Gifts Not Garbage

We’re nearly through the biggest shopping season of the year. I wrote some thoughts about this a couple years ago but I thought they may be useful again this year. Please let me know what you think in the comments. Cheers and happy season to you!

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Bird-Window Collisions Taking Their Toll

Ten years ago this August, I began a short documentary film project in Toronto, Canada, which I finished the following spring. With my camera, I followed people I’d only just met, down streets and around corners. They were scanning, listening, watching. And many times helping or rescuing. All the while, I filmed them and talked with them. Later I added scanning, listening, watching, helping or rescuing to my filming activities, too. The people were only half of the story. The real story was the birds we were watching for and that we’d inevitably find and either bag because they were dead or help because thankfully they were alive, even if injured. These people, volunteers, would spend hours of their time doing this twice a year for several weeks. Why? Because the birds would be flying through the city during their migration. And, it’s about to start again.

2120 magnolia warbler lighter

Magnolia warbler just outside of Thunder Bay, Canada.

Birds like this Magnolia Warbler I photographed a few weeks ago, will soon start their southern migration from my home and theirs in the boreal forest of Canada. This bird traveled here possibly from southeastern Mexico, or maybe Panama. Possibly its home is in the Caribbean. I must point out it survived the trip to come up to my neck of the woods last spring. Now I wonder if it and also its young will make it safely back to its southern home. You see, among the birds I filmed were injured and dead magnolia warblers. They had struck building windows. Others are still striking buildings today.

When I screened an early version of my the film about this topic of bird window collisions, my advisors said “too many dead birds, Deanna.” You see, I had included all of the dead birds I’d filmed in the 3 short weeks when I followed the volunteers around town, as well as when I went out on my own. I wanted to honour the birds by including them. When it came to do that edit and cut out all those “too many dead birds” I couldn’t bring myself to edit the original version. Instead, I had to save a copy of it and edit the copy. The original, with all the birds, remains on my hard drive.

A little bit of good news 10 years later is that the volunteers of the Toronto, Canada organization FLAP, or Fatal Light Awareness Program, who had teamed up with a pioneer of the movement, Dr. Daniel Klem, Jr., have been joined by many new volunteers and organizations across North America. It is good to know that more people have realized the seriousness of problem and are working to help the birds. Across the continent, people in cities such as Chicago, New York, Ottawa, and Vancouver are stepping up to help birds and gather data.

Now, there are also ways to make existing windows visible to birds that weren’t around before. Visual markers like dots or vertical lines can be used. You can buy them or make them yourself. UV Stickers are another alternative. Other recommendations for constructing bird-friendly buildings have followed the release of Toronto’s Bird-Friendly Development Guidelines which FLAP assisted with. Both Audubon and the American Bird Conservancy have created guidelines as well as cities like San Francisco and Calgary.

Toronto Bldg Dev Guidelines

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

But how serious is the problem that we need to consider altering our windows? Dr. Klem, from his decades of research, has concluded that between 1 and 10 birds are likely to die from striking building windows. To clarify this, he means 1-10 birds per building per year. At the low end this is in the hundreds of millions of birds each year in North America who will be injured and likely die. It is after all, hard to get back into the air when you’re laying on the ground stunned from a crash, and there is a lurking cat or other scavenger nearby. Outright injury, such as a brain injury, also spells death to a little bird. At the upper end of the estimate, which is suspected to be much more accurate, it’s projected that over a billion birds die every year in North America because of our windows.

Bird window imprint E&P

Imprint made by a bird colliding with this window in Thunder Bay, Canada.

A great many of the birds that will strike windows will be like the warbler above that I followed around the forest and finally captured in a photo. They are migrants flying through the unfamiliar terrain of cities and towns. But, even birds that don’t migrate are vulnerable such as whomever hit so hard they left this imprint on an upper window of a building here in Thunder Bay. From the size of the imprint, I’m suspecting a gull or maybe a pigeon. This one hit very hard and may not have survived the collision. The powder that remains on the window came from the feathers due to the force of the hit.

Is there anything you can do to help? Yes! And we need as many people as possible to jump on board with this. Windows are invisible to birds. We must either cut the reflection of the natural world that a window creates, or we must put up visual cues that the birds can see. Until windows with these features built-in are standard on buildings – both homes and businesses, city and country – those of us who love birds must take steps to add them to windows ourselves. You can also add your voice by being another person advocating for changes to building construction to make them bird-friendly from the start. Even everyday conversations with neighbors helps raise awareness.

To learn more about this, and meet members of FLAP and Dr. Daniel Klem, Jr, please watch my short documentary “What’s All the “FLAP” About?!” It may be 10 years old but sadly, it is still completely relevant today. You can also visit for more information.

And for the sake of the birds, please share this with others so we can make buildings safer so we put a stop to injuries.

Please place any comments, questions or observations you have in the comments section. If you know any groups who would like to have me present this in person along with the updates, I am very happy to do this. Please contact me to arrange details.

FLAP- bird-my hand

I saw this bird hit a window but I could not save it. The building was just across from a woodlot where many birds were foraging during fall migration. I found a lot of dead birds at this building. Toronto, Canada










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Pin Pricks

Happy Earth Month!  I’ve been thinking about easy things we can do to help our planet.  They may seem small but if we all do them, the effect will be incredible.  Thus I have written this for your consideration:

If you had a bucket of water and a pin prick formed in the side, would that empty the bucket? It might eventually, but it would take a very long time. If more pin pricks happened, they’d still be so few that they wouldn’t really matter. But imagine you start to notice even more pin pricks in your bucket and more and more drops of water dripping out. Now, imagine a million, two million, 17 million pin pricks. Does your bucket have a problem now? I think yes.

I am suggesting that our individual choices are like those pin pricks in the bucket.  Individually they sort of don’t really matter, but enough of them combined can start to cause a problem. I see Earth as our bucket and we’re pin pricking it. So, on one hand our individual actions mean nothing and on the other hand they mean absolutely everything.  Combined, they weaken our bucket.

Can we do anything about it?  Yes.

Here are two takes on one small action that, when multiplied by the millions of us doing it, can make a difference. If we choose one, we keep pricking holes in our bucket.  If we choose the other, we don’t. While this may be just one choice of many we make each day, I think it’s an important one to illustrate my point.

Sitting in the coffee shop?

How many times have you gone to coffee shop and received your coffee, or other beverage, in a disposable cup? How many of those times did you take that cup to a table, sit and drink it? Then you got up, threw the cup away, and left?

According to a CBC Market Place investigation in October 2015, they revealed that “Canadians used an estimated 1.5 billion disposable coffee cups in 2010.” This represented more than half a million trees in one year alone. Today, five years later, that would be 2.5 million more trees gone.  The report further revealed that contrary to what some disposable cupcompanies say, they are not actually recycling those cups that are tossed in their waste receptacles. And even if they did, these cups are not easily recycled because of their inner plastic lining. Most recycle facilities don’t even take them!

This is just Canada. What about England, the United States or all of the other countries where you can get them?  The number of disposable cups is in the billions! We’re talking a LOT of pin pricks and a lot of lost forests!  One disposable cup appears insignificant, but it is linked to many urgent and critical issues: waste and pollution, habitat destruction and species losses, and climate change (from its plastic liner and deforestation from its paper).

CBC also mentioned in its report something I experience over and over again: the server automatically reaches for a take out container. In the national chains, I don’t recall ever being asked if I want my drink in a “for here” mug. I have to stop them – catch them actually – before they write my order ON the take out container, as is their routine.

So here’s my suggestion, and it’s what I try to do: when you place your order and you are planning to sit in the café to drink it, tell them you want a “for here” mug first. Then tell them what you want in it. If you are taking it out, bring a reusable travel mug with you and get them to use that.

Let’s end this unnecessary waste of trees and other resources. It may be a new habit for you and I’ve had my misses developing it myself. But trees…. forests are so worth it. Preventing pollution and saving species are worth it. Reversing climate change is worth it.

In my case, I gradually developed the habit to “catch” myself first: Stop. Think. And then place the order:

“Hi, in a for here mug can I have a tall café mocha, please?”   “Thanks.”   …..Mmm…….

Wouldn’t it be great if they just asked us for our travel mug or if we want a for here mug?  In the meanwhile, let’s plug those pin prick holes ourselves!

PS…I didn’t even mention about the plastic lid!  Doh!

If you like this post, please share it.  And if you have any comments please share those as well down below.

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Chemical Scents: They’re Everywhere!

I’ve written about chemical scents and health impacts in posts such as “Snake Oil?” but not recently. When I read Dr. Molot’s post recently, I just knew I wanted to share it and now was as good a time as any!

Dr. Molot practices environmental medicine and has plenty of experience with the negative effects of chemicals on the human system after seeing and helping more than 12,000 people. But his article addresses all of us and he explains why even if you don’t see a correlation between your health and the chemicals you use, you should still reconsider your use of them. I highly recommend this article and with his permission I am sharing it.

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Is Your Java for the Birds?

What does your morning java have to do with birds? Possibly a whole lot. And if you are like many who love birds and love seeing them in your yard and hearing them in the forests and meadows, you may be happy to know that you can really help birds by your coffee choice!

Songbird species are declining in numbers due to a number of factors. Some species like the Canada Warbler are down in numbers by 2/3rd since the 1960s! Where there used to be three birds, there’s only one. Many other species are also suffering big declines.

The very biggest reason for declining songbird numbers is habitat destruction. For the birds that fly south for the winter, they may arrive home in Latin America, for instance, to discover their winter retreat has been turned into an open growth coffee plantation! Open growth means the bird’s prized trees could be gone! Where to roost? Where to find food? Where to hang out in the shade?

So many of the coffee plantations used to grow coffee plants that flourished under a natural canopy of shrubs and trees. But for many years, farmer after farmer has bulldozed them in order to switch to the open growth plants. Now you can find acres and acres of these plants which can handle the full sun and more importantly grow faster. It’s a race for the almighty dollar at the expense of natural habitat.

Where does your coffee come from? If you check the package and it doesn’t say shade grown, it is mostly likely open growth. If you drink fair trade and/or organic coffee, it may also be shade grown, but you may have to read the package carefully to find the reference to it. The package could display the bird friendly seal of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s “Bird-Friendly” seal. Or the package might simply say “bird-friendly”. Fortunately there are many options of coffee brands out there to choose from for shade grown coffee. They are even in most mainstream stores and certainly in health food stores or you can order online.Smithsonian bird friendly seal

If you decide to choose bird-friendly coffee, it won’t only help the birds but it also supports farmers! With shade grown coffee also typically being organic, far fewer chemicals are used compared to open growth coffee. This is good for farmer’s health as well as your own. The birds win, the farmers win and you win because you get to drink great coffee!

Habitat destruction is the number one threat to birds. Simply changing your coffee purchase can help to convince producers to grow shade coffee plants. You can vote with your dollars for the preservation of habitat for birds.

My favourite bird-friendly coffee is Kicking Horse brand but I have also enjoyed Salt Spring Island coffee. What’s your favourite bird-friendly coffee?

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Corn Gave My Son Depression

I came across this blog article recently and was stunned by her story. I thought that perhaps others might benefit from her sharing of how corn affects her son. Corn is everywhere. You have to go to great lengths to avoid it as it is in just about everything for sale in a store. From pop to chickens, chocolate bars to french fries, it is shocking where manufacturers have used it. Is corn something we should avoid? Read this article for some food for thought.

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Pipe Dreams and Foolish Experiments

Recently I attended a presentation and consultation meeting about a pipeline that is being proposed north of where I live.  The proposal is to connect the Alberta Tar Sands to the east coast of Canada in order to ship the bitumen away.

The presenters were independent experts who have been reviewing the application of the company, TransCanada, for the project.  A couple hundred people were in attendance at the meeting.  It was the second time the consultants had been to our town and one of 7 stops they were making in my province this time around.  I suspect that many in the audience may have felt similar to me given when and for what people clapped.   However, I can only speak for myself and in the end, I felt the meeting was ultimately a waste of everyone’s time.  Here are my reasons:

Incomplete info

The expert who has been hired to review the parts of the submission which addresses environmental concerns was, I thought, very diplomatic.  I say this because of the 30,000 pages of the submission he only had 2500 pages of environmental data to review.  It sounds like a lot but it was not.  In the presentation he covered the various areas of concern that the application should have information on and tactfully and repeatedly said “we don’t have that information yet.”  Apparently the company intends to make it available in the next two months because that is when the application is due.  An audience member stated that at the first meeting 10 months ago, the company learned the questions that people had about the environmental impacts because people raised the concerns at that first meeting.  She went on to ask rhetorically “if they couldn’t get the information to us for today, 10 months later, how are they going to manage it in two?”  The recommendation by many in the audience about whether the application should be allowed to proceed?  To the company:  don’t waste our time.  Come back when you have all the information.

Expand the Tar Sands in this economic climate?

The oil from the Tar Sands is one of the most expensive to extract and process.  I’ve heard it said that getting oil from the tar sands indicates we’re getting desperate for sources of oil because it’s such a poor source and requires so much energy to convert to oil that can generally be used.  But because of dwindling oil reserves and thus a price increase per barrel, it has actually proven extremely profitable to scrape from the ground….until recently:  the price of oil has dropped!  I personally don’t know why it’s dropped.  I understand that other oil producers have played a role in the price drop.  But for whatever reason, it’s come down so much that at least one company, Suncor, is cutting spending and laying off workers.  So, at the consultation meeting, one fellow asked: when this project threatens the natural environment so much (we did get that much from the environmental expert…oh and the news recently about so many oil spills and leaks from pipelines), why are we even considering this project when it doesn’t make sense in this economic climate?  Inquiring minds wanted to know.

Simple Chemistry

Speaking of climates, it was just reported that 2014 was the warmest year on recorded history and the 10 warmest years have occurred since 1997.  I think it’s really just simple chemistry.  I can say that because I didn’t do well in chemistry and even I get it:  add a chemical compound to something and the something is altered.  Continually add the compound, continue altering what it’s being added to.  By expelling so much CO2 into the atmosphere we’re altering its chemical composition which in turn is causing a disruption in our climate.  This has consequences.  Besides all the havoc that is starting to play out for people through bad storms and rising sea levels, even things like the Iditarod race is seeing lengthy snowless sections of the trail.  This famous race takes place in Alaska where it’s supposed to have lots of snow but competitors in the 2014 race spent hours dog sledding across rocks and dirt!

Besides the climate, have you heard about the oceans?  CO2 emissions don’t just affect climate, they are also causing the oceans to become exceedingly acidic.  This has negative consequences for marine life.  This also has negative consequences for human who depend on the ocean for their livelihoods and protein sources.  Entire fisheries have collapsed as a result.  One example is the oyster industry on the west coast of North America when oyster larvae began dying in alarming numbers between 2006 and 2008.  Losses of 70 to 80% occurred.  The cause?  The hatchery seawater had become severely acidic from “the ocean absorbing excessive amounts of CO2 from the air.”  This particular industry isn’t completely gone but it is limping along and so are others.

As an aside:  apparently the food we get from the ocean will also be less tasty.  A study about this was recently mentioned in Science in December 2014.  The researchers enlisted the aid of shrimp connoisseurs who reported that shrimp from “more acidic waters were 2.6 times as likely to be rated the worst tasting.”  Incidentally, they are also more likely to die off in acidic waters.  That was reported in the Journal of Shellfish Research.  So if you like seafood you may have to adjust your tasters!

My Conclusion about that meeting?

It was a bit of a waste of time to be out at that consultation meeting.  1. The expert doesn’t have all the information from the company even though the application is slated to go forward for submission in a very short time.  2. The Tar Sands, let alone a pipeline, are expensive and the price of oil is dropping like …leaked bitumen in a river.  3. And, the climate is warming and the oceans are changing.  Allowing a pipeline that will enable one of the world’s worst environmental projects ever, the Alberta Tar Sands, to expand seems like foolishness to me.

Furthermore, placing a pipeline across most of Canada and thus thousands of rivers and streams is foolhardy.  We know pipelines leak.  It’s not “if” but “when” and the news repeatedly supports this.  Report after report is coming out about leaks and spills. Here are a couple lists:  Reuters.  And in North Dakota alone, go here to learn about 300 spills that occurred in two years that the public did not get informed about.

The recommendation that I said that evening:  reject this application.  Sure we may still need oil to help us move to cleaner technologies but let’s start moving toward that direction.  It just comes down to chemistry and it’s time to stop this experiment.

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A Plethora of Possibilities

The good news about so many bad things happening to our environment is there are so many options to pick from for jumping in and adding your voice and energy to help.

I’m an optimist and I like to find the positive in life even if it is a stretch!  What can I say?  There’s something for everyone!

So what can you do to help?

There are sitting at home things and going out things to do.  There are creative things and concrete physical things – both at home and out.  There are even other kinds of fun things to do to help raise awareness or fix a situation.

At home things:

Sign an online petition, write a letter to the editor or send money to your favourite cause–even a little can help a lot!  A couple of years ago I sent in a letter to the editor about living with scent sensitivities.  Unbeknownst to me, someone clipped it out and saved it!  A couple of years later, as in last March, I received an email asking if I was the one who’d written that letter.  We have since connected and she is also connecting with others dealing with this problem.  I guess my letter had let her know that she wasn’t the only one.  And, when the time was right for her, she began taking action.  Who might you help and/or connect with from writing a simple letter to the editor?

Going out things:

Can you stand around?  Great!  You could attend a rally.  Like to move?  Excellent!  Go on a march or how about a snow shoe hike?  That’s what friends of mine did here last winter. A group of about 12 of them snow shoed along a portion of the route of a proposed pipeline.  They did this to raise awareness about the possible building of that pipsnowshoeseline to move Tar Sands Bitumen across Canada’s north.  There is a lot of concern about the environmental harm from leaks and spills plus the ongoing concern of climate change and the role of the Tar Sands in that.  The trek was an overnight trip so they winter camped in tents.  Their picture and a caption about the purpose of the hike made it into the paper.

Do you scuba dive?  Why don’t you propose a clean up dive?  There is a group in Thunder Bay that regularly will spend one dive cleaning up a portion of the shoreline.  They pull out of the water whatever folks have had a penchant for tossing in but shouldn’t have.  Tires, metal, batteries (bad!), and other debris are pulled out.  Don’t dive but want to help anyway?  Great again.  They need people on the shore to hand the stuff to because they can’t very well navigate the rocks in their flippers!  What projects are happening where you live?

Creative things:

oryx_and_crakeArt, music, poetry, painting, photography, video creation, story writing, you name it!  Creativity is needed.  Creative people through their art, music, words or images can touch people in profound and unexpected ways.  Do you love nature?  Share this love.  Have you got a message?  Share it.  I’ve heard stories that propose future societies based on current science where the experiments are played out and I’ve seen shocking photographs of plastic drinking cups.  They all got me thinking about my world.

As a musician, I have seen how lines of music can get in and touch people.  As a videographer, I have also seen people respond to images and messages on a screen.  These and other mediums communicate differently and touch differently just as nature itself does.

Concrete physical things:

Sometimes there can be nothing better than just moving our bods!  Regular old manual labour activities can beautify a city when groups plant more trees or create community gardens.  I mentioned the divers needed folks on shore to take the stuff they pulled out.  And in the city where I did the documentary about birds, people simply walked around buildings and picked up birds.  Many birds were already dead so they were added to the growing statistics, which helped the cause.  Thankfully many birds were alive.  Their rescue at the base of a building was followed by a car ride first to a care facility where they received an examination.  If they were deemed okay, even if a bit shook up, they were then taken to a treed area in the direction they were flying in order to be released.  All of this helped them get safely on their way again.  Organizations doing projects or rescues need all kinds of extra hands for all sorts of diverse tasks.

Fun things:

Like acting?  Do a creative theatre piece on a subway or bus.  How does this work?  In an ‘apparently’ impromptu manner you and a friend could discuss an environmental topic of concern that many people may not be aware of.  For instance, you could talk about toxic chemicals in many store-bought products and how they affect boys’ development.  You could mention lower sperm counts and male infertility, poorly developed anatomy, and fewer boys being born than there used to be all due to these really common products that are just sold from our stores shelves and everyone buys!  Or, you could talk about how most fabric softeners contain asthmagens.  They are leading causes of asthma.  You could talk about a lot of things!

Be sure to include alternative products or ideas so the people around you don’t just want to jump off the nearest bridge after listening to you but can instead take positive action. You’d be acting which is fun and sharing information.  Assuming your unsuspecting audience wasn’t wearing ear buds, you may have offered them information that may help them or their family.

So what can you do?

What can’t you do?   There is no shortage of things and activities you can do to help raise awareness about issues that concern you.  There is no shortage of things you can do in your community to lend a hand.  Not all organizations need physical help but it’s likely that all could at least use financial help, even if just a few dollars.  It depends on what they do.  But many are working on projects and would welcome your assistance, expertise and energy.  Or, maybe you could start something new.

So put on your thinking cap and let the ideas flow!  thinking

If you’ve already done stuff, can you in the comments below, please share what that was?  Your actions may further inspire others who read about them here.

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Knowledge is power

I saw this post about chemicals in our lives by the co-author of a compelling book and I wanted to share it with you. Chemicals have severely invaded our everyday life. Some have said we’re living an experiment and we’re the subjects of that experiment! This post is informative and the book looks really compelling. The good news is that thanks to information such as this, you can make more informed decisions that will protect you and your family. Please Like and Share this post so more will benefit from it. Thanks.

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Conflicting values

I live in conflict and only just realized it!  I live in a wee bit of clutter but I’m always working at tidying it up.  I move things here.  Tidy things there.  Organize shelves.  Re-organize closets.  It goes on and on or feels like it, at least.

The reason that I am in perpetual tidy mode is that one of my values is a calm and ordered living space.  I really like a tidy desk, tidy floors, tidy counters.  But they keep getting cluttered with stuff.  Enter the conflicting value:  waste not.

I hate to throw out anything that can still be used.  Thus, I save plastic bags that I can wash and re-use for storing food for one example.  But as most anyone would know, nearly everything we can buy comes with a bag and even though I don’t take most bags offered to me, there are many I cannot avoid.  Bread, English muffins and toilet paper all come in bags.  Just to clarify, the toilet paper bag does not then hold food.  But it’s good for a small garbage can in the bathroom!  The bread bag, however, can hold broccoli.  The English muffin bag can hold cheese.  And the list goes on.

envelopes sm b

The envelopes that haven’t joined
the rest in the closet yet.

I have mailing envelopes that I can’t recycle because they have plastic in them.  We receive quite a few throughout the year and I keep them  because they can be re-used.  The catch is that while we receive many padded envelopes, we don’t need to mail many things out in them ourselves.  That’s the rub.  And, the result?  Clutter!

envelopes sm 2

The stored envelopes in the closet!
(Notice the wood holding the shelf:
funny leftover bits that come in handy in diverse ways.)

brackets sm2

Brackets originally from a desk
now being used to fix a cabinet drawer

I also keep pieces of wood and screws or nails and more.  Just recently I re-used little brackets that I salvaged from a desk.  The desk was disassembled a couple of years ago and the brackets were still fine.  I saved them because I knew that one day I could need something like this.  They were just too useful to toss.  And the day arrived and I knew that somewhere I had these little brackets and they would do exactly what I’m trying to do!  My Dad would be proud!

Office chairs.  I’ve rescued two.  One just needed a wheel.  Really.  The other was in much worse shape.  The arm covers were torn.  Sigh…  What’s a rescuer to do?  I brought it home and using some leather that I had…saved from another project…. I covered the arms anew.  I still use and love the chair after 10 years!

chair sm

Black and grey go okay

News flash!!  I only just realized what is happening:  I have a serious case of conflicting values!   Now I understand the source of my frustration about my cluttered living space.  It’s full of too much stuff that’s still perfectly fine.  Well, they say that realization is the first step to solving a problem.  And, it’s not that I’m a hoarder.  I’m not.  It’s more of a resources ‘thing’ than a collecting ‘thing’.

To throw something away that is perfectly functional simply because you don’t need it right now is, in my books, wasteful.  One thing about our world is that it is a challenging thing to avoid.  Who hasn’t thrown out a plastic garbage bag full of plastic bags?

In the meanwhile, I think I’ll post an ad on Kijiji for padded envelopes free to a good home!

How about you?  Any conflicting values like this?

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