Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It Can Be Done: Composting Anywhere

To most people, unfortunately, composting is still considered a mysterious and sometimes gross practice. Until you start to do it!! Then all your preconceived ideas about composting disappear -- and you start to appreciate nature more and reap the healthy benefits.

Additionally, I am also often told "I can't do composting because I live in a tiny apartment and have no backyard." This excuse is no longer good enough to get composting.

At its simplest, composting is the act of taking organic material and helping it to biodegrade quicker -- largely food scraps and yard waste. You then return the finished "compost" back to the earth -- enriching the soil by adding nutrients, helping the ground to retain water, and lessening the need for pesticides and herbacides (distributed compost into your soil does this for you -- protecting you and your family's health and water), and providing food for worms which are necessary for healthy soil (they aerate the ground, keep the soil's pH at its best levels, and their waste nutrifies).

I proudly say that EVERYONE can compost. And if me, being a city girl in stilettos, can go out and toss in some food scraps and work it with a shovel, then anyone can do it -- it's like a little science project ... but incredibly beautiful.

And according to the Environmental Protection Agency, there's a lot to be composted, keep out of landfills, and replenish our soils in the process: Yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 24 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream. You'll also help you and your community save money by reducing this waste collection due to composting.

Okay -- if you have a backyard, composting can be done outdoors. Many forward-thinking cities now have composting education programs (usually through your recycling center) and offer a free or discounted compost receptacle.

If you live in an apartment, you usually have two options:

  1. Purchase an indoor, bug-free composter machine, like from Nature Mill. You can also do worm-based composting indoors -- see this link on how to do that.

  2. Create a community composting program -- your community being your apartment building or surrounding neighborhood. Ideally this would be in a community gardening area.

In a place that you think wouldn't be conducive to composting, New York City has a wonderful educational program and partnerships to encourage composting. See this link.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Temperatures Rising Faster Than Predicted -- Your Family's Health and Safety in Danger

As detailed in the Washington Post today, newly released statistics by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show that the earth's temperature is rising faster than most scientific predictions. Says the article --

"The IPCC has warned that an increase of between 3.2 and 9.7 degrees Fahrenheit could trigger massive environmental changes, including major melting of the Greenland ice sheet, the Himalayan-Tibetan glaciers and summer sea ice in the Arctic. The prediction that current emissions put the planet on track for a temperature rise of more than 11 degrees Fahrenheit [Corinne Le Quéré, a professor at the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia and a researcher with the British Antarctic Survey, said] means the world could face a dangerous rise in sea level as well as other drastic changes."

According to scientists, this rise in temperature is being caused by an excess of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases are primarily carbon dioxide (CO2 – from coal, oil, gas), methane (from fossil fuel production, livestock and manure, rice farming, burning of fields and forests, and landfill emissions), and nitrogen oxides (emissions from motor vehicles, utilities, and any other fuel burning). These gases are produced in such high numbers by human activity that they cause global warming. Greenhouse gases can be significantly reduced if governments, companies, and communities work together.

Rising temperatures change weather patterns, cause many areas to be too dry and other areas to be too wet, melt ice sheets causing a rise in ocean waters and therefore submerging land, and your fresh water sources are also significantly reduced. Here's more on all the dangers of climate change and your family's access to water.

The conclusion in today's Washington Post article is that the problem is two fold:
  1. The United States continues to lead the world in greenhouse gas emissions, which doesn't make an easy argument for other countries to reduce their emissions. By comparison, since 1990 the U.S. has, according to Richard Moss of the World Wildlife Fund, emitted 30 gigatons of carbon emissions into the atmosphere, while China has only released 7 and India 1. So, the U.S. needs to step up and be a leader in greenhouse gas reduction so that the world follows suit.
  2. Developing nations are rapidly contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Says the Post article "Developing nations have roughly doubled their carbon output in less than two decades and now account for slightly more than half of total emissions, according to the new figures, up from about a third in 1990. By contrast, total carbon emissions from industrialized nations are only slightly higher than in 1990. " We need to encourage worldwide adherence to environmental standards so that developing nations don't follow our polluting path.

HOW YOU CAN BE PART OF THE SOLUTION --

Voice your concerns and change your buying patterns -- these are your two greatest tools in curbing greenhouse gases.

Write to your government leaders and ask that the U.S. curb carbon emissions and all greenhouse gases to a higher standard than the rest of the world. Also encourage those leaders to be engaged on an international level in setting global environmental standards.

Additionally, educate yourself on buying more eco friendly products that would produce less greenhouse gases. Certainly buying local helps, as well as staying away from products that burn or destroy rain forests. And consider purchasing carbon offsets to help curb your carbon footprint. The carbon offset programs I trust the most are My Climate, Climate Friendly, and Native Energy.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Does China Care About the Environment?

Certainly there's been a lot of justified bashing against China for safety and quality issues of its products, its pollution, and other environmental problems. But the irony about that is how the Chinese people actually feel about the environment and sustainable products.

According to a new Green Brands Survey, "nearly a third of Chinese consumers say environmental issues trump economic concerns, compared to 28% in the U.K. and just 17% in the U.S. ... environmental concerns influence Chinese consumers purchasing intent more than their western counterparts. Sixty-nine percent expect to spend more money on green products in the coming year compared to 38% of consumers in the U.S., and 33% in the U.K."

See my related post about the Olympics in China reflecting an ideal, safe world that also honors the environment.

You have to ask yourself -- are you just as concerned ... or hopefully more ... about what you buy?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

BPA Talk -- What Should You Do?

BPA, which stands for Bisphenol A, has been widely in the news the past two weeks. It is a chemical in varying quantities of the linings of many food and beverage cans, as well as in many polycarbonate plastics.

The FDA is denying that BPA has harmful effects, citing two studies funded by the chemical industry to back up its claims.

But in over 100 independent studies, including one just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association – BPA is linked to many serious physical problems. There’s heart disease and diabetes, prostate cancer, breast cancer, early puberty, hormone disruption, and the list goes on.

I believe BPA should be banned and that the FDA needs to listen to consumers, health professionals and scientists, and environmental groups more than industry. What are the chances of it being banned soon? Not great. It’s unfortunate.

Maybe a better approach is that instead of banning it we change strategy and lobby for any product with BPA in the packaging be labeled as such and let consumers choose. That is what was done recently with trans fat.

In any case, this is a personal, family, public, and environmental issue that we all must take responsibility for. The way to do that is to
  1. Write to your state and federal officials and ask for BPA to be banned or put on the label.
  2. You can also write companies you buy product from and ask the same thing.
  3. You can further write the stores you shop at asking them to require their suppliers to ban BPA or label it.
  4. Buy BPA-free products whenever possible. Some forward-thinking brands and their products will say BPA-free on the label.
The reality is that going green takes your voice.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Why marginalize Seventh Generation?

Okay -- I didn't get this. I was in Target yesterday and was looking for Seventh Generation laundry detergent. Two weeks ago it was in the same aisle and shelving area as Tide and all the other major brands. Today it had disappeared. I asked where it went. It had been moved two aisles down into a "healthy living" section. This really ticked me off!

To me it reeked of marginalizing a brand which was selling hot off the shelf (you could tell how much more it was selling by the lack of its inventory compared to the other regular detergents on the shelf). By moving that brand to a corner aisle it was hard to find and appeared to not be on par with the other more well-known brands. This stunk. I've e-mailed Target. We'll see what they say. My point is that if eco is going to be mainstream, you've got to treat it that way and give it equal attention so that the average consumer will take notice. We'll see ...

UPDATE 8:27 AM: I sent the e-mail to Target late last night -- 10:30 PM Pacific. By 8:08 AM Pacific Time this morning I've got a response. Here it is ...

Dear Terra Wellington,

I'm sorry your recent trip to our Target store didn't meet your expectations.

We're always looking for ways to improve your shopping experience. Hearing about the Seventh Generation products were moved down to two aisles down in the section, is important to us. I've documented your thoughts and comments, which will be shared with our Store Operations team for further review. It's just one way we can keep working to provide you with the experience you've come to expect at Target ... (generic stuff about talking to an employee if you have a problem) ...

... We appreciate your feedback because it helps make Target even better.

Sincerely,
Jason
Target Guest Relations
www.target.com

Monday, September 15, 2008

Light Up While Staying Low

Some of the things I haven't liked about compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are that they nearly always have slow brightness (they reach their full brightness about 5 minutes after turning on) and have mercury content. And many CFLs aren't very bright even after 5 minutes.

This past week I picked up one of the newest CFLs from Sylvania to try them out -- the Micro Mini Twist. The packaging said "instant on" and they were small enough to match the traditional incandescent size. Also, the lumens level was high -- 1280 -- which told me I was going to get a nice bright light. You choose lights with higher lumens when you want to get more light and more brightness.

I was not disappointed. The lights are the best CFLs I've found for instantly turning on and brightness while still retaining energy savings and lasting a long time (approx. 11 years).

Later I found out another point that should be listed on the packaging -- according to their press release on the product "The low mercury SYLVANIA micro-mini contains just 1.5 milligrams of mercury, compared to up to 5 milligrams for other CFLs." This another big selling point for me -- just wish all lighting manufacturers would put their mercury content on their packaging as another comparison point. I'm sending a 1 minute e-mail to the company to request an update in their packaging regarding the mercury content.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Aluminum Foil or Plastic Wrap?

Ever wondered which is better from an environmental perspective -- aluminum foil or plastic wrap? I love the explanation found at Ideal Bite. But here are the key points from an environmental perspective --

CHOOSE recycled aluminum foil whenever possible.

HOW TO GET IT -- If you can't easily find recycled aluminum foil at your local store, ask them to carry it. But in the meantime, the next time you shop at Amazon.com you can add a package of If You Care 100% Recycled Aluminum Foil Roll (this one comes in a 5 pack, which is economical).

CLEAN AND RECYCLE -- clean off used aluminum foil and then throw it into the recycling bin. Aluminum is great for recycling because it can be endlessly recycled, unlike plastic.

ALTERNATIVELY, if you must use plastic then make sure it isn't made from PVC. Obviously, you can't use aluminum foil in the microwave. Ziploc, Saran, and Glad brands are all free of PVCs. After use, if the plastic is completely clean it may be able to be recycled -- ask your recycling center for their guidelines.

HEALTH CONCERNS -- Although environmentally it seems like aluminum foil would be the best way to go, there have been some questions about aluminum and if by using it there are any health concerns we should be aware of. Here are the points I have researched:
  • Ideal Bites says "Keep in mind that aluminum reacts with anything salty or acidic and could end up in those kinds of food - and yes, you can have too much aluminum in your diet."
  • The Washington Post says "There is little doubt that whatever aluminum leaks into our foods from cookware is a small fraction of the aluminum we ingest through normal eating, drinking and breathing on our aluminum- pervaded planet."
  • Canada's Department of Health has a long explanation of aluminum concerns and says "Studies have shown that the amount of aluminum that leaches from aluminum cookware and aluminum foil into food is generally negligible."

BOTTOM LINE -- It seems to me that it would be good for you to choose reusable containers over aluminum foil and plastic wrap when you can. From there, choose aluminum foil as a first choice, then non-PVC plastic wrap.

To Paint or Not to Paint

I was on the hunt for finding a paint match for two colors to paint walls in my home yesterday. I had only two pieces of drywall with the original colors to match from.

First went to Lowe's. I knew they had the Green Seal certified Olympic Premium brand there which had zero VOCs. Choosing products that are low or have zero VOCs are important to me for the health of my family and the environment. But to my frustration, Lowe's could not match the paint color. Don't know if it was that store's color scanner, Olympic's paint matching configuration, or something else. Ugh.

So, next I went to Home Depot. I asked what they had in terms of low or zero VOC options. They only had one option: The Freshaire Choice Paint. Great! I thought. Until I was told that there was no paint matching available for that brand. You could only choose from about 30 set colors. What?? They only matched for their Behr brand and Glidden brand paints. Freshaire's parent company is ICI Paints, which also owns Glidden. Being left with Behr and Glidden and not wanting to run to yet another store -- I'm like any mom short on time -- I asked if Behr or Glidden had any low VOC or zero VOC options. Nope, I was told. "But neither Glidden nor Behr are horrible with VOCs," said the Home Depot attendant. Well, I knew that wasn't the best advice but I was on a deadline. I purchased Freshaire primer (zero VOC) and Glidden Evermore (not sure about VOC content) for my paint -- which got a perfect match to my wall. Sorry to say it, but I didn't have all day to run around town and figure this out. So I've taken 2 minutes today to write an e-mail to Home Depot to ask for more zero VOC paint options. We'll see what they say.

UPDATE 9/14/08 -- Come paint time, for some reason one of the Glidden Evermore paints didn't exactly match the wall, even though on the test drywall piece it did. So, I went back to Lowe's, stood at the wall of color samples, and found the best match I could. I bought another gallon of of the Green Seal-certified Olympic Premium, came home, mixed both the Glidden Evermore (to not waste it) and Olympic Premium colors together and repainted the entire room (instead of just a portion). Is any remodeling job easy?!? At least I'm done.

UPDATE: 9/25/08 -- I was contacted by the folks at Olympic Premium. They have an eye out on the Internet for anything being written about them and had read my blog. They are checking into the Lowe's store where I had the problem finding a paint match with Olympic to see if they can correct the tech issue. So, it's not to say every Lowe's is going to have a tech issue, but I'm glad they're checking into the problem I had and that Olympic is a brand that wants to put out a quality product at all levels.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Weekend Notes -- Petro Ice and Cracked CFLs

This weekend we were moving into a new home and two things really struck me.

First -- I went to go buy ice at the CVS drugstore, and the only ice choice was the Sparkletts brand. Once I got back home to the cooler and open the bag of ice I realized there was not just one bag but four bags: the main bag and then three other bags which split the ice into three "servings." A minute later I had all the ice dumped into my cooler and four petro-plastic bags. So much plastic for so little use! I've logged a complaint with the company by going to their website and sending an e-mail to customer service -- explaining my complaint, asking them to use less plastic, and encouraging them to look into bio-plastic options such as corn-based plastic.

9/12/08 UPDATE: Got a semi-custom e-mail back from the company's web support person -- "We are sorry to hear you are unhappy with the packaging of our ice products, your concerns will definitely be taken into consideration and will be forwarded to to appropiate department. " We'll see if it goes further.


Second -- I also went to Lowe's to buy more energy-efficient light bulbs for the new home. Even with as much as I know about lighting, it never ceases to amaze me how long it can take to go through the possible lighting options. And there is usually not a full line of anything but traditional incandescent -- so frustrating. Anyway, the big beef I had with this big-box retailer this weekend is that several of the CFLs were broken in the energy-efficient section. I brought to the attention of no less than 3 associates who a) didn't know it was a hazard (a broken CFL leaks a small amount of mercury into the air and is considered hazardous waste by the EPA) and b) didn't take me seriously when I asked that they carefully go through the shelves and clean up the broken CFLs. So, another e-mail went out to Lowe's later today asking them to pay more attention to the situation.

9/12/08 UPDATE: Lowe's was very efficient in getting back to me. First I got a personalized e-mail asking for my address to verify I was an actual person sending the complaint. Then I got another e-mail with a thank you for the address and that someone would be contacting me. Within 48 hours the store manager from my local Lowe's called me directly to profusely apologize and to better understand my concerns. He said he would rework that store's attention to the lighting section and have ongoing inspections. He also said he would send out a special response team to thoroughly go through the entire inventory to make sure no CFL was sitting on the shelf broken. Additionally, he said he would read up on the EPA's website guidelines for safe CFL cleanup. See! One person can make a difference.

9/14/08 UPDATE: I was in Lowe's this morning. They've done a complete clean up of the CFL section -- it even looked like every bulb section was cleaned up too. LOTS of bulbs were gone -- I bet you more than just the 3-5 I noticed were broken (hmmm ... mercury in the air anyone?). So, the good news is they took me very seriously and, I'm sure, will keep a close watch on that aisle in the future. This may even have a national effect, as stores share problems/solutions with other stores in their regular managerial meetings.

Good Note -- For a positive comment, I thought it was great when we went to IKEA that they have fully inacted their charge-per-bag program at checkout. You either pay a few cents for a plastic bag or you use a reusable bag. You can also carry out your items sans bag, which is what we did. Wonderfully bagless!


All it takes are a few moms who take note of an issue and bring it to a company's attention in order to get noticed.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ever Saw "The Matrix"? Check Out "The Meatrix"!

Sustainable Table and Free Range Studios have included another installment of their short film series "The Meatrix" which makes the case against corporate-owned, unhealthy livestock, poultry, and egg farms. If you want to better understand the unsustainable food issues and be introduced to family-farm solutions, watch the 3-part series at -- http://www.themeatrix.com/. (PARENTAL NOTE: Although these shorts are animated, they are meant for older teens and adults.)

Here's the first short in the series --



The second installment -- The Meatrix II
The 2008 third installment -- The Meatrix II 1/2

Dosing Your Food with Radiation is just a Band-Aid for a Bigger Problem

Most consumers aren't aware of a ruling by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration on August 22, 2008 that "allows the use of irradiation to make fresh iceberg lettuce and fresh spinach safer and last longer without spoiling."
Although irradiation is still voluntary, opening the door to its greater use creates two BIG problems:
  1. Covering of unsanitary farming practices -- the talk of irradiation wouldn't even happen were it not for unsanitary farming practices that cause bacteria like E. coli to reach your food. By allowing irradiation, big-business, corporate-run farming does not have to clean up their unhealthy processes and, instead, continues unchecked while your food gets modified to suit their profit interests.
  2. Questionable benefits to consumers -- in fact, according to research by the Los Angeles Times "dosing food with gamma rays or electron beams can destroy vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C and thiamine." Irradiation can also reduce the amount of Vitamin A and folate in the spinach. Since all of these potential nutrient reductions are invisible to the human eye, only the smart consumer who reads and understands labels will know the difference. And there is still no guarantee that irradiation will kill all the bacteria in your food. Food washing, even with irradiation, is still a must do.
Certainly food safety is important. After the last couple of years of produce scares and E. coli bacteria sicknesses, the public would want to make sure their food supply is safe. However, I would say that protection of big business, which is unethical for our government to do, plays a bigger part in this ruling than food safety.

When you buy food for your family, you will know if the food has been irradiated because it will contain the Radura logo (see green round logo to the right -->) AND the FDA requires one of these two statements: "Treated with radiation" or "Treated by irradiation."

I feel this is a slippery slope for our government to turn onto -- choosing to further chemicalize and alter our foods rather than clean up the source of the problem which is to require livestock and produce farming unsanitary practices be stopped.

If you would like the FDA to hear your concerns about food safety, you can e-mail or call the FDA by going to this link. You can also contact your state and federal representatives about your concerns -- type in your zip code here to find out who are those officials, and you can write them a letter online or call them. These are the issues you may wish to address:
  • You are concerned that the FDA is not taking action against unsanitary farming practices
  • You are against irradiation of food and would like there, instead, to be emphasis on clean farming
  • You would like livestock farms to be more regulated and uncrowded to improve the sanitary conditions that affect the health of the animals, the environment, and surrounding produce farms
  • You would like to see more government emphasis and incentives for organic farming of all kinds

Weening Off The Bottle

The Center for A New American Dream has a fall campaign "Think Outside the Bottle" to help you change your family's bottled water habits.

You take a pledge to use a reusable water bottle instead of buying bottled water AND to find ways to support healthier local public water programs.

The Center also has five fabulous reasons why you should give up bottled water -- the short version is ...
  1. "At least 40 percent of bottled water is tap water anyway."
  2. "Your tap water is fine to drink."
  3. "Bottled water is expensive!"
  4. "Bottled water is full of oil."
  5. "Disposable plastic water bottles are not meant for multiple uses."

Read more about the reasoning behind each of these five points here.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Foreshadowing of Future is Now -- Robert Redford On Saving Arctic Wildlife Refuge

Although this video was made in 2006, it seems as current as if it were made today. Watch to find out why you should stop Arctic Wildlife Refuge oil drilling and how you can take action.