Eco-revolutionize your cottage


We cottagers are generally tree-hugging types. After all, we’ve chosen to spend our holidays at a place that boasts nature as its main selling point. Nobody buys a cottage because it’s close to a school or shopping mall.

Yet our very presence can threaten the nature we love, which is why it makes sense to adopt some green resolutions, or “revolutions” as my eight-year-old calls them, to ensure our own future at the lake.

Pump your dump

Rob Davis, owner of EcoEthic, who has spent a good portion of his life sticking his head into the places our poop goes, would like all cottagers to put this resolution at the top of their list: Have your septic system pumped out properly every three years.

While a lot of us tend to ignore that advice until we smell something funky, Davis notes that regular pump-outs keep the tanks from filling up with sludge (bottom solids) and scum (top solids), and keeps all solids from making their way to the leaching bed where, he ominously notes, “major pollution and financial doom may ensue.”

Bye-bye bubbles

Though it’s hard to imagine that a teensy bit of soap or shampoo—especially the “biodegradable” versions—can wreak much havoc, Gillian Deacon, author of There’s Lead in Your Lipstick: Toxins In Our Everyday Body Care and How to Avoid Them, says that “petrochemicals, such as the phthalates used to create scent or the surfactants used to create lather, remain in the water long after the trail of white bubbles has disappeared.” These chemical contaminants become concentrated in the internal organs of fish, and persist up the food chain.

What’s more, she says, “as the chemicals break down in the water, they create even more hazardous by-products, such as dioxins,” which are carcinogenic to humans and animals and are blamed by scientists for the near extinction of certain species of birds and mammals. “Others,” she says, “degrade into alkylphenol ethoxylate surfactants, which interfere with normal hormone function and may confuse sexual development.”

Even biodegradable soaps and shampoos are a no-no, says Deacon. “A proper functional chemical balance exists in nature between plants, animals, and the waterstream they share. When we tamper with that balance by adding unnatural ingredients, the system doesn’t work as well.”

Kill the phantom

Consider this: All those appliances with the sinister red or green eye (microwaves, DVD players, and more, especially the older ones we often take to our cottages) are drawing power, even when they’re turned off!

It’s called “phantom power” and 10 per cent of the average energy bill goes to paying for it. The simple solution, especially at the cottage, which is left empty much of the time, is to either unplug appliances before you leave or plug these vampires into a power bar. By flipping the switch on the power bar, you truly turn these appliances off.

And, speaking of appliances, Adria Vasil, author of the Ecoholic books (which includes the upcoming Ecoholic Body), urges us to get rid of the Jurassic-era refrigerator at the lake, noting that newer, more energy-efficient appliances use as much as 80 per cent less energy.

Banish those bamboozlers!

While most cottagers head to the lake to seek out silence, a few indulge in leaf blowers, chainsaws, or radios (you know who you are!). Noise may just seem like a nuisance, but it can have a deeper effect on the body.

According to George Prochnik, author of In Pursuit of Silence, excess noise accelerates heart rate, increases vasoconstriction, and elevates blood pressure. Eliminate any noise that isn’t necessary—and let the loons rule the waves.

Tap into man- (and woman- and child-) power

It’s hard to truly slow down when our lives are conducted at breakneck speed. Yet, not only does slowing down conserve fossil-fuel energy, it restores our own, which is a big part of why we have cottages.

Consider paddling to a neighbour’s for the dockside beer, rather than relying on the powerboat. Resolve to walk bike, or stay put, rather than driving into town. Bev Clark, a Bracebridge resident and senior aquatic biologist with Hutchinson Environmental Sciences, suggests people visit their cottage less frequently but stay for longer, thereby reducing the number of trips from the city.

More time at the lake? Now there’s a “revolution” we cottagers can fully embrace.

For more green tips, check out Leslie Garrett’s book The Virtuous Consumer, available in the Cottage Life Store.