and small appliances with digital clocks accounts for five to 10 percent of residential electricity usage, and creates a shocking one percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Turning off and unplugging devices will bring down your electricity bill, and it helps the planet. 

As a newcomer to Canada, your small steps can make a meaningful impact on reducing your carbon footprint. The great thing is, these sustainable steps usually have another positive impact: They help you save money, too. Remember, the actions you take to fight climate change today will help create a better future for the coming generations.