Thursday, February 28, 2008

If Only I Had Known about This Eco-Friendly Site

So I write this column, "Green Like Me", for
Primal Parenting, and in the Spring issue my column will be about catalog waste. I won't let you know what I say in the column. You can go to their website and subscribe if you really want to know.

But, I will say this. If I had known about a website I stumbled upon today, Catalog Choice, the footwork for my column would have been a lot easier. What a fantastic site! 

Here is their mission statement:

The mission of Catalog Choice is to reduce the number of repeat and unsolicited catalog mailings, and to promote the adoption of sustainable industry best practices. We aim to accomplish this by freely providing the Catalog Choice services to both consumers and businesses. Consumers can indicate which catalogs they no longer wish to receive, and businesses can receive a list of consumers no longer wanting to receive their catalogs.

Basically, you register - which is very easy - then you can type in the name of any catalog that you receive that you don't want, and if the catalog is in their system, you can ask to have the delivery discontinued. If the catalog is not in their system, you can suggest that it be added. They say it should take about ten weeks before you stop receiving the catalogs that you discontinued.

If you don't think you get a lot of catalogs, you may not be right. I thought I received about 25 catalogs (which I thought was a lot), but in reality, I was receiving catalogs from 60 plus companies. 

Please take a minute to check out the Catalog Choice website.
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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Green Term of the Week - Locavore

Locavore - someone who eats locally grown food

Last year, the New Oxford American Dictionary made locavore its word of the year. 

Why is being a locavore considered green? There are several reasons.

  • Locally grown food is usually grown more naturally, with fewer chemicals and pesticides than food that is grown on huge corporate farms. Often it is grown organically.
  • Locally grown food doesn't have to travel far. That means that means that far fewer fuel is being used in transporting the food.
  • Locally grown food is usually minimally packaged. This creates less waste.
  • Choosing food from local farmers supports the small farms. If we don't support the small farms, they will continue to disappear and most of us will only have the choice of buying food that has been shipped from far away.

Some people choose to be full locavores, eating what is only locally grown and what is in season. I applaud them, but I don't see my family going over completely. I'm trying to buy more locally, and I really look forward to the farmer's market season when buying from local farms is easier. 

We're also going to grow a garden this summer so that much of our food is really local. 

If you can think of any other ways that being a locavore benefits the environment, let us know.
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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Green Products are Making Their Way to Club Stores

I stopped shopping at my local BJ's quite a few months ago. When I started buying a lot of organic food, many of the things that were cheaper at BJ's were not organic like milk, eggs and meat. But I still have a membership and yesterday I got their coupon magazine in the mail.

I was surprised at all of the organic options that the store is now advertising. Milk, butter, frozen fruits and vegetables, eggs, yogurt, ketchup, and olive oil are just some of the staples that were mentioned in the magazine. They are also carrying a lot more all natural products (but not necessarily organic) including all natural meats and lunch meats.

Some eco-friendly cleaning products were also advertised in the magazine, as well. 

A quick google of the other two club stores in my area, Sam's Club and Costco, shows that they, too, are adding organic, natural, eco-friendly and fair trade products to their shelves.

I think I'm going to have to plan a trip to my local BJ's sometime soon to check out what they are offering and what the prices are. 

Has anyone noticed that earth friendlier products are showing up on their club store's shelves. How do the prices match up to what you might find in the grocery store? Have you tried any of the products? Were they any good? 

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Recycling Wine Bottle Corks

Some things are so small that recycling them doesn't seem like a big deal. Like wine bottle corks. They are very small and biodegradable. Why not just throw them in the trash?

It takes the Cork Oak Tree about 25 years before the cork can be harvested from it. After that cork can be harvested from the tree every 9 years, but only cork from the very first harvest of a tree is suitable for wine corks.

Wine corks are not able to be used again as wine corks because of bacterial concerns, but they can be recycled into many other useful objects such as push pin cork boards, coasters and flooring. Cork flooring is becoming very popular. Over this past weekend, I saw at least three home shows on HGTV that used cork flooring in their designs and each show mentioned how environmentally friendly cork is.

While cork is environmentally friendly and renewable, it takes a long time to renew. It makes sense to recycle what cork products there already are. 

So where can you recycle your wine corks? The US is a behind other countries and there aren't many programs, yet, but there are a few options.

You can send them (at your own cost) to a program called Korks 4 Kids, a not-for-profit program, organized through Recycle Cork USA, LLC. to raise funds from the recycling of cork for Children's Charities.

They can also be sent (again, at your own cost) to Yemm & Hart, a green materials company that will recycle them into products.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

ENERGY STAR Change a Light, Change the World Campaign

If you live in my town, you may have noticed an article in our town's newspaper about this change a light campaign we're doing. But, I know not everyone reads it cover to cover, so I thought I'd discuss it a little here.

If you don't live in my town, you might still be interested in reading, because other communities can become involved in this campaign, too. You may want to mention it to the powers that be.

My town is encouraging 200 residents to pledge to replace at least one old fashioned light bulb in their home with a compact fluorescent bulb (CFL) that has earned the ENERGY STAR label. This campaign is kicking off on March 1, 2008.

If 200 residents change just one bulb per household, it is estimated that more than 80,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions will be saved over the life of those light bulbs. CFL's last 6-10 times as long as traditional bulbs and use 75% less energy. They cost more upfront, but save you money, and help save the planet, in the long run.

To sign up for the pledge, go to Energy Star's website, and click on "Join us, Take the Pledge." Fill out the form and in the organization box,  scroll down to our town's name (Borough of...) and pledge to change a light bulb (or 2 or 20). 

I know that a lot of people are leery of CFL's. They have a reputation of not giving off the same kind of light as traditional bulbs. I found this at first, too, but their quality has greatly improved over the past year and the ones I am buying now are better than the ones I bought a year ago.

Another concern is the fact that CFL's contain mercury and that the bulb's pose a hazard if they break. The hazard's are not that dangerous, and the EPA has a site that recommends what to do if one does break. Click, here, and scroll down the page to "What to Do if a Fluorescent Light Bulb Breaks."

You can also find the closest recycling center for CFL's, here, and I just found out as I was researching this that you can take CFL's back to IKEA stores where they have recycling bins.

For more info on CFL's you can go to Energy Star's information page on them, here.

Changing out light bulbs is one easy way that we all can become a little greener every day.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

What I Saw The Recycle Pick Up Guys Do This Morning

At my last green committee meeting for my community, it was mentioned that glass/plastic/aluminum and paper were going to be picked up by the same truck simultaneously from now on. It was more cost effective and more environmentally friendly because instead of two separate trucks driving around all day, only one truck needed to be used. 

I was wondering, is the truck divided so that paper goes on one side and glass/plastics on the other? How will this work? So today, I watched. The guys took everything I had placed outside to be recycled and threw it all into the back of the truck together. I was surprised.

In our community newspaper there had been an article about the two being picked up together, but I didn't bother to read it. So I hunted it down and here is what I found out:

There is new technology at the recycling plant that our town uses that allows for all items to be mixed together. That was as technical as the explanation got. I'm going to have to ask at our next green committee meeting how it really works because I'm confused.

Something else that was pointed out in the article is that now all the items to be recycled can be placed into one receptacle - no separation is necessary. Apparently, when this is allowed the percentage of items recycled goes up because people don't need to take the time and effort to put the things in separate containers.

Seriously? It's too much effort for people to separate their paper from glass/plastic so they just throw it in the trash can? 

Its good that my community has made this change. If it gets more people to recycle its even better. I just can't believe that people had trouble separating in the first place.

My next green committee meeting is the first week in March, so I'll have more to say about all the efforts that are going on to turn our little town green. Until then, if you live in my town - throw caution to the wind and mix those paper with your plastics/glass. Have a ball. 
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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It's Not Easy Being Green When You're Sick

We're sick around here. My mom who lives over in the next town is sick, too. I'm trying to take care of us all. I realized this morning as I ran to the grocery store that my eco-consciousness went into hiding sometime around yesterday afternoon.

I forgot my reusable bags (yes, even after yesterday's post!) when I went to the grocery store.

I didn't have time to go to the grocery store with the good organic choices so I ended up buying regular milk, regular eggs, and sports drinks in individual bottles for the boys at the closest grocery store.

I bought a frozen dinner to heat up for tonight because I know that I'm not going to want to cook.

And you know what, I'm okay with this. Of course, when we're all feeling better, I'll go right back to making better choices. But I've got a family to nurture, and I've got myself to nurture, too. Nurturing the earth is important, but not more important than making sure my family has what they need, including me when they need me. So if for two or three days I make a few choices that are convenient instead of green, they're the right choices to make. 

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Green Term of the Week - Gray Water

If you've ever used the water from the pasta you just boiled to water your plants, then you're already familiar with gray water even if you didn't know there was an actual term for it.

Gray water is water that has been used once but is safe to use again for another purpose (usually not drinking or cooking, though.)

Gray water is what is left after you've cooked (except meats), washed the dishes, done the laundry, or bathed. If you can capture this water, it can be used again. 

For a suburbanite like me, I would mostly use gray water to water the plants in my house (okay the plant in my house - still don't know how it's survived three years), and the plants outside my house. Since it's winter, I'm not using a lot of gray water right now, but in the spring when we plant our new organic vegetable garden, I plan on using a lot of it.

For more detailed information of gray water, visit If you decide you want to use gray water, read up on it first because not all gray water is suitable for all jobs.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Paper or Plastic? The Answer is not as Obvious as You Think.

I'm all for reducing our dependency on plastic grocery/retail bags. So many of them end up in  landfills, get stuck at the top of trees, or float along our waterways (harming the creatures that life there). Yes, they can be reused or recycled, but it's estimated that worldwide 1 million of these bags are used each minute, and a large percentage of these end up as trash.

It would seem that opting for paper bags when possible would be a solution. I have reusable bags that I take to the grocery store, but sometimes I don't have enough of them, and then I ask the cashier to put the rest of my groceries in paper bags. I use the paper bags around the house to collect other paper waste which ends up getting recycled. The paper bags never end up in the trash, they always end up being recycled.

I thought that paper was a much better option. 

Then I did some research. Turns out that although paper bags are more biodegradable, come from a sustainable source, and more of them are recycled than plastic bags, the making of the paper bags and the shipping of the paper bags is more environmentally hazardous than the making and shipping of the plastic bags. The Progressive Bag Alliance has some interesting statistics about what goes into making a plastic bag vs what goes into making a paper bag - even a recycled paper bag.

I never gave a thought to the shipping of the bags to the store, either. Plastic bags are smaller and weigh a lot less than paper bags. It takes more vehicles and more fuel to ship paper bags to stores. 

It seems like neither paper nor plastic are really environmentally friendly options. It also seems that those in favor of plastic have convincing arguments that plastic would be better. Those in favor of paper  have convincing arguments on the paper side. 

It's enough to make my unscientific head explode. 

It's also enough to convince me that I need to be more diligent about keeping my reusable bags with me. Then I won't need to worry about choosing between the lesser of two environmental evils (or trying to decide which is the lesser of the two before I can even choose!). 

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Cooking with Less Energy

I've always used my toaster oven instead of my full size oven to cook things if they fit because it's more convenient. It doesn't need time to heat up and it usually cooks things a little more quickly than the large oven. I can cook chicken nuggets in ten minutes flat for the boys if I need to.

I never gave much thought, though, to the fact that using the toaster oven uses a lot less energy than the large oven, but it does. 

There are lots of little ways that you can use less energy when you cook - every little bit you save helps.

  • Use the toaster oven instead of the regular oven.
  • Use a slow cooker (Crockpot) - even if it's plugged in all day, a newer model can use less energy than an oven uses in one hour.
  • Cook on the stove top with the lid on when possible - things will heat up more quickly and you will have the time the stove is on will be reduced.
  • If you're cooking something that freezes well, double the amount that you cook. It will take less energy to defrost and reheat the frozen meal than cooking it all from scratch.
  • Remember to unplug small appliances when you are done using them. Toaster ovens, microwaves, coffee makers, slow cookers and other small appliances use a small amount of energy if they are plugged in, even if they are turned off. 
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Friday, February 15, 2008

Keeping up with Green News on iTunes

I hadn't much ventured out beyond using iTunes for music until this past week. I have a 2g nano, not the new video nano, so I don't bother with videos or movies. I also didn't bother with podcasts until my friend told me that their was a podcast of an interview with Barbara Kingsolver that could be downloaded for free. So I downloaded it.

Then I started searching around the podcasts to see what was available. I found out that I can subscribe to weekly podcasts that both NPR (search for NPR:Environment on iTunes podcasts) and Grist (search for Grist:Environmental News) put out that summarize the week's environmental news. Both subscriptions are free. 

If you're an iTunes user, check it out.

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day!

I've been all about loving the earth lately, but loving the earth isn't nearly as important as loving the people in your life.

Take some time today to tell those that you love just how you feel. Tell your spouse, your kids, your parents, and your friends that they are loved. And eat some chocolate.
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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Green Term of the Week - Carbon Guilt

Carbon Guilt - The guilt that comes from knowing that your mere existence is causing the world to be destroyed because of the carbon footprint you leave wherever you go.

Okay, so this is my definition of carbon guilt. The term is fairly new, and others would probably not define it with such sarcasm. But essentially, carbon guilt is the awareness of your negative ecological impact on the earth and feeling badly about it.

One way that people can assuage their carbon guilt is to do something called "carbon offsetting." Proponents of carbon offsetting say it's possible to calculate your carbon footprint and do things like plant trees, donate to renewable or conserving energy programs, or donate money to open space preservation. By doing these things, proponents say, you will lesson the impact that taking an airplane flight, driving a car, or simply breathing has on the earth.

Carbon offsetting is becoming big business and when making money gets involved usually manipulation of the public gets involved, too. The result of this is carbon guilt. If the company's that deal in carbon offsetting can make people feel more guilty, they can make more money. Now, it can be argued that they will also do more good for the earth, and perhaps they do, but it's the guilt part that bothers me.

You should feel guilty about eating a whole sleeve of Girl Scout cookies and telling your husband the kids ate the whole box while he was away (wait, that was me), you should feel guilty about screaming at your kids when your mad at your boss (not me, I don't have a boss), you should feel guilty about breaking laws or telling lies or cheating at games or on your taxes. 

You should not feel guilty about existing. 

Sure, we all need to take responsibility for the preservation of this earth. And if participating in some sort of carbon offsetting program is how you choose to handle your responsibility, then fine. Just make sure the program is legitimate first. But do it because it's the right thing to do, not because you were guilted into it.

So this week's green term came with a little soap box lecture. Sorry about that. Between this carbon guilt and the people who believe having children is ecologically irresponsible, I'm a little grumpy.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My New Favorite TV Show - Get Fresh with Sara Snow

We can all agree that television has been quite sad lately between the writer's strike and some really awful reality shows. More and more I've been turning to The Food Network and HGTV for my viewing pleasure. I've also found a new favorite show on Discovery Health. It's Get Fresh with Sara Snow.

From the show's website:

In her new primetime series on Discovery Health Channel, Natural Living Expert Sara Snow bridges the gap between the mystique of healthy living and every day life; making healthy living everyday living.

I really enjoy watching Sara educate her viewers (me included) on the aspects of living a healthier, greener life every day. Even my eight year old son likes watching it with me.

The other night we were watching an episode that featured fashion made from sustainable materials. There was actually a sweater that had been made from milk. The milk is turned into a powder, some natural ingredients are added to the powder, and it is spun like cotton candy into a thread that can be made into clothing. How cool is that? The sweater was appropriately a milky white color and I would so wear it.

My eight year old was fascinated with the process of turning milk into clothing. I like this show because I find it both educational and inspirational, and the host, Sara Snow is a pleasure to watch - she's very likable.

If you're tired of the same old same old on TV, check out something Fresh.
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Friday, February 8, 2008

Two New Jersey Congressmen Propose a Ban on Plastic Bags

It's not too often that my home state of New Jersey is ahead of the curve on environmental issues - or any other issues. But when it comes to reducing the harm that plastic bags cause, the legislature is trying to be the first to put a statewide ban on the use of plastic bags in many retail stores.

I checked out the details of bill A-4555, and here they are as I understand them (keep in mind I do not have a brilliant political mind):

There are two main parts to the bill. The first is a recycling plan. Retail stores with over 10,000 square feet of space would need to provide recycling bins for collecting plastic bags. They would also need to have reusable bags available to sell to their customers if needed. In addition, any plastic bags that were used would need to have the words "Please return this plastic bag to a participating store for recycling."

The second part of the bill requires that the stores with over 10,000 square feet of space reduce their use of plastic bags by 50% by the end of 2009 and stop using them completely by the end of 2010. 

The co-sponsers of the bill, Assemblymen Herb Conaway, M.D. and Jack Conners site the long-term environmental consequences of plastic bags as the reason for the proposed bill. 

I will be contacting them, as well as my local representatives, in support of the bill. I know that the large retail companies will try to fight this. Once plastic bags are eliminated, the retailers will need to provide some sort of bag for those who choose not to carry reusable bags, and that means they will need to provide paper bags which are more costly than plastic. 

So, if you are from New Jersey I urge you to contact your state representatives and give your support for this bill. And talk up reusable bags with all of your friends. 

I love my reusable grocery bags that come from Wegmans. They are durable and hold much more than a plastic bag. Carrying in the groceries from the car takes less trips now. The bags only cost 99 cents each, and I use them for so much more than just groceries. 

If you want to check out the press release from the Congressmen, it can be viewed here.

If you want to look even further into the specifics, the entire bill can be viewed here.
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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Green Term of the Week - LOHAS

I've done a few green terms so far on this blog, and I figured I'd make it a weekly feature. So Wednesdays (or thereabouts) I'll be bringing to you some new green term for you to mull over in your mind.

Today's green term: LOHAS

LOHAS is an acronym for Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability.  You'll see this term used on the blogs of people who espouse this type of lifestyle, and you will also see this term used prevalently in marketing materials because there is a huge market right now for the items that these people purchase. 

Those who live LOHAS tend to buy and grow organic and locally grown foods, drive hybrid or alternative fuel vehicles, purchase fair trade products, buy recycled items, build with green and sustainable materials, purchase energy efficient electronics and appliances, and invest with environmentally responsible companies. 

There's a great blog The Lohasian that reports on news of interest to the LOHAS community. Check it out.
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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I Can't Believe I Just Read That

So yesterday, I spent some time searching out other green parenting blogs and articles. As I jumped from blog to blog, I began to see a common thread in many of the comments. Apparently, there are people out there who think that having children is environmentally irresponsible and the best thing we can do for the earth is population control. Some went so far as to say that the government should create laws prohibiting people from having more than one child.

Okay, my first reaction was not a good Christian one at all. I wanted to tell these posters that if they were so convinced that a smaller population was the key to solving the earth's problems, I would be happy to take them to a high cliff and allow them to decrease the surplus population right there and then. They'd be saving the earth, and the earth would have one less idiot to contend with.

I didn't find this point of view in the original blog entries themselves. These were after all parenting blogs. I found them in the comments that were left by others. So I did a little more research. It seems this is not just the opinion of a few crazies. They have published research by think tanks to back them up. Ugh. 

Seriously. Ugh.

It seems to me that the majority of our environmental problems have come from the belief over the past 100 years or so that we as humans should have whatever we want whenever we want it. If I want pineapple in February in the northeast, I should have it. If I I want to not do the dishes, I should just throw out my plates and utensils after every meal. If I want to look really cool, I should have an SUV, even if I really only use it to bebop around town in. 

Guess what? Having less children would not make this any different. In fact, without children, I would probably be more selfish. It was my oldest son's questioning about the impact our SUV was having on the environment (at age 6) that prompted us to get a hybrid. It is my younger son's enthusiasm for our proposed organic garden this summer that has me committed to the project. Without my boys I would probably be much more careless about the impact that the lives of just my husband and me had on the environment.

Choosing to have children is a huge decision for most people. But the fact that children will leave a carbon footprint behind should not factor into that decision.

I have more than just one reason for growing a little greener every day. But one of those reasons is because I want to leave this earth in a decent condition for my children and my grandchildren. And I will teach them to do right by this earth, too. 

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Friday, February 1, 2008

Provoking My Thoughts

Here are some things that caught my attention this week that are related, in one way or another, to living green.

If you can't afford to buy all organic produce, here is a list of the ten you should make a priority.
One Planet Fundraising is something for people looking for an alternative to wrapping paper and candy sales should look into.

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