Co-op Tales from UHN

Posted on behalf of Alondra

Hi everyone! My name is Alondra Garcia, a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto in the Environmental Sciences program, and for the last four months I was the sustainability intern here at UHN. As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end and so does my placement here. Before saying my goodbye, I’d like to tell you a little bit about what I have been doing and what I have learnt during my time working with the Energy and Environment Department at UHN.

Waste and Recycling

In my opinion, recycling and reduction of waste is one the biggest challenges towards a greener future, simply because it depends on the collaboration and change of behavior of all who consume, basically, all of us. My first surprise while doing waste audits in the hospitals and rehabilitation centers was that most departments recycle and were doing it well. Keep it up people! However, there is still A LOT to do to divert waste from landfills and our oceans. For recycling to be efficient, it needs to be 90% uncontaminated or it will go to the garbage. Therefore, we need to avoid “wish-cycle”, hoping that what we throw in the recycle bin is actually recyclable. For this is necessary to be informed of the local rules and be aware that UHN has different recycling rules from the city of Toronto.


Here are a few reminders on common items that CANNOT be recycled:

  • Straws, stand up pouches, chip bags and candy bar wraps are NOT recyclable. They go in the garbage bin.
  • Napkins, tissues and paper towels goes in the compost bin. If compost is not available, throw them in the garbage bin.
  • Masks and gloves are NOT recyclable. They go in the garbage bin.
  • Containers still covered in food, contaminate the whole recycle bag. Rinse out that container before recycling it.

Also, don’t forget that there are new recycling rules in place at UHN with a few important changes:

  • Soft plastics and black plastics are no longer recyclable. They must be thrown in the trash.
  • Coffee cups are no longer recyclable either. Coffee cups must be thrown in the garbage, but lids and sleeves go in the recycle bin. To avoid all the trouble in remembering all this, I strongly recommend you shifting to reusable coffee mugs. They even have some perks when you take them to your favorite coffee shop such as discounts or extra coffee. There is a new and updated list of green vendors at UHN coming in the following weeks.

Operation Green

This summer I was the coordinator of Operation Green, a student-run initiative that collects unused medical supplies and donate them to communities in need around the world. They have been working in collaboration with UHN staff, medical students from the University of Toronto, and humanitarian organizations since 2011 to reduce the environmental impact of the healthcare field while increasing social responsibility.

Our next collection is happening on August 21st, so if you have any medical supplies that you would like to donate or if you have any questions, kindly contact us by email to



This year, our department installed 36 new Electric Vehicles stations at UHN and it is so nice to see that people are already using them! If you ever think about changing your car for an electric/hybrid vehicle, here is some extra motivation. Reducing carbon emissions not only helps our fight against drastic climate change but reduces the pollution that causes respiratory illness. Now, you can come to work, get a convenient spot, and charge your car zero emission car for free.


More details on the EV chargers here:

For this to be efficient, you must know that these parking spots are exclusively for electric/hybrid vehicles, if your car isn’t either of them you are risking being fined for parking here.

Another even better option to reduce your impact while commuting to work is to use your bike. Summer is ending but it doesn’t mean you can’t start now! If you missed any of the sessions offered during this summer regarding cycling in Toronto, here is a summary of the main things to know.

Link to Lessons of Road Rules 101

Lastly, I want to thank the amazing team of the Energy and Environment department for being so welcoming and giving me the opportunity to learn from them. To get an idea of the great job they are doing, let me tell you that they received a very well-deserved recognition in the Local Impact Awards at UHN, about month ago. Congratulations!


Moving right along

As you’ve probably noticed, our shared home has been having a rough time of late. Climate change is looming large, and many of us don’t know where to start. Mike’s post showed how it’s not all doom and gloom with many benefits to climate action.

That reminded me of our list of 24 ways you can act on climate right now. 24 may seem like a lot to digest all at once, so let’s break it down. Today, let’s focus just on transportation. We hope you find this moving 😉 …


Why transportation? Livin’ the COG-life (Coal, Oil & Gas) creates the emissions that cause and worsen climate change. When Ontario closed coal plants 5 years ago, that took a big juicy chunk out of our emissions (and out of our smog days). You can see below that cleaning up transportation could be huge!

Climate change - 1 page - eco


To take a deeper dive in clean transportation, have a look…

I wanna walk down to Electric Avenue

Carbon Footprint

Lessons from “Road Rules 101”

TTC VIP CHANGES – and the big picture

Ride on!

Benefits of Climate Action

Apocalyptic future scenarios, crushing costs of adaptation, sacrifices required – this is the typical framing of the climate crisis discussion. What if I told you it’s not all doom and gloom? This article is about the benefits of taking meaningful climate action.

First off, why is it important for UHNers to take action against climate change? As we know, climate change is a serious issue for healthcare and taking action will be mandatory to maintain a livable world for ourselves in the future as well as our kids. In a previous blog, Talkin’ Trash looked at the actions individuals can take to fight the climate crisis. Many analyses tend to focus on the up front financial costs of climate action, however these often don’t take into account the full life-cycle benefits. So, what are some of the benefits of climate action?

Reduction in Air Pollution

In Toronto I find myself holding my breath sometimes as I walk through clouds of diesel exhaust from buses, trucks, and construction sites. Converting these vehicles to electric power will not only reduce CO2 emissions, but also prevent many people from inhaling toxic and carcinogenic exhaust fumes. With every diesel and gas vehicle removed by active transport or switched to electric we are reducing the amount of air pollution in populated areas. This could have a positive impact on urban health.

As Lisa mentioned, since Ontario eliminated coal power from the utility grid, we have also virtually eliminated smog days. This project was also the largest single climate action taken so far in North America (even larger than BC implementing a province-wide carbon tax).

Reduction in Noise

Electric vehicles are well known for being extremely quiet compared to their fossil fueled counterparts. Streets are much more pleasant and healthy places without the sounds of engines screaming by. Reducing CO2 emissions by reducing personal vehicle travel and by converting necessary vehicles to electric will have a side benefit of noise reduction.

traffic noise

I can almost hear this image

Active Transportation May Cause Weight Loss

Perhaps one of the ways you can cut CO2 emissions is by driving less and walking/biking more? Well, good news! Instead of sitting in traffic, you are getting free exercise, potentially losing weight, and potentially feeling better. You might not even need that expensive gym membership any more.

More Jobs

With so much air being taken up in the media arguing about pipelines and oil, it often gets missed that the clean tech industry in Canada actually employs more people than the fossil fuel industry and is growing faster than the overall economy. Encouraging CO2 reduction and becoming technology leaders should continue to boost the economy and increase job numbers.


Cost Savings

Although emission reduction measures often have an upfront cost, there is typically a reduction in energy consumption and related cost savings. An analysis from the website Cleantechnica shows that under certain driving assumptions, a Tesla Model 3 can have a lower 5 year cost of ownership than a Toyota Corolla. Check out this presentation from Mark Perez of Clean Power Research, which analyzes the utility grid in Minnesota and demonstrates through modeling that a renewable (wind and solar) grid with battery storage and small amount of gas backup can provide firm power supply at extremely low cost (even in a cold northern climate like Minnesota).

There are many many examples on this very blog of UHN projects that cut emissions while simultaneously saving huge on utilities. Just one example, last year’s deep lake cooling project at Toronto General Hospital cut CO2 emissions by 269 tons per year. This project is also saving UHN $22M over 20 years with a 4.2 year payback on our capital investment, so don’t let the naysayers tell you that cutting CO2 emissions always costs a lot of money!

By focusing on all these benefits to cutting CO2 emissions, perhaps we can overcome some of the institutional inertia holding back necessary actions to stabilize our climate. Leadership is all that is needed to overcome this issue. Luckily, there are plenty of leaders calling for action. Greta Thunberg is my favorite!

This blog post reminds me of an old cartoon by Joel Pett:


OK fine, just a little doom and gloom: All-time temperature records tumble again as heatwave sears Europe

Hot enough for ya?

Today, Ontario and parts of the USA brace for the hottest day of 2019 so far. The “so far” part makes it even more frightening, like the twist ending of a horror movie just gunning for a sequel. We know that climate change, or the climate crisis (climate change’s newer name, now with added urgency), is behind these crazy heat domes.

image credit: CBC and NOAA

The irony here is that heat domes and heat waves are worsened by the climate crisis, while people burning fossil fuels cause the climate crisis, and people will burn more fossil fuels to keep air conditioners running full tilt because of the heat, which makes the climate crisis worse and intolerable heat more frequent. “Yikes!” doesn’t quite cover it.

So how do we keep cool without making the climate crisis worse?

How we power our air conditioners makes a difference. Here in Ontario, we phased out coal plants way back in 2013.

Nov 2013: Al Gore talks climate after Premier Kathleen Wynne announced Ontario closing all coal plants. Almost no smog days since they closed.

Since kicking coal to the can, Ontario has seen almost no smog days! We still have natural gas but most of our electricity does not give off unfriendly emissions. More good news … “in 2018, the Government of Canada announced final regulations to phase-out traditional coal-fired electricity by 2030″. These are reasons to be cheerful.

Our recent Deep Lake Cooling project at Toronto General Hospital, Toronto Rehab Institute, and coming soon to Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, shows an even lower carbon way of cooling, and one that also saves a ton of water too! For a liveable future, the answer is transitioning to sustainable energy like wind, solar, hydroelectric, tidal, geothermal, or something not yet invented.

How much we power our air conditioners also makes a difference. Have you ever wandered into a building in summertime, maybe your own office, only to find the AC cranked so high you need a sweater? Does your spouse or someone in your house create an arctic habitat in your living room so you need to throw on a blanket and fuzzy socks?

image credit:

Fun fact: many commercial buildings still use a formula from the 1960’s designed to keep 40 year old men in suits and ties comfortable, though times, office gender makeup, and fashions have changed.

This one is easy … change the setpoint on the AC 2, 3 or even 4 degrees higher (find the sweet spot), or talk to building management to complain. The squeaky wheel gets the AC changed. Get comfortable doing it by dressing accordingly for the warmer temps and maybe save the jacket and tie for fall fashions.

Those programmable thermostats are also fantastic for letting our houses warm up while we’re away, then cool again when we need it. The smart ones even let you change it up from your phone. We were lucky enough to get one for free from the former GreenON rebate program, and enjoy setting the AC back to occupancy levels when we’re 15 minutes from home.

Another way to keep cool while easing the pressure on the AC is right in your window. This may seem too simple, but it works … keep blinds and curtains closed during the day so the sun doesn’t heat up your space (the opposite is true in winter).

image credit: zebra blinds

This and 24 other climate friendly ideas can help you and the planet stay cool and be well.


Haiku SBAR: The Poetry of UHN’s New Recycling Rules – Talkin’ Trash, July 2019

The Poetry Of Waste

(Or a waste of poetry? Apologies to poets, readers of poetry and people everywhere who use words.)

Sorry, but many

links will work only if you

are at UHN.


UHN has a

new recycling and garbage

contract, “rules” have changed”.

Continue reading

Carbon Footprint

Carbon footprint is the measurement of the amount of land we need to survive. The land we need to grow crops, harvest resources, and dispose waste. The ideal carbon footprint is 1.73 global hectares per person. Unfortunately, the current carbon footprint is 2.84 global hectares per person and Canada’s average carbon footprint is 8.17 global hectares per person. We require 5.33 more global hectares to sustain ourselves than the average human. How do we lower this number?


The average Canadian footprint is largely due to our giant consumption of electricity and energy. Simple acts such as turning off the lights when you leave or using natural light can reduce your footprint and decrease your electricity cost! Furthermore, you can make a goal to start carpooling or to buy an electric car. The less electricity you need, the less your footprint and electricity bill is.


Probably the hardest goal for many is to eat less meat, especially red meat. Although delicious, red meat, such as beef, takes a great toll on the environment. One pound of beef requires 7 pounds of feed. Animals require a lot of water to grow their feed — to get beef, you would require around 16 thousand m3 of water per ton. Furthermore, the land needed to grow animals destroys many habitats. You do not have to stop eating meat, but try eating less meat, especially red meat.


Finally, eat local, organically grown food. Exotic foods require transportation to get to you. The further away the source is, the more costly the food is. You would need more fuel to bring the food to you by land, water, and/or air. Furthermore, some foods require special treatment, such as refrigeration. Long distances will increase the cost of the treatment. You can even try to grow some vegetables in your own backyard!

We must always try our best to save the environment and decrease our carbon footprint. If we reduce the footprint, we would make our lives, and the lives of the future generations better.

Let’s get GROWing: Toronto Rehab Bickle Centre’s “Garden Rehab on Wheels” kicks off their 4th growing season!

Hi everyone:

Guest blogger Amanda here, reporting on “GROW: Garden Rehab on Wheels” from Toronto Rehab’s Bickle Centre!  Despite the cool, rainy spring, we have been hard at work getting things ready to GROW for our fourth season!

Planning started in April before all the snow had melted and gardening felt a million years away, when we set up a booth in the lobby to see what our patients, families and staff wanted to see growing this season.  We tried to get a good number of “wish list” items in different categories: legumes, roots, leafs and fruit-bearing, so that we could attempt some basic crop rotation from last year, which helps to grow better crops this year based on how last year’s plants left the soil.  Pretty cool, right?  We also wanted to add some flowers for the natural pest repelling that they do (and their beautification of the garden, of course!).  Shout-out to garden volunteer Mahnoor Muqeem, who then took on the mind-boggling task of putting our garden wish list into a specific planting plan.

We officially kicked off the season in May with colleagues from far and wide.  An awesome group called Nourish Healthcare caught wind of our garden project and asked to come for a visit, with a group of healthcare leaders across the country, as part of their Food For Health Symposium May 15.  (If you haven’t heard of Nourish yet, be sure to check them out–  –they are doing amazing work around innovations to make hospital food more sustainable and nutritious).   When they first called me to ask if they could come, I said yes, but…. “Do you realize that our garden will be unplanted and not very pretty looking that time of year?”  And, “do you realize that we are enthusiastic champions of gardening we are not expert urban growers?” (See: )  Their response was so encouraging: YES, we realize all of the above, but we still think your garden project is pretty cool and want to see for ourselves what you’ve been doing!

So, on May 15, a small bus pulled up to Bickle, and 24 symposium-goers from Haida Gwaii in BC to Montreal and everywhere in between piled off, eager to chat with us about the GROW program and snap some pictures of our wheelchair-accessible garden boxes.  We were also joined by the amazing Ed Rubinstein who chatted about UHN’s environmental and sustainability initiatives.  It was a great afternoon of idea sharing and collaborating (and the weather cooperated just enough to allow us to stay outside for half the session!)

In June we finally felt confident that the weather was good enough to let us get outside and going, so the real hands-on work began!  We replenished the boxes with some of our own home-grown compost (putting those lunch-time apple cores to work) as well as worm castings (which is less glamorously known as worm poop, but regardless works like magic for helping plants grow), and then got planting.  We are looking forward to some GROW favorites like lettuce and zucchini, and are excited for a few new-to-GROW crops like purple sweet peppers and rapini.

The finishing touch was our garden box signs, specially designed with pictures for those who are unable to read English or have aphasia (a communication disorder that can affect one’s ability to comprehend words).  It is always fun to see these being used as conversation starters between patients and their loved ones.

The garden was planted just in time to be able to be enjoyed by patients, families and staff alike as part of Bickle’s annual garden party social, and even got a makeover for the day with some beautiful fresh flowers!

Now, time to wait for those seeds to sprout and seedlings to grow: as we wrap up Spring, we have lots to look forward to in the summer.   I for one am looking forward to enjoying the fruits of our labour, with one of our famous salad potlucks, complete with fresh vegetables from the garden and toppings to share from home.  Cheers!