Monday, June 30, 2008

Still Time to Sign Up for Mini Eco-Challenge

Tomorrow starts July's mini eco-challenge. There is still time to sign up for one of five easy, doable, 7 day challenges. Please click on the link and check out what I've suggested for this month. There is bound to be something for everyone.
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Still a Long Way to Go to Embrace Voluntary Simplicity

More and more, I'm seeing how going green and embracing voluntary simplicity go hand in hand. I'm implementing things like simplifying my family's schedule so that we have enough time to walk or bike somewhere instead of jumping in the car or I have enough time to cook a decent meal instead of opening a box.

But we're getting ready to go on vacation, and I'm realizing how far I have to go until I've really embraced voluntary simplicity. Have you ever noticed how much stuff you end up buying to get ready for vacation? For me, it's always been a good excuse to buy a few pieces of my wardrobe I've been meaning to buy, get a new pair of comfortable (yet stylish) shoes for walking, buy a spare pair of sunglasses .....

I find myself mentally fighting the urge to buy stuff for this vacation. It's a big one - just my husband and me going away for our 15th anniversary. I needed to go out over the weekend and buy a new backpack because my sunscreen spilled in the one I've had for years. I've washed it in the washing machine a couple times and left outside to air out, but the smell is still really bad. Bad enough that I get a headache from it (I am fragrance intolerant). So right off the bat, I've got to buy something before vacation.

I went shopping for a new backpack and ended up looking in three different stores before I found the right one (the right one ended up being the exact same one I've had for years, just in a different color). In each of those three stores I found myself looking for things besides backpacks. Clothes. I don't need any new clothes. But I always buy new clothes before vacation. It's ingrained in me.

If anyone could have heard the conversations going on in my head as I held a pretty gauze top with embroidered flowers on it, they might have thought I'd been possessed by Gollum. The tricksey little gauze top did not win. But I wasted a lot of time looking at things that I had to then fight with myself not to buy.

I've been rather pleased with a lot of my efforts lately. But my experience this weekend helped me to see that I shouldn't be giving myself a medal anytime soon. Right now, voluntary simplicity is a novel concept for me. It's kind of hip, trendy. But if I'm going to truly embrace this way of living, I've got a lot of real changes to make and many of those changes need to be in my head.

Am I the only one fighting with myself to create the type of lifestyle that I want for myself and my family or are some of you struggling with learned thoughts and behaviors, too?

Related Posts
Planning Your Vacation with a Green Focus
Green Term of the Week - Voluntary Simplicity
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Friday, June 27, 2008

July's Mini Eco-Challenge

It's time to sign up for next month's mini eco-challenge.  June is almost over and summer is in full swing. My tomato plants are full of yellow flowers (can't wait for actual tomatoes), school is out and my boys are getting along like brothers (that's how I answer people when they ask me how they get along with each other), we're getting ready for vacation, and here in the U.S. things are turning red, white and blue all over. Oh, and the farmer's market e-mailed yesterday and said there will be corn next week. Oh, yum!

Yep, all signs point to the beginning of July. 

If you've recently discovered A Little Greener Every Day, we have been doing one week mini eco-challenges at the beginning of each month for the past few months. They are small manageable environmentally friendly changes you can make that you only need to commit to for 7 days (although you're welcome to continue with them after the seven days are up).

Enough talk. Here are July's mini eco-challenges:

1. Don't buy any individual beverages in any form of bottle or cup. No soda, juice, iced tea, sports drinks, water, coffee or any other beverage in an individual bottle or cup whether it's plastic, aluminum, glass, paper or any other material. Now may be the time to invest in some reusable travel bottles and coffee mugs. 

2. If you are running central air conditioning in your house, turn your thermostat up two degrees. It's estimated for each degree you turn up the thermostat, you save 2% in energy.

3. Replace 10 regular light bulbs in your home with compact fluorescent bulbs. According to the Energy Star website, each CFL uses 75% less energy and lasts 10 times longer.

4. Take navy showers. I'm throwing this one from our first challenge back in the mix. Now that it's summer, perhaps some of you might be willing to try this one. A navy shower is when you get in the shower, soak yourself, turn off the water, soap up, then turn the water back on to rinse off. You only have the water running when you are initially getting wet or when you are rinsing off.  I actually started doing this recently. 

5. Wake up 1/2 hour earlier each day and go outside with a journal and write about going green, your thoughts about the environment, what you hope to accomplish environmentally, what you are seeing in the natural world while you are out, or anything else that has to do with this green journey you are on. Take a few minutes out to not write and just enjoy creation.

So those are your challenges for the month. Pick one. Pick all. Or anything in between. Me, I'll be challenging myself (big time) with #1 and #5. I've been doing #5 a couple times a week, but I'm going to commit to doing it for an entire week. As for #2, hubby runs the thermostat, so I'll suggest it, but I can't make any promises. 

So pick a challenge. I triple dog dare ya!
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Your Proudest Green Accomplishment

First of all, I want to thank everyone for chiming in with support about my drinking problem yesterday. I'm taking Allison up on her challenge and committing to one week without diet soda. Actually, any soda. If I sound a bit grumpy around here, you'll know why.

So I've been noticing some new commenters here and there lately, and according to Google Analytics, my readership has been increasing nicely lately. So I thought today, I'd ask everyone to chime in. I'd like to know who you all are. So here's what we're talking about today.

My proudest green accomplishment up to now is my garden. Having an organic, thriving vegetable garden is really exciting for me. Amazing what gets me excited these days. It's not just the garden itself, but it's the conversations that creating and taking care of the garden has allowed me to start with my boys that make me see how important the garden is.

I want to know what your proudest green accomplishment is. Introduce yourself in the comments and toot your own horn. 
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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Can Recycling Aluminum Cans Help with My Drinking Problem

I have a drinking problem. No, it has nothing to do with all the wine that I drink that I talked about a few weeks ago. It's an addiction to diet soda. I've tried to give it up. I've tried to convince myself it's unhealthy for me. I've even discussed it here before. A couple of weeks ago, I decided to really give it a go. Not for my health, but for the environment. 

The more I learn about plastic, the more I realize that using so much of it is just not good. Even if I recycle it, it doesn't get recycled into another plastic bottle. It gets downcycled. So every time I buy a plastic bottle of diet soda, it's new plastic that it's coming in. I stopped buying it. I've had it in a restaurant a few times because I know it's coming from a fountain.

I've been exhausted. My body is not reacting well to being denied all the caffeine and who knows what else I was filling it with daily. I had a meeting night before last at church, and I broke down and bought a soda on the way. 16 oz of yummy, fizzy, diet soda in an earth harming plastic bottle. I only felt a little built guilty. 

Today, I was checking tonight's weather on and there was a little survey on the side. The survey asked "How many times can you recycle an aluminum can?" It gave a few choices as answers. I chose 5. I was wrong. The correct answer is "unlimited." 

"Wow," I thought. "I didn't know that. Impressive." Then I went on with my work.

A minute later, it struck me. I can buy soda in aluminum cans! I don't have deal with my drinking problem! I can buy 12 packs in reyclable cardboard boxes instead of 2 liter or 16 oz plastic bottles. 

Alleluia! I think I head the angels sing!

Seriously. I'll have to give this some thought. I really should quit drinking the stuff, but it's nice to know that the aluminum can is a better option if I'm unable to control myself.

I've found some interesting facts about recycling aluminum cans.
  • Recycling aluminum cans saves 95 percent of the energy used to make aluminum cans from virgin ore.
  • It takes about 400 years for aluminum to break down naturally.
  • Using recycled aluminum beverage cans to produce new cans allows the aluminum can industry to make up to 20 times more cans for the same amount of energy.
  • Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a television for three hours.
  • Recycling aluminum creates 97% less water pollution than producing new metal from ore.
  • Aluminum recycles in no time at all. When you send a can to a recycling depot, it’s processed, recycled, and back on the shelf again in about a month.
And, the most interesting fact I found:

  • Aluminum can be recycled over and over without breaking down. In theory, we have an inexhaustible supply of it in circulation right now. If we recycled all our aluminum, we’d never have to make more.
These facts really make you think, don't they? Mostly, they make me think that when I do choose to buy a single beverage and I have a choice between plastic or aluminum, I'm going to choose aluminum. Even if the aluminum container only holds 12 oz and the plastic one holds 16 oz. 

12 oz can ease my withdrawal symptoms just as well as 16 oz, right?

Aluminum recycling facts found at:

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Green Term of the Week - Green Roof

I went to a lunch and learn at Greenable (the Philadelphia green building supply store) on Monday. I've been attending their monthly educational lectures because I'm doing research for both my writing and the addition that we are planning for our house next year. We want to make our home as energy efficient and sustainable as we can afford. One of the things my husband and I have been talking about is a green roof.

A green roof is a roof on a building that has been covered with vegetation. There's a lot more to it than just sticking some dirt on top of your roof and throwing down some seeds. A proper green roof has several layers starting with the roofing materials and then waterproofing materials, drainage materials and others are layered on top of the roof before the vegetation is planted. 

There are many environmental benefits to a green roof. Here are some of them that I learned at the lecture.

  • It increases storm water retention which produces a cooling effect to the air around as the water slowly evaporates.
  • It improves air quality around the building.
  • It reduces low level ozone.
  • It can reduce energy costs in a building up to 30% because the roof is not absorbing heat and holding onto it. The heat is released when the sun goes down.
  • Urban wildlife habitats are created with some green roofs.
  • The roofing materials under the vegetation last much longer than exposed roofing materials. They last longer and that keeps roofing materials out of landfills.

It seems, however, that in the U.S. these types of roofs are predominately being put on large buildings, not residences. If we want to do a green roof on our addition, it will probably be very costly because we'd have to have it specially designed. It's not that it can't be done. It's just that no one's doing it right now. Perhaps we'll have to find another way to make our addition sustainable, but we haven't completely ruled it out yet.

Have you ever seen a green roof? Where was it? 

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

10 Easy Ways to Be More Sustainable in Your Kitchen

New feature here at A Little Greener Every Day. Tuesdays will now be 10 Easy Ways to be More Sustainable ... days (at least until I run out of ideas). We start today with:

Ten Easy Ways to Be More Sustainable in Your Kitchen
  1. Take a light bulb or two out of your overhead light fixture - if it has 3 or 4 bulbs in it, remove one or two and you'll use less electricity (thanks Sunny for this idea!).
  2. Use your toaster oven instead of the oven if possible.
  3. Save the water from cooking vegetables/pasta to water your plants.
  4. Switch to all natural, biodegradable dish soap.
  5. Hide the paper towels and use rags to clean up your messes.
  6. Eat your leftovers.
  7. Get a counter top composter and compost your fruit and vegetable scraps.
  8. Keep a pitcher of tap water in the refrigerator to have cold drinking water on hand instead of running the faucet till it's cold or drinking bottled water.
  9. Save the plastic bags from bread, veggies, the inside of cereal boxes and other things to be reused before they hit the trash.
  10. Unplug appliances like the toaster oven, coffee maker, and microwave when not in use. \ (yes, I know it will mess up the clocks on some of them - you can deal with it, I know you can.)
See - easy. Tell me about your easy ways to be more sustainable in your kitchen.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Letting Businesses Know You Appreciate Their Sustainable Efforts

Yesterday, my mom, the boys and I went to Kildare's Pub in West Chester, PA to hear my friend Allison's Irish folk band, Beyond the Pale, play (they are awesome, by the way). I have no idea if the restaurant owners care about sustainability or not, but I was impressed by some of what I saw.

  • My children were served their drinks in regular glasses instead of plastic cups with lids.
  • We were given cloth napkins instead of paper ones.
  • When I asked for a leftover container, I was given one that is made from paper and is biodegradable, not a styrofoam one.
One of the items on my to-do list for today is to e-mail the restaurant and let them know that I noticed these things and that I appreciate them. I often read the advice to contact businesses and let them know you'd like them to be more sustainable.

Perhaps, we also need to be contacting businesses and letting them know when they are doing a good job at being sustainable. Let them know that we notice it and it means something to us. Let them know that we are likely to return to their business because of what we noticed. If no one tells them they are doing a good job in these areas, they may stop.
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Staying Green at the Pool

I've got a new article up at Naturally Savvy about Staying Green at the Pool. We've got a pool membership, and I'm committed to leaving as a little of an environmental impact as possible there this summer. The article gives tips on how I'm attempting to do that. Check it out.
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Friday, June 20, 2008

Busy, Busy Friday (In the name of living a more simple life!)

We're busy around here getting ready for a yard sale tomorrow. We're selling a lot of stuff. It's difficult deciding what is sellable and what is actual junk. My boys are selling a lot of their toys because they want a Wii. We told them they could have one if they saved ALL the money up themselves and got rid of the gaming system they already have. They can only have one.

I'm selling a lot to cut the clutter, find homes for useful things that I just don't use, and help me on my path to Voluntary Simplicity.

The post I had planned for today is going to get pushed to Monday because I just don't have the time to write it up. I've got a lot of sorting and pricing to do. 

Question: Are you working towards voluntary simplicity? What actions are you taking. 
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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Off Shore Drilling, 45 More Nuclear Reactors - What Can We Do?

Yesterday was not a warm and fuzzy news day. The Mississippi is rising. The Taliban is wreaking more havoc than usual. President Bush wants to drill off shore. Senator McCain wants to build 45 more nuclear reactors in the next 20 years. 

I expect the last two news items to be discussed on most environmental/green blogs over the next few days. Both of these men will be blasted for their proposals. And there is definitely some reason to do so.

But here's the thing. They are trying to appease a nation that has become addicted to energy. The news will talk about our oil addiction, but aren't we really addicted to anything that makes and uses energy. If we can't have all the fuel for our cars, electricity for our homes, and strawberries in February that we want, we get pissy. 

These men are just giving us what we have proven time and time again what we want - quick, cheap and seemingly endless sources of energy. Perhaps, if we want to really send a message to them and all politicians, in addition to letters to our congressmen and an infinite number of columnists and bloggers complaining and analyzing and blaming, we should USE LESS ENERGY.

Here are some ways I plan on using less energy today:
  • Making sure all lights, tv's and radios are turned off when a room is left. With the boys home from school now, lights are being left on, but I've already talked to them this morning about changing that. 
  • Plan the errands that I have to run today so that I drive the shortest distance while still getting everything done.
  • Ride our bikes to the pool and take all our own snacks for trashless snacks and drinks.
  • Car pool to a dinner that I have tonight.
  • Remember to power down everything in my office when I'm going to be out of it for more than a half hour.
Like I told my boys this morning, if we didn't use so much energy, the politicians wouldn't be scrambling to find out how to make more energy. If we want them to make responsible choices about creating energy then we need to make responsible choices about using it.

How are you going to be more responsible today with your energy choices?

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Green Term of the Week - Lawn Busting

Lawn Busting is the process of taking your lawn from grass covered to plant covered. There are many different terms floating around right now - "grow don't mow," "lawns to gardens," "food not lawns" and other terms/sayings - that have the same idea.

So why? What's the difference between grass and plants? Why are plants "greener" in some people's eyes than grass? There are several reasons.

  • Nothing to mow. Unless you are using a push mower, you are using fuel/energy to mow your lawn. I've read that running a gas mower for just one hour produces as much pollution as eight cars driving at 55mph for that same hours. Wow. That's a lot. Getting rid of the majority of grass on a lawn and using a push mower to mow what is left, can get rid of a lot of pollution.
  • Fertilizing lawns with chemicals is killing our planet. There is a high price to be paid for lush, green lawns. The chemicals used to keep them looking perfect are harming wildlife, children, our water ways and who knows what else.
  • Native plants are good for the environment. Part of replacing lawns with plants has to do with purposely planting native plants that don't need to be watered much. Plants that are native to the particular region you live in are native for a reason. The amount of rain that typically fall in that region and the type of soil are ideal for those plants. That means a lot less watering to keep the plants alive.
    It also means that native wildlife will have a place that is ideal for them to hang out.
  • Planting organic food gardens instead of grass helps people to become self sustaining and nourishes the earth. When food comes from your own backyard instead of the grocery store, lots of good things happen. You get fresh, healthy delicious food without having to hop in your car (which uses fuel and creates pollution) to get it. You inspire your neighbors to plant gardens, too (at least this has been my experience). You keep trash out of landfills (no packaging to throw away). Organic gardeners frequently replenish the soil with healthy compost instead of leaching the soil of its nutrients. The list could go on.
Lawn busting is gaining momentum in America. There are people who have no lawns left - even in the front. It's something my husband and I are talking about. With our boys, we still need a place for them to run around. But because of our boys, we have never bothered to try to keep the lawn nice, anyway, so we don't use chemical fertilizers. But we do use a gas mower (but we wait until it the grass gets nice and high before we mow).

We turned a nice chunk of the backyard into a veg garden this summer. I anticipate turning another back portion into a strawberry patch next year. As the boys get bigger and don't need as much room to run around, we'll slowly turn more of our yard into garden - both veg and other plants. My husband may even agree to get a push mower.
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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Looking for Mini Eco-Challenge Ideas

I can't believe it's June 17th already. I can't believe today was the last day of school! It couldn't have come soon enough. If I'm this ready for it, imagine how ready my kids are. Tomorrow will be a throw away day. Nothing on the schedule.

If they want to sleep in, they can sleep in.

If they want to watch movies all day, they can watch movies.

If they want to play video games till their eyes bleed, they can do that, too.

But the day after tomorrow we get down to serious summer doings. The pool, the beach, working out in the garden, playing with friends, catching fireflies (did some of that tonight), and chasing the ice cream man down the street shall commence.

And time will fly. Which is why I'm already thinking about July's mini eco-challenge. I thought I'd ask for some suggestions for our monthly one week challenge. What are some simple challenges that we can make for just one week that will make a difference. Maybe we'll even adopt some of these changes permanently.

Allison over at It's the Little Thinks has made one of June's challenges, hiding the paper towels, a habit. I'm attempting to make another of June's challenges, cooking one meal completely from local ingredients, a weekly habit. What's great about these mini-challenges is they let us commit to something for a very manageable period of time, and when we see how easy some of them are, we realize it won't take much to make a longer commitment.
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Book Review: Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic

It took me over a month, but I finally finished reading Affluenza. It is such an information rich book that at times I could only a read a few pages before I had to put it down and think or journal about what I had just read. 

According to the back cover, affluenza is "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting  from the dogged pursuit of more."

The book explains how Americans became infected with affluenza, what its symptoms are, how it's negatively affecting our social, mental and physical health, and how it is negatively affecting the environment. 

It's difficult to sum up the book in a short review, so I'm going to write about what I was struck by most. Here it is. In the U.S., our country's health is defined by the gross national product (GNP). In order for the government to say "we are doing well" the amount of stuff that we produce and consume needs to be constantly going up. If everyone in the U.S. were to collectively say, "we've had enough, we don't need to keep buying stuff" our country would consider itself in huge trouble.

This is just scary. In order for people to continue to afford more and more stuff, they need to make more and more money. Most of the time, making more money comes from working more. In the U.S., most people are already working an unhealthy number of hours. So people become unhealthy so the country seems healthy.

The book does a much better job than I am at explaining how this is a problem and how it will become a bigger problem if our measure of health does not change from the GNP to another method that takes a look at not only how much we consume but how good the quality of life we have is.

The book was written in 2001 and published before 9/11. It's fairly prophetic in places. It predicts what will happen when oil prices rise (as they have recently), when the economy becomes bad and families loaded in debt end up in foreclosures (sound familiar?), and food prices begin to rise. When the book was written, the authors didn't know when these things would happen, but they knew they would eventually. Well, eventually is now.

It may not seem like it, but I found this book very inspiring. It brought to light a lot of problems but it also proposed solutions to those problems. Solutions that I can be a part of. I'm glad I chose to read it. It has helped me to make the choice to move from simply looking at what I'm trying to accomplish as a thing that helps the earth but as a thing that helps people here and now including me and my husband and kids.

I've already begun my next book - not The Omnivore's Dilemma as I had meant, but one titled Serve God, Save the Planet. With any luck, by the time I'm done reading it, I'll have spent a little time reading up on how to write a book review.
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Monday, June 16, 2008

How to Recycle Old Video Cassettes and Floppy Disks

I just came across a really great place to donate your old video cassettes and floppy disks to so they can be recycled. It's a  program called ACT (Alternative Community Training). They take donations of these items and have their employees erase the data on them so they can be reused again. Their employees are people with disabilities who are able to have a job because of the ACT programs.

See how good this is. You can donate your items to a place where you know they will be recycled and you'll be helping to provide jobs to a population that has difficulty finding jobs. It's doing good and doing good. Gotta love it.

To learn how to donate, click on this link here. It looks like they also take cd's, dvd's, and old cassette tapes. Oh, and you're donations are tax deductible. The tax deduction should be able to offset the price of sending the items and then some. Sweet.
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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Being a Green Example Pays Off

My six year old received a video game that was not quite appropriate for his age for his birthday. He had played it over his friend's house and really liked it, so his friend's mom went out and bought him a used copy (Yay used!) as a gift. It was thoughtful, but we decided he couldn't keep it.

We went to return it to the store where they bought it and let our son choose another used game that was for his age.
When he went up to make the exchange, the cashier started to put his new(ish) game in a bag. My son looked at the young man and said, "I don't need a bag for just one thing."

To which his proud mommy screamed loudly in the store, 'That's my boy!"

He's heard me say it so many times that it's ingrained in him now, too.
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Friday, June 13, 2008

Ideas for Recycling and Resuing Polystyrene (a.k.a. styrofoam)

One of my early blog posts on this site was a rant against packing peanuts. It's not even their unenvironmentalness that I hate the most. It's the fact that they get statically charged somehow and stick to everything and fly in the air when I'm trying to dispose of them. It's like they are taunting me. They're saying, "You can't get rid of me that easily."

It's the truth, isn't it? You can't get rid of packing peanuts or anything else made of polystyrene easily. Polystyrene is the actual name for the stuff that most of us refer to as styrofoam. Styrofoam is actually a trademark from Dow and true Styrofoam, while a type of polystyrene, is different from the polystyrene that we see in "styrofoam" cups or packing peanuts.

I've been reading about various methods that are used in Europe that melt polystyrene down and turn it into other things, but here in the U.S., anything like that isn't available yet - at least to the general population. Those of us who bring polystyrene products into our homes in the form of packing peanuts, packing blocks, egg cartons, take-out containers, coffee cups, etc. have a very difficult time disposing them unless we just throw them in the trash.

Why is recycling it not an easy option? From what I can determine, it' s mainly because it's so cheap to make and so lightweight for its size that transporting it to be recycled is cost-prohibitive.

So what are our options?

Reuse or give away the packing materials. The peanuts, the big blocks (along with other packing things like wadded up paper or air pillows) are very reusable. You can save them to reuse yourself, donate them to a shipping center or Freecycle them. There are plenty of e-bay sellers out there who would be happy to take them off your hands.

Take or mail your polystyrene to Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers. If you go to this website you can find the recycling centers that accept polystyrene and if there isn't one near you, you can mail it. Because it's so expensive to transport, curbside recycling of this type of material is not going to be coming to your town any time soon. If you're really serious about having it recycled, this is an option.

And that's about it. I wish I had some more options for you. Sure you can use some of it for kids' crafts or use the egg cartons to start seedlings. But, for the most part, there isn't much that can be done about the stuff.

So my best suggestion is to use as little of it as possible.
  • Don't frequent restaurants and fast food joints that use them to serve their food.
  • Take your own reusable coffee mugs to places that use them for their coffee.
  • Buy your eggs in cardboard cartons or easily recyclable plastic cartons (generally a plastic with a #1 or #2 on it).
  • Ask shop owners who do use it to consider switching to something more earth friendly.
  • Ask your butcher to wrap your meat in butcher paper instead of buying it on a polystyrene tray.
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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Summer Craft Projects over at Tree Hugging Family

Jennifer over at Tree Hugging family has a list of some "great summer projects, crafts, and nature activities for kids."

We've had unexpected half days at school this week because of the heat, and I've already realized I'm going to need some cool things to do with my kids this summer or we'll drive each other crazy. Jennifer's post has some fabulous for stuff to do with the kids like make your own solar cooker. Most of the activities listed are environmentally friendly or teach something about the environment. 

My tip: Don't tell the kids you're trying to teach them something. Just tell them you're going to have fun.
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Becoming Familiar with My Local Ecosystem

My third grader studied ecosystems this year. While studying with him, I re-learned a lot of science terms that I probably haven't heard since my own grammar school days. I haven't had much of a use for that particular vocabulary throughout my life.

But that's changing. As I've been making strides over the past two years to improve the environment, I've actually become interested in knowing more about the physical world around me.

I've just finished reading
Affluenza (yes, I know - it took me a long time - book review to come soon), and towards the end of the book there is a quiz about how well you know the world right around you. Here are a few of the questions:

  • Name five resident and any migratory birds in your area.
  • What animal species have become extinct in your area?
  • What spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom where you live?
  • What kind of rocks and minerals are found in your bioregion?
  • What is the largest wilderness area in your bioregion?

Okay, if this were a school quiz, I would have failed miserably. I can name a few birds (robins, bluejays, cardinals) in my backyard. Migratory? Does that mean the Canadian Geese that fly over in the fall?

I don't know any extinct animal species in my area, but I bet there are some.

Wildflowers? Are crocus wild? I've never planted them, but they pop up before everything else in the spring.

Rocks, minerals, wilderness - clueless. And honestly. I'm not even sure what my bioregion is. Excuse me while I go look that up.

Okay, I'm back. Here's the definition of bioregion:

A territory defined by a combination of biological, social, and geographic criteria, rather than geopolitical considerations; generally, a system of related, interconnected ecosystems.

Still not sure exactly what my personal bioregion is, but I'm pretty sure my backyard is part of it. And those questions from Affluenza, I can't answer most of them about my own backyard.

I've been waking up early recently and heading out to the picnic table with my journal, books and my coffee. I've been writing down the things I see, hear, and smell (natural and unnatural). My husband asked me why it's important that I start to learn about these things. Does knowing about them really make any difference in what I'm trying to do. Can't I go green without knowing what kind of birds and flowers are native to my backyard.

I suppose I can, but I don't want to anymore. I want to understand the world whose health I'm trying to improve. I'm constantly amazed at what this journey get me interested in next.

What are you interested in now that you would have never gained an interest in if you hadn't started to go green?

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Green Term of the Week - Hypermiling

The news about gas prices and the gas supply over the past few weeks have been alarming. We've been watching a lot more news commentary type programs lately, mostly because of the elections, so I've been listening to all of the reasons why the experts think the gas prices are going up so quickly.

People are beginning to conserve gas in ways that they haven't for decades. This isn't a bad thing. The other day one of the kids across the street was having a birthday party at a play place and he invited my boys and another neighbor boy. I went across the street and asked the other neighbor boy and his mom if they wanted to ride to the party with us. Every little bit helps.

There are those that are really taking the "every little bit helps" maxim to heart and practicing something called hypermiling to save every drop of gas they can.

Hypermiling is the act of driving your car so that you can maximize gas mileage. It includes things you may already do like using cruise control and keeping your tires inflated, but it also can include more extreme things like drafting - the practice of turning your car off on the highway and allowing it to use the reduced wind resistance from the car in front of you to work for you.

It's easy to see why hypermiling is becoming popular right now. Between the high gas prices, the concern about the oil supply, and environmental awareness, people are looking to conserve. If you're one of those looking to conserve, I suggest you try some of the hypermiling tricks, but be careful of some of the more extreme, dangerous ones like drafting.

Here are some links to sites with some ideas:

The Ultimate Guide to Hypermiling
Maximize your Car's Efficiency with Hypermiling

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

New Jersey Tomatoes Declared Safe from Salmonella

The FDA earlier today declared New Jersey grown tomatoes as "safe for sale and consumption" in the wake of the salmonella outbreak that is happening across the country. I'm glad to read this because I took my chances and ate the tomatoes I bought at the local farmer's market this week. Even though they are still hot house tomatoes, they're pretty good. Can't wait until the outdoor grown ones appear in a couple of weeks - YUM!

You can read the story about New Jersey tomatoes being safe here.

Oh, and fyi, I'm having trouble changing the size of the font on blogger - so if the print is smaller than usual, sorry about that. Technical difficulties are definitely not my specialty.
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June's Mini Eco-Challenge - How Did You Do?

Well, how did you do? Me, I'll give myself a 70%. Not so great, I know. I did the walking - well over 15 miles. But I didn't start reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, and at this point it will be due back at the library before I even get a chance to pick it up. That's okay. I will get around to reading it.

Now for my local meal. Not all of it was local. The main course, some very yummy honey chicken kabobs, was made from ingredients I bought at the farmer's market on Saturday morning. The chicken came from Lancaster County (91 miles away) and the vegetables were all from farms in New Jersey. The mushrooms came from Kennet Square via the farmer's market. Unfortunately, the marinade was not made from local ingredients. I was going to buy the honey from the bee guy at the farmer's market, but he wasn't there last week. I don't think I can get vegetable oil or soy sauce locally. If I'm wrong, someone please let me know.

Here's my husband cooking the kabobs. They were really good. Definitely something we will be serving to guests. With them, I served a loaf of bread from a local bakery. But, I also warmed up some leftover Purdue chicken nuggets for the boys (they would have gone bad if I didn't use them) and a box of Uncle Ben's natural rice as a side dish.

I've decided to do this weekly over the summer. Hopefully with greater success than I had this past weekend. As the crops become more plentiful and there is more variety, it should get easier. I'm not happy that I didn't succeed 100% with this. I could have. Mainly, I didn't want to get a lot of whining from my kids so I added some things that were sure to please them. I know. I'm a wimp.

Something else that I got locally at the farmer's market that day was a bunch of lillies. The woman said she had gone out to the fields the night before to pick them. Many of them weren't open when I bought them, but today, three days later, most of them are open and they are beautiful. I had made a decision not to buy flowers unless they were grown locally, and I have been waiting many months for the farmer's market to to open so I could have fresh cut flowers again.

I'd love to hear from all of you who took the challenge and see how you did. I hope you did better than I did, but if not, who am I to judge. We'll have another mini-challenge in July.
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Monday, June 9, 2008

Wine in a Box may be Greener, But Will I Buy It? Part 2

Friday, I told you about my introduction to wine, and while the wine my friend Susan and I consumed that night may have been less than yummy, it was at least in a bottle and had real cork for a cork.

I also discussed how it is that wine a box can stay fresher much longer than wine in a bottle once it has been open. I'm convinced that wine in a box will stay fresher longer, but I don't particularly care. I want my bottle and I want my cork. And, really, an open bottle of wine usually doesn't last too long around my house.

I've also been reading lately about how boxes of wine are also more environmentally friendly. This, of course, caught my attention.

Here's the lowdown. The argument is that boxed wine is much lighter than bottled wine and therefore a lot of energy waste and emissions are saved in the shipping of the wine. According to The Wine Group who recently purchased Almaden and Inglenook wines, by switching from glass bottles to bag in a box (otherwise known as BIB packages), there will be a 60% reduction in the carbon footprints of those brands. That's some savings.

But how easy is it to recycle these BIB packages? Are both the bag and the box recyclable? And more importantly, if they are recyclable, are they made of the type of recyclable materials that most townships collect? There are many materials that are recyclable, like styrofoam egg cartons, but finding a convenient place to take them to be recycled is difficult. If it is difficult to recycle BIB's, most people will not recycle them.

After much searching, I could not find the answers to those questions. I found one site Better Wines, Better World, that is obviously a site developed by the marketers of wineries that sell wine in a box. It gives statistics on how beneficial the packaging is, but it doesn't mention exactly what it is made of or how to recycle it. In fact, I can't find any mention of recycling anywhere on the site which makes me suspicious that recycling the containers is problematic. I have no proof of that, but the lack of mentioning it on a site that is designed strictly to get the info out about how green wine in a box is makes me skeptical.

I do know that glass is recyclable and that most of the people I know, if they do recycle, recycle glass and paper more than any other materials. 

I wish I had more concrete facts. I'm sure if wine in a box is becoming more and more acceptable by the second as the pro-wine in a box articles I read mentioned, additional information will be easy to find soon.

But until then, if you aren't convinced that wine in a box is greener, or you simply aren't willing to give up your bottle and your cork, here are a couple of suggestions to still do some good while drinking your vino.

  • Buy organic wines. Sure the box that the wine comes in may be greener, but what about the wine inside the box? How were the grapes grown? If they were grown in vineyards that use harmful pesticides to produce grapes in a mass amount, then they are harming the earth and quite possibly your body. 
  • Buy wines from local vineyards. If your wine doesn't have to be shipped from the producer to your local wine store, does it really matter how heavy the packaging is? If you're going to the vineyard itself to buy the wine, it seems to me that point is moot. 
So, to answer the question in the title - Will I buy it? Probably not. If I haven't mentioned it yet, I like my bottle and I like my cork. Plus, I'm not convinced it's actually greener. And, I've had wines from a box before at different parties, and I have never had one that I thought was all that good.

However, I have been known to do solicited product reviews from time to time. So if there is a winery out there who would like to send me a box or two to sample and review, I'm game. Go ahead, try to change my mind. I'm sure my friend Susan would be happy to help me out!

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