Posts Tagged With: conservation

Pre-Cycling: Reducing and Reusing

Most of us know the tri-arrow symbol we associate with “recycling,” but the three arrows are actually meant to represent the concepts of “reduce, reuse, AND recycle.”  So, the notion of pre-cycling captures the reduce and reuse steps of the cycle.recycling-7 Reducing the waste we create is something that takes some forethought.  A lot of us assume that we can “just” recycle some goods, and our job is done.  But recycling really does use a lot of energy in and of itself.  In some cases, objects that are represented as recyclable are actually limited in their ability to be recycled.  Many communities have limitations on what they can accept for recycling, especially in the way of plastics. Glass, aluminum, tin, and steel are considered to be the most readily recyclable.  Glass bottles are the easiest to recycle because they can just be washed, refilled, and recapped.  If you live in a place that continues a bottle deposit program, you know that you can get money back on glass bottles.  Also, aluminum is another recyclable that pays per pound in most communities. website.18982634_stdSo, I’m just going to come right out and say it.  I hate Tetra-Paks, juice boxes, drink pouches, chip bags, and plastic bottles of WATER.  The plastic water bottles are an easy fix–don’t buy them, find a water fountain, buy a portable water bottle of your choosing, or if you are desperate, go ahead and buy the water and refill it for free!  It’s water, people.  If you don’t like the way it tastes from your tap, buy a filter.  Yes, filters are meant to be disposable, but they last for about 2-3 months and is tiny by comparison to the hundreds of bottles you’d buy for “good-tasting” water.  And we all know that much of the bottled waters we have spent extra money to buy is another city’s tap water, right?  It’s time to get over this mindset that bottled water is a good idea.  It’s not. Tetra-Paks and juice boxes (often one in the same) are convenient storage containers for liquids and come in variations on the theme of cardboard on the outside, aluminum and plastic on the inside.  The plastic is supposed to bpa-free, which is better for the foods contained inside (at least it makes them healthier to eat).  They are also exceptional at storing milk and other “spoilable” liquids for a very long time.  Better storage does mean less waste of the product itself, but these packages are very difficult to recycle.  Some Tetra-Paks exclude aluminum, which makes them somewhat easier to recycle, but not many municipalities even accept Tetra-Paks (at least in the U.S.).  It is the complexity of the multilayer packaging that makes it difficult to separate and repurpose.  Your best bet, if possible, is to avoid buying products in these packages. What’s worse, perhaps than the the Tetra-Paks, is the “drink pouch.”  Those infamous Capri Sun silver packets of usually 10% juice + water + sugar came into existence about 25 years ago.  That makes 25 years of kid-licious drinks packaged in this (from Kraft’s FAQ page):  “CAPRI SUN pouches are polyester-reverse side printed to aluminum then laminated to polyethylene (a plastic polymer). Unfortunately, this packaging is not recyclable.”  If you have been to a kid’s birthday party or soccer game or during lunchtime at a school cafeteria, you know the popularity of these never-gonna-be-recycled packages of drinks.  The best thing for this?  Do not purchase them, unless you absolutely must.  I don’t want to say an aluminum can of anything is better, but at least you can recycle cans. So, now that you are thinking about it, you are probably thinking about the packaging for granola bars, candy, chips, heck, even the plastic netting that a 3-pound bag of onions comes in…what do we do with it?  Obviously, you can stop buying pre-packaged foods and non-essential packaging.  It takes some training, but start a hoard of paper bags and use them for whatever…paper is much more easily recycled, but a good paper bag will last at least 10 uses.  Those plastic netting bags can be wadded up and used as a kitchen sink scrub, or taken back to the grocery store to be used for your next batch of fresh fruits and vegetables.  I’ve been using one to collect the fallen pecans around the neighborhood. It’s healthier to avoid complex packaging, especially when it comes to food.  I know you want to still live a “regular” life, though, and the idea that you are going to make all of your own stuff from “scratch” to save on packaging is probably not realistic.  With a little planning on the weekends, though, you can create some healthier snacks that can be taken to school or work in reusable containers (optionally wrapped in paper or aluminum foil), or stored at home in a cookie jar or other reusable container.  I know it sounds daunting for some parents, but when you think about what all goes into the landfill from just your house, and multiply that by all of the people in your town, and multiply that by all of the towns in your state, country, continent…we are a wasteful bunch of slugs that need to reconsider what we are doing to the planet just for the sake of sugar, water, and snacks. I ran across this quote recently and I think it is something to consider:  “The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.” ~ Native American Proverb, Sioux Sorry for being on the preachy side, but it’s time to consider the consequences of our actions.  This is just one tiny aspect of the impact we have with our carelessness…think of what impact we can have if we try to change it for the better with intent!

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Holidays are coming…are y’all getting ready?

There are so many things to get ready for!  It’s overwhelming, right?

Well, maybe this year will be different.  Maybe this year you can be greener since you are already planning in advance and you actually have time to do some green planning.  I posted a few holiday ideas last year…you can read them here, here, here, and so on and so forth…go take a peek! But enough of last year…this is 2013, baby!  We need to send it off in style!  A more environmentally-friendly and healthier style, that is.

So…where to begin?

At this stage in the holiday games…Thanksgiving is first usually pretty easy, right…it’s all about food!  Some green tips:

1. Go Local!  Try to buy as much of your menu ingredients as you can from your local farmer’s market, or from a grocery store that sources produce and meat from your local region.  Of course, there are special dishes traditional to Thanksgiving like cranberry sauce and pecan pies and apple pies and whatever might be your family’s favorite that are just never going to be local to you.  That’s fine, but do what you can.

Why? Not only will you support your local economy and hard-working farmers, but you save the environmental impact of whatever fuel it costs to get the food to you–that’s a smaller carbon footprint and reduced greenhouse gasses!  And you know…it wouldn’t hurt to be adventurous and introduce more local ingredients to your Thanksgiving table, even if they aren’t “traditional.”  Mix it up a little!  Make NEW traditions!

2. Be vegetarians!  GASP!  I know, I know…but seriously folks…we all know the sides are the best part of the meal and most sides are already vegetarian.  When I first told my parents I was not eating meat anymore, they sort of panicked about what I was going to eat, but when my plate was full of potatoes, dressing, three different salads, green beans, candied applies, and a big ol’ roll, I told them, “Look, I don’t even have room for the meat!”  And they got it.  Surprise, surprise!

Why?  Livestock and poultry production is problematic in a variety of ways.  It is beyond an environmental stressor.  Do a little research of your own.  Start here. And the animals are all so beautiful. And who wants to stress out about a dry turkey? Just skip it. And if you really want to have an even more positive impact on the environment…it might be a little bit harder…but try a vegan meal. Maybe not this Thanksgiving, but next? I’ll just let you ponder that…

3. Decorate (if you are into that sort of thing) with…food! Fruits and veggies are traditional fillers for a Thanksgiving cornucopia, all in the harvest theme, of course. The thing with this type of decor is, of course, it’s edibility. You can also use fall leaves, branch and twig cuttings, pinecones, berries on the stem, and the like. It’s rustic, it’s compostable, it’s very possibly FREE, and in the spirit of the season. Maybe you even saved some of those gourds and pumpkins from Halloween…plunk them in a pretty bowl, line them up on the mantel, or place them on the porch. Heck, set them in the fireplace with candles and make a sweet substitute for a fire (especially advised if you live in not so chilly parts of the country, yet find yourself with a fireplace). I like this:

thanksgiving fireplace

Why? It’s cheaper than fake decorations made of plastic or styrofoam or the like. It also had a much smaller environmental impact in its creation since nature made it with sunlight, soil, and water. It better represents the true spirit of the harvest celebration that gave origins to the holiday. It’s totally compostable, as long as you don’t paint your natural products with toxic paints or glitter, and you can potentially grow your own pumpkins/gourds next year! And let’s face it…it’s sooooooo super easy. I am so about the least amount of stress!

4.  If you have to use disposable plates or cups (heaven forbid!), for goodness sake, use paper-based or otherwise compostable products.

Why?  It’s compostable, way less toxic than the chemicals used to make plastic and styrofoam, and it keeps those non-compostable products out of the environment and out of the landfill.  Even paper products have a pretty nasty chemical trail, but there are reasonable, non-bleached products out there that have less of an impact than plastics and foam-based products.  You can also find some corn-based “plastics” that are compostable and perfect for one time usage.  Regular plates and glasses/cups are preferable, of course, because you can just wash them and be done with it.  But I get it…you might not have enough place settings for ALL of your guests…it makes sense for such an occasional situation to have a temporary solution.

5.  And finally, go organic!  If you can get organic ingredients, do it.

Why?  Organic ingredients are often fresher, though possibly superficially flawed.  Don’t let a few spots deter you from that organic apple…you’re probably going to peel them anyway for that pie, right?  Organic ingredients also lack potential toxic chemicals that some non-organic foods may contain.  The fewer toxins you consume, the healthier you will be in the long run.  And the fewer toxins used in growing the food, the healthier the environment will be.  Also…and maybe this is just some kind of placebo effect…I think organic foods taste better.  YUM!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone…I hope you find other ways to be green this holiday!

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The Halloween Aftermath!

Here we are, again…Holiday Season!

Happy All Saints Day, everybody! Or Dia de los Muertos for my Mexican friends.
sugar skull fabric

Since it is already the day after Halloween, I’ll forgo the helpful non-plastic, non-toxic recommendations for décor and makeup and head straight for the aftermath most of you will find yourself facing from behind a pile of candy wrappers and discarded costumes…

The best way to be green NOW is to reuse any decorations that can be safely stored away for next year…might as well save the money by recycling those plastic spiders and disembodied hands and orange/black/glow-in-the-dark “garland” strands, too. If you had a jack-o-lantern, go ahead and keep it on display as “harvest art” until it gets too gross to leave on your porch or starts attracting flies. Here in Texas, jack-o-lanterns don’t have very long shelf lives since it’s pretty warm, still, but northern states… what with your seasonally cooler weather (I’m only a wee bit jealous)… can have a cut pumpkin that stays pretty “fresh” for a few weeks. Whenever you are ready to say goodbye to Mr. Jack, go ahead and send him to your compost pile so he can return from whence he came and become fertilizer for your spring garden.

If you didn’t do it this year, save those pumpkin seeds when you carve your pumpkins and roast them in the oven for some tasty, healthy snacks.

Also, something to consider next year is choosing as many “harvest-themed” Halloween decorations so they can last longer and be on display right up until Thanksgiving. It’s easy, right? Think gourds, pumpkins, corn stalks, hay bales, etc. You can still go down a fright-themed path by making a scarecrow, other “people” made from clothes stuffed with hay, ghosts from fabric which can be washed and saved again for next year (or even sheets/tablecloths/towels that go back to being sheets/tablecloths/towels), and creatively painted/stacked haybales to make giant spiders, tunnels, or mazes.

When these things are ready to be replaced by Christmas decorations, they can all be composted or otherwise used without finding their way into a landfill or negatively impacting the environment at large.

Many gourds and dried corn can last in storage for years, as long as they are fully dried and kept dry when they are stored. It is probably best to use a plastic storage bin for such things, to avoid attracting mice that might sniff out a delicious harvest treat if they are stored in a cardboard box. I know, I know, I normally don’t recommend plastic, but storage bins are something that can last for a very, very long time—I have some that must be over 15 years old and won’t have to be replaced any time soon as far as I can tell. I also have a wreath with multi-colored dried corn on it that has stayed presentable for about 10 years…not a single mouse nibble!

Depending on your hay source and your yard or garden conditions, some people use hay as a way to protect bare spots from the erosion of winter rains, to act as an insulator/water gatherer for fallow garden plots (much in the way of mulch), or even as a means to get grass growing instead of just sowing grass seed. In the case of growing grass, you will end up growing whatever kind of grass the hay was before it was cut (obvious, right?) so…if you don’t know what kind of hay you have or where it came from, you might want to forgo this usage if you care about having a nice, weed-free lawn. I don’t, personally, but some people do…just be warned.

I could tell you all about the artificial colors and preservatives in your Halloween candy and how awful they are for you and your kids, but…I bet you kind of already know candy’s not the best thing to eat, and I bet you also know that a short-term intake of such things probably won’t do a lot of damage in the long run.

So. No Halloween Scrooge today. Maybe in a few days after that picked-over bowl of candy’s not looking so tempting anymore. Until then…I will be noshing on a few Reese’s cups, myself. YUM!

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Plastic-Bag Free?! Can it Be?

I have a personal vendetta against plastic bags.  Mainly because of their overuse.  I am flabbergasted when I go…say…to a convenience store and I buy…something like…a pack of gum, and the sales clerk automatically offers me a bag.  “For a pack of gum?” I will say, all incredulous-like.  And sometimes they laugh and say “oh, I just ask everyone that,” but sometimes they are dead tired of jerky people, and they just look past me to the next person in line.  This isn’t super-common in Austin, TX, but it is still possible.

I am even more flabbergasted when I go to a grocery store and buy approximately 50 items.  I will get home with anywhere from 8 to 20 (yes! 20! I have counted!) plastic grocery bags.  That’s anywhere from 2.5 – 6.25 items per bag.  I have tried to give instructions to the baggers like, “Please fill the bags up as full as they will go” in an effort to up the number of items per bag…I’m thinking it should be more like 12 to 15.  Then guess what they do when I’m not looking?  DOUBLE BAG THE BAGS!  WHAAAAAT?!  And then I have to stomp over to the recyling bin out front and un-double bag my groceries and place the superfluous bags directly into the recycling bin.  Okay, maybe I’m not really that dramatic about it, but I do get pretty miffed.

But what probably makes me more angry than double bagging the bags is when they put my milk jugs or laudry detergent into a plastic bag.  All by itself.  “IT HAS A HANDLE! IT DOESN’T NEED A BAG!” I want to scream.

But I don’t.  I DO sometimes try to bag my own groceries to prevent all this mess, so that works out pretty well.

And, yes, I know what you are thinking.  OF COURSE I should have been using reusable bags all along.  I mean, here I am purporting to be the Southern Girl who has Gone Green, right?  Well, I am no queen of green yet.  I am often harried like a lot of other people, leaving the reusable bags I have purchased en masse either at home or in the car.   I have thought about sprinting back to the car to get the bags, but I just don’t think that’s right when there are people waiting in line behind me.  I have bought new reusables when paper was not available, or opted for paper when the reusable display is too far from the cashier.  I have also, taken my groceries to the car without any bags and loaded them into the trunk all loose and naked.  What?  There’s nothing wrong with naked groceries!

BUT.  I am getting better because my dear city, Austin, TX, has declared that stores must no longer offer single-use plastic bags.  This local ruling of plastic bag limitation has caused a vast number of people to now bring bags with them.  Paper bags are largely available, as well, which were the ONLY grocery bags available when I was a kid.  Of course there is something of a learning curve for the baggers to achieve the paper bag packing method that will get the most groceries in the bag, yet stacked in such a way that the bag can be easily carried in your arms.

The fact is though, that there are still plastic bags, they are just supposed to be for “multiple” uses.  Also, restaurants may still offer them for take out, ice is still sold in plastic, and I’ve noticed that certain non-grocery retail stores are still offering them (I’m looking at you, Michaels).

I will confess that I am still using plastic bags myself.  I had a mountain of a recycling stash when the ban went into effect.  I had every intention of just stuffing them all in one of those store-front recycling bins, but I thought it would be a better conservation practice to use these bags as many times as I could before ridding myself of them.  So, I now permanently store portions of the stash in my trunk.  I grab about 10 on the way into the store, I try to make sure what I buy will fit in 10 bags, and I certainly make sure they are stuffed to the gills before they are considered “full” by the bagger.

Austin is not alone in this bag ban trend–several cities across the country–nay! across the world!–have banned the blight of plastic bags.  Several cities have tried to pass the ban, but they have been voted down, for whatever reason–mainly because businesses claim it is “bad for business.”  But this just cannot be true.  Get paper.  Sell re-usables.  How hard is that?  And how is that detrimental to business?  The only business it might be bad for is the plastic-bag makers.  They could easily transition to making something more durable and reusable, but honestly–the amount of petroleum that goes into something meant to be disposable is just criminal.

So, whether you live in a city with a ban or not, make the change in your shopping habits by adding reusables to your routine.  Or ask for paper.  Or hell, let your groceries run wild and free and naked in your trunk!  Do it.

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10 Ways You Can Go Green, Too!

If you don’t want to be green because you think it is too hard, and you’ll have to give up too many things you don’t WANT to give up, remember it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  Make the changes that you feel like you can, and when you feel like you are ready to take the next step, take it.  I promise the sense of accomplishment you’ll have will make you feel like doing more.  And knowing that you are becoming part of the solution in a variety of efforts (improving your own life, your environment, preventing future health issues in your life and maybe your kids’ lives, maybe your parents’ and friends lives, maybe even your pets), is its own reward.

A warning, though:  No one likes a scolder or a nag, even if you mean well (I apologize to my work friends who have taught me this lesson).  But try leading by example, or pointing your friends to this blog or others like it so they can decide for themselves or at least start asking questions about the way we live and why so many products on our shelves and in our houses are not good for us or the planet.

1.  Recycle.  This seems obvious, but if you don’t have curbside recycling (like I don’t) or if you live in an apartment, it takes much more effort to do.  If you get some dedicated bins, it might help you start thinking about where your trash is going…to a landfill? or to a place that it can be used again?  If we are talking about aluminum, you can get money back.  If you take that money to buy some replacement earth-friendly products, it technically pays for itself.  Glass is one product that is not only the safest to consume products from, it is one of the most efficiently recycled.  Texas doesn’t have a program anymore to pay bottle “deposit” returns, but some states pay 5 – 10 cents per bottle recycled…you could really clean up, literally (pun intended).

2.  Only buy plastic products with 1, 2, or 5 recyling numbers on them.  These plastics are least likely to leach chemicals into your food and they are also the most often recyled products.  Still, do not heat up anything in plastic, but you can use it for cold storage and transportation (like refilling a water bottle to use again).   Better yet, try buying some glass storage containers for your food/drink.

3.  Filter your water.  This can be as easy as buying a Brita pitcher or putting a filter directly on your tap and/or shower head.  There are a lot of chemicals used to treat municipal drinking water, and while this is obviously a good thing to keep us from catching diseases, we really don’t need (or want) to be putting these chemicals into our body on a daily basis.  A filter can cut down on heavy metals that may leach from pipes, as well.  It also achieves the simple result of making your water taste/smell better so that maybe you’ll drink more of it instead of buying bottles of water that have to be recycled or something like soda or sweet drinks we don’t really need.  And if you make tea/coffee/soup with this filtered water, I promise it will all taste (and be) so much better.

4.  Change one or two of your products.  So, some of my friends have gone into a panicky “I CAN’T GIVE THIS UP” reaction to some of the products I’ve outed as not so good for us.  So, if you love your shampoo, by all means, please keep using your shampoo.  But maybe try a different body wash (or lotion or perfume) that is free of negative chemicals.  You don’t have to go through a big purge like I did, but just try a few different things.  If you like them, yay! Keep using them!  If you don’t, keep trying!  I promise you will find things you like.  If you HAVE to wear your signature perfume, and you think it has phthalates in it, just compensate by trying to use other phthalate-free products.  Remember that (especially with hair and skin products) your body is going to have to adjust to new products.  Give it a good college try for two weeks.  If it just isn’t working for you, please go back to the tried and true.  You can always be green in other ways 😉

5.  Turn off and un-plug.  How many electronics do you leave plugged in all the time that you do not use on a daily basis?  Your toaster?  Your blender?  A stereo with lots of components?  Your hairdryer?  Your phone charger?  Now, obviously, we leave some things plugged in because we don’t want to crawl back behind a big piece of furniture to unplug them.  Why care about unplugging stuff?  Even if you aren’t actively using it, a plugged in appliance draws electricity that is often referred to as “standby” or “vampire” electicity use.  If you’ve had to live through “rolling blackouts” because the demand for energy surpassed that of the electrical grid, this is one of the reasons to unplug.  But what is worse, most of us get power from combustion-based power plants that use coal or natural gas.  Both of these types of combustion produce green-house gasses, but also take a significant toll on the environment to get and transport.  So, unplug appliances and your cell phone chargers when you aren’t using them.  For things like stereos, think about getting a “smart” power strip that shuts down unused electronics via its own monitoring sensors.  This will also cut down on your electricity bill.

6.  Buy organic.  Buy local.  Eating organic food eliminates a large number of toxins from pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones that we don’t need or want in our bodies.  Most grocery stores have organic options these days, but they tend to cost significantly more than non-organic varieties of the same product (and sometimes look uglier).   Don’t worry about the little blemishes or lack of shine on some of your fruits and vegetables…this means they haven’t been artificially dyed or coated with things to keep them artificially perfect.  A spot won’t hurt you.  You can often find organic products at local farmers markets for better prices and you (usually) also get local products there.  Local products reduce the impact of transportation and ensure that things are much fresher, and therefore much better for you.  Again, you don’t have to go whole hog all at once, just make changes as you can.

7.  Change your lightbulbs.  I know it’s a pain to go through the house changing out those old incandescent lightbulbs, but I promise it is worth the money and energy savings to get compact fluorescent bulbs or similar new, energy-efficient bulbs.  Not only do they save significant energy in consumption, but they are cooler (making your AC work more efficiently) and last much longer.  I have some that I think are 5-years old already and work just like the day I bought them.  Not like those annoying incandescents that seem to burn out every six months.

8.  Compost, if you can.  For apartment dwellers, this is a little harder, but not really.  Compost is basically throwing out your plant-based food scraps and yard cuttings/leaves into a dedicated location that will allow it to naturally break down into mulch.  If you live in an apartment, you can get a compost bucket, and either find a “natural setting” to dump it, or think about getting together with some neighbors to ask the apartment complex to designate a spot for a compost pile.  Avoid putting meat and droppings from dogs/cats in your compost pile, but egg shells are okay.  I have a big flower pot next to my back door that I dump this stuff into…I think it is 50% coffee grounds, and with natural filter paper, it all breaks down into stuff that is good for your flowerbeds.  This is nature’s recycling, and obviously it keeps this stuff out of the landfills.

9.  Be old-fashioned.  Now this one is broad in its potential, but I feel like half of the “improvements” we’ve come up with in our lives are not improvements but wasteful.  My grandmother (who was my babysitter when I was a child) grew up in the Great Depression,and she was the mother of 6.  She did not waste a thing.  She cooked in uncoated pans, made coffee in a percolator, and saved and ate all the left-overs until they were gone.  There were only paper bags from the grocery store when I was a kid, and these became trash bags.  She used rags to clean the kitchen and bathroom, not papertowels or other one-use throw-aways.  She hung clothes and sheets out on a clothesline to dry when she could.  She patched and mended clothes when they got  a little worn, and when they were worn beyond use or fashion, she cut them into scraps for other things like quilts or altered them into something else.  It doesn’t take a lot of ingenuity, it just takes thinking, “how did we do this before?”  What am I wasting?  You’ll also find yourself saving money.

10.  Start asking why.  If you are as befuddled about some of our products as I am, start contacting the customer service departments of these companies via e-mail or toll free phone numbers and ask why products aren’t recycleable (like K-cups),  if their products contain BPA and/or phthalates and why, if they do.  Ask about other toxic ingredients.  Ask about their sustainability practices and what they are doing to protect the environment.  If enough people start asking, they WILL listen.  Especially if you stop using toxic products.  Companies will feel it in their finances, which is really the best way to communicate to a big company.  I can’t do it alone, but if everyone starts asking, more people will know and eventually changes will begin.

I don’t want to preach to anyone, but if we want this planet to last for future generations, we have to start taking care of it.  And if we look at how the chemicals are impacting us, you can imagine what is happening to other creatures on this planet that have no choice in the matter.  It doesn’t have to be a complete lifestyle overhaul (but it can be, if you want to)–little changes do add up.  Just start.  You’ll be happy that you did.

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