On environmental action

There are so many little day-to-day things that differ between Canada and Australia when it comes to the environment.  If only we could combine what we do, we might actually be one step closer to solving some of our environmental problems.  I’ll itemise the ones I can think of – there are probably more that have become second nature to me already that I won’t think of! [edit: those that are finding this through the links that have spread, note that this is one entry in a series I’ve been writing on my experiences as a Canadian who spent a year in Australia – after re-reading I realised some context would be appropriate. Thanks for visiting!]

First, though, is government action — Australia, like Canada, has a climate-change denying right-wing party and a climate-change-accepting-but-only-grudgingly-acting left-wing party.  Interestingly, the approaches differ.  Cap-and-trade is favoured by Canada’s right-wing Conservatives, supposedly-left-wing NDP, and centrist Liberals of this year, and Australia’s centrist Labor Party (until its hand was forced by the Greens).  The carbon tax approach is favoured in Canada by the otherwise-kind-of-centrist Greens (and formerly the centrist Liberals, who abandoned it after an election defeat) and in Australia by the very-very-left Greens… and then there’s Australia’s right-wing Liberals that prefer what they call “direct action,” which is neither market-based nor likely to accomplish anything useful.  Politicians on all sides of the debate in both countries try to spin their preferred approach as being in line with the rest of their platform/identity, and the other side’s approach as being opposed.  A common argument I hear in Canada is that carbon taxes are not and never will be  progressive; meanwhile in Australia (and many other countries) it’s the left wing demanding them.  Anyways, the major difference at the moment is that Australia has just passed legislation to implement a carbon tax (which, unfortunately, turns itself into cap-and-trade a few years down the line), and Canada is doing everything in its power to do absolutely nothing.

The rest of this entry is about the day-to-day stuff.


Virtually every electrical outlet in Australia has a power switch.  That is to say, directly on the outlet there is a little switch (one per plug) where you turn on or off the electrical flow.  This completely eliminates the need to use a power bar to save energy (there are other reasons to use powers bars, but as far as the ability to turn off the current altogether, it’s no longer necessary).  I’m not sure if this was originally intended for this purpose, however – because of the higher voltage it’s common for a plug to spark when plugging into or out of an outlet that is turned on so it’s generally wise to turn it off before inserting or removing a plug here.  Regardless, even I (as someone who usually makes a conscious effort to minimise energy use) would leave things like my microwave plugged in all the time in Canada.  This creates a phantom load of energy use in my apartment – energy being used for absolutely nothing.  Since moving to Australia, it became so easy and, in turn, intuitive to simply flip off the electricity to the microwave.  I became accustomed to always doing so immediately after using it – an option I don’t even have in my new place in Vancouver unless I turn off the breaker altogether.  For Australians reading this – we don’t have these switches in Canada.  Frankly, we should.

One thing Canada (or, at least, Toronto) does better, or at least more of, is recycling.  Not only can you recycle virtually every kind of recyclable material in your Toronto home, there are also recycling bins on the street everywhere you go (unlike in Australia where, if there are recycling bins at all, they are usually only in food courts or parks, and street rubbish bins are few, far between, and unsegregated).  I was always frustrated when I had a bottle or can in Sydney and wanted to dispose of it – often I’d carry it with me until I got home.  There are also far fewer items accepted for recycling in Sydney (and Vancouver, now that I live here) than in Toronto – they seem to accept only the kinds of things Toronto was accepting over 10 years ago.  As far as I can tell, there is also no organic waste disposal in Sydney, beyond the usual garden/lawn waste collection – which was a huge disappointment to me as it meant I put a lot more stuff in the garbage!

Using the half flush

Australian toilets have, almost without exception (exception: my apartment), two flush buttons.  One is a “half flush” and the other is a full flush, and you can imagine their differing purposes.  I’ve only recently started seeing these appear in Canada, and only in small numbers.  Whereas a cheaply-built new building in Toronto will still use regular higher-volume toilets, the equivalent in Sydney will have these water-saving toilets by default.  Australians, despite having the highest per capita water-consumption in the world (according to numerous stats I always hear), are pretty water-conscious.  There are all sorts of rules and regulations in place, though many simply enforce what should be common sense (don’t run the sprinkler in the middle of the day, every day, don’t wash the car five times a day, etc).  Given the numerous droughts the country has experienced it’s essential to life there – so it’s taken seriously, when it needs to be.  It’s very rare to hear anything about water limitations in Canada, sadly.

When it comes to organic products, I found that some are far easier to find in Australia, while others are far easier to find in Canada.  Packaged and processed organic foods are so common in Canadian grocery stores – to the point that I often choose President’s Choice brand (a store brand of national grocery chain Loblaws) organic products, and even know I could trust them to be legitimately organic (yes, I looked up their certifier at one point).  In Australia, that’s less true, though the major grocery chains do have their own (very limited) organic lines.  That said, for a lot of products (especially vegetarian / vegan products), the only option is organic.  Quite often I would purchase a product because it was the only one of its kind or variety, and only after getting home with it would I discover the product was certified organic.  It’s nice to have it be so common that it’s not even noticed!

Australians, as a matter of culture, tend to use non-electric alternatives to things we Canadians think of as only something we can do electrically.  It’s strange how common the French press (“plunger coffee”) is in homes in Australia (where Canadians would get a small coffee maker), and even more strange to me that many homes don’t even have a clothes dryer since the weather is usually good enough to air dry clothes.

Finally, solar panels are so much more common in Australia than Canada – for the most obvious of reasons, being the intense amount of sun that hits the country.  Some cities have solar buses, and many buildings have solar panels on their roofs – including the hotel I stayed at in Alice Springs.  Australia has the potential to supply 26% of the world’s energy supply with solar alone – imagine if that were tapped!

2 responses to this post.

  1. Nice post! It’s good to hear that Canada is doing well at least in some areas, despite the government’s apathy for the environmental issues.


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