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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. - Part. II

In a previous post I already talked about reducing our garbage, energy, emissions and pollution.

Taking steps toward reducing all of those in one's life will have a huge impact on our environment.
But, the most important thing to do when it comes to reduction of waste is reduce consumption.
Consumption is where it all starts: the energy to produce, the pollution and emissions for shipping and packaging, the layers and layers of packaging for the product itself, and eventually the disposal of the product.

You are the most important person in the process of waste prevention. Think twice before you go on a big shopping tour. And obviously I'm not talking about food shopping here - we all have to eat.
For food, try to follow these simple food guidelines to be on the environmentally safe side:
  • buy in bulk whenever you can
  • visit farmer's markets
  • shop locally grown produce and local animal products
  • prefer organically grown food whenever possible (especially when it comes to the dirty dozen list) 
  • bring your own shopping bag
  • bring your own fabric produce bags (these are amazing! They'll keep your produce so much fresher! Locally you can get them at go lightly and if you don't live nearby, check out natural stores or the internet)
  • have plant-based meals as often as you can 
  • avoid foods that are packaged in many layers
 So much for the food. We can't really reduce the amount of food we consume (or, actually, some of us should, um, including myself), but we can reduce packaging, energy, emissions and pollution by choosing wisely.

Now let's talk about another big part of our never-ending consumption: clothes!
Most fabrics are made of cotton. Conventionally grown cotton is a big hazard for the environment, and production for fabrics requires a ton of energy.
One way to reduce the impact on the planet is going for organic cotton.
Writes Rachel Sarnoff at celsias "It takes an astounding one-third of a pound of pesticide to make one t-shirt and two-thirds to make a pair of jeans. (Dump a pound of flour into a bowl and keep that visual in mind the next time you go shopping." Yuck!

Digging a little deeper, I learned that cotton, the material that most clothes are made of, requires immense amounts of chemicals. Less than 3% of agricultural land is planted with cotton, but it consumes 20% of all pesticides used, and 22% of all insecticides. Five of the 46 commonly used chemicals are considered ‘extremely hazardous, eight ‘highly hazardous', and 20 ‘moderately hazardous' (source: WWF).

To process cotton into cloth, loads more chemicals are being used to soften the fibres, strip them of their texture, bleach them white and then dye into their final colors. According to BBC, thousands of different chemicals can go into the making of a t-shirt.

Wow! Think about that before you buy that T-shirt or pair of pants that you saw in a shopping window the other day.
Easy ways to avoid harming the environment by clothes-and fabric shopping:
  • choose organic fabrics (organic cotton is grown without chemicals. This is better for the environment, and better for people)
  • visit local thrift stores, they often have an amazing collection - and it will save you some money, too!
  • garage sales and swaps are other options to get nice clothing and fabrics
  • and last but not least: reduce your wardrobe: really, how many new pieces of clothing do we need?

We have too much stuff! From clothes over toys to electronics and simply everything!
We need to rethink our actions and realize that we have to change our old, bad habits.
Try to avoid these common consumer habits and help the environment by reducing waste, energy and pollution:
  • Buying something just because it's on sale
  • Getting a second set of dishes/linen/glassware/... just to have it in case
  • Taking our kid's imagination away by giving them too many toys
If you have about 20 minutes, you can check out this video - it shows in a very entertaining way that we have too much stuff!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Last Minute Ideas For A Green Father's Day By Jennifer Gannett

So, it is almost Father's Day and you have the best of intentions but limited resources (I include time here) -- and you'd like to keep your gifting footprint as small as possible.  I know the feeling.

Here is a nice roundup of some simple ideas that are more eco-friendly than a last minute gift from a big box store.  Many can be paired together and all will certainly make the father figures in your life smile!
1.  Small but crafty options might include recycled bottle candle holders or a paper bag journal.  

2.  Unique planter ideas will brighten Dad's or Grandpa's (and anyone else's) day.

3. Have some empty frames lying around?  Want to craft your own (I love these from toilet paper rolls)?  Or hit the thrift store for some?  This customizable, printable eye chart is a quick, fun project.

4. Etsy, Craigslist and ebay all have options to plug in locally and find out what sellers are near you for last minute, out-of-the-box shopping without worrying about shipping!  Find Etsy's shop local page here.  

5. From the kitchen: mini-pies in a jar (for Dad to keep in the freezer until the mood for pie strikes), whoopie pies, homemade granola (any sweetener will do, vegans!), ketchup, bbq sauce or for a more exotic condiment, why not try something like this rhubarb, lemon and chile preserve?  Don't forget that you can give a hand-made gift certificate for anything! (or you can print some out - here are some from the venerable Martha Stewart)

6. An adventure: how about a picnic without disposables (a thrift store sheet is perfect for a picnic blanket or a table cloth) and a visit to a pick your own fruit stand (click here to find a listing near you) or, if you are located in the New York area, a booking into an edible wild plant foraging tour with WIldman Steve Brill?

7. A book!  A used book or two is a great idea.  A free book can even work - check out BookCrossing.  Children can make their own book and fill it in. 

8. An iTunes gift -- while we can certainly make many points about the environmentally unfriendly effects that computers, phones and mp3 players have on our planet, this is not the post in which to do so.  If the dad(s) in your life enjoy music, tv shows, movies or would be tickled to get some new apps, then a gift certificate would be a welcome choice!  No need to buy the plastic card-- just head over to the iTunes store and they will be happy to take your information and email the recipient.  You can also purchase specific content and have it emailed via iTunes.

9. Here are a few more good low impact ideas applicable to any gift giving season.

Have fun thinking about, honoring and showing love to the papas in your lives!
Jennifer Gannett lives outside of New York City with her family.  A long-time environmentalist, in her free time she enjoys cooking and eating mouthwatering vegan fare, daydreaming about crafty projects and advocating for animals and the environment.  She is a frequent contributor to

Father's Day Frame Card (Made From Recyclables) - By Kristen Shoemaker

My friend Kristen Shoemaker created this adorable card with her 3 1/2 year old son Will.
Kris is the most creative person that I know and I hope she'll be contributing to my blog on a regular basis.

  • Will and I first decided on a picture of him and his father.  We used a cereal box for the frame base.  (This part I did as cutting cardboard calls for sharp scissors.)  I decided on a vertical frame shape because the picture shape is long and narrow.  You can cutout any shape frame that your child decides upon, even oval.
  • To cut the opening in the frame card for the picture to be placed I first folded the frame in half lengthwise.  Then I measured the picture and cut the frame opening 1/8" smaller than the picture all around.  This is so there is extra space left around the picture to tape it to the inside of the frame later.
  • Will and I then sorted through our recyclable papers to find images that he liked to decorate the frame.  Depending on the age of your child you may need to do most of the cutting and pasting.  Will chose the papers for specific places on his frame and I glued them on.  A glue stick works well.  After I glued on a piece I trimmed it to the size of the frame.  
  •  The "DAD" letters at the top of the frame are vintage findings we had from our favorite local shop "PARCEL".  It's fun to incorporate vintage findings to add a special touch.
  • After I glued the papers to the outside Will chose another piece of paper for the inside of the frame which was glued in to cover the tape which you will use to fasten the picture with.  I used packing tape to fasten the picture to the inside of the frame.  It is less messy than glue and you don't have to wait for the drying time which suits my son well when he wants immediate results. 
  • After gluing the large sheet of paper to the inside of the frame and trimming it to the size of the frame Will added his personal touch of a drawing.  You could do many different things here such as a favorite song of dad's or a poem or a quote.  Or your child could continue with another collage on the inside.
Happy Crafting!
 Can't wait to try this!!!

As for Father's Day - just a few tips how to make it father- and environmentally friendly:
  • A self-made gift is key: reduce consumption is SO green
  • If you can, stay local and leave the car in the garage
  • For picknicks, avoid disposables (think water bottles, napkins, cups, cutlery,...)
  • Cook a home-made meal with the kids - voila, another gift idea (as if Dad doesn't get that almost every day, haha!)
  • Most importantly: enjoy the day with your family!
Happy Father's Day!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. - Part. I

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” has become the official slogan when it comes to environmental issues on an individual basis.

I actually like to add “Reconsider” to the list, but we’ll get to that later.

For now, let’s focus on “Reduce”. So what does reduce mean for an individual?

I bet your first thought was garbage, of course! And that is a good start.

We all agree that reducing the amount that goes into our landfills helps our planet.

Ok, agreed. So, how do we reduce garbage?

  • Compost (See also my post about composting)
  • Give items that you no longer need to someone who needs them
  • BYO (a.k.a. Bring Your Own) – from shopping and produce bags to coffee cups for on-the-go etc.
  • Switch to reusable water bottles, snack and lunch containers, napkins, cleaning clothes etc. (in other words: avoid disposables)
  • Buy in bulk rather than in packages. Check out the bulk section at your local supermarket and you’ll be surprised how much dry stuff you’ll get cheaper and environmentally friendlier

If you adapt some or all of these steps, you’ll be surprised at how much your garbage amount will shrink. So let’s keep the good work going and trying our best.

But – reducing garbage is not all there is. How about reducing energy? Reducing emissions? Reducing pollution?

Yes, that’s not only the big corporations, that’s US, too! Here are some simple steps everybody can take to reduce his or her ecological footprint even more:

  • Save energy by turning off electronic devices when not in use (a light indicates that energy is being used even when the appliance is not in use, e.g. at the T.V.)
  • Turn off the lights when nobody is in the room
  • Run (dish)washers only when they’re full
  • Use energy-saving lightbulbs
  • Reduce your use of air-conditioning (sometimes just getting some cross-ventilation does the trick), especially when you’re not home
  • Leave the car in the garage as much as you can. You can do some of your errands walking – and this is even a big health plus!
  • Ever thought about carpooling? Maybe you can get to work with somebody who lives close by? Or your kids can go with some friends?
  • Use public transportation as often as you can
  • Reduce your animal product intake – just one day per week without animal products would help reducing global greenhouse gas emissions
  • Switch to green cleaning supplies
  • Buy organic and/or local produce whenever possible

And that’s just a start. Imagine what that’d do if more and more people get into it!

I know it’s hard to think of everything and change it all at once.

Don’t get overwhelmed. Start slowly but consistently and try to change one thing at the time. Educate others and share your stories – I’d love to hear about your progress!

Here’s an incredible short videoclip that you might want to watch: Artist Chris Jordan shows us an arresting view of what Western culture looks like. His supersized images picture some almost unimaginable statistics -- like the astonishing number of paper cups we use every single day.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Recipes: Super Healthy Ice Creem And Quinoa Veggie Salad & How To Have A Greener BBQ

With the weather getting hotter  I wanted to share two recipes with you. One is for ice creem that especially my 4-year old loves and the other one, quinoa veggie salad, is a great dish to bring to BBQs and potlocks.
Oh, as you know English is not my native language, so please excuse any mistake that I might make/have made, but this is NOT a typo - I decided to call it creem instead of cream since there's no dairy in it. As always my recipes are vegetarian or vegan if you substitute the honey.

For the Ice Creem you'll need:

* 1 ripe avocado
* 1 banana
* 1 cup fresh or frozen strawberries
* honey or other sweetener, depending how sweet you like it
* pop molds (and here we go again with the plastic... I haven't found an alternative for this one yet!)

Put all ingredients in a blender, mix it all up and fill in the molds This amount makes about 4 molds for us. Sometimes we just eat it out of a bowl; oh, and that IS an alternative to the pop molds!

As always you can add anything you want to hide in there or change ingredients as you like.
I always use avocado but switch the fruit depending on what I have at the moment.

For about 8 servings of the Quinoa Veggie Salad you'll need:
  • 1 1/2 cup quinoa (can get at Whole Foods and most supermarkets)
  • about 3 cups of chopped vegetables that can be eaten raw (garlic, onion, pepper, cabbage, carrots,... - whatever you have)
  • salt and spices to taste
  • 1 tbs balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbs olive oil + a little extra to heat up
  • 1 cup raw cashews
In a large pot, heat up a little olive oil and add spices that you like (I love cumin for this dish). Add quinoa and mix with the olive oil mixture.
Add the water and cook quinoa according to directions (usually in double amount of water, until water is absorbed and quinoa soft).
When all water is absorbed, add the chopped vegetables and mix well.
Take off the oven and add the balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt and/or other spices and herbs and combine.
Can be served warm or cold. Great to bring to potlucks or parties!


Alma from Take Back The Kitchen talked to me about this dish for her column at Baristakids 
Check out the video:

And here are some ideas for greener parties and BBQs:

  • Try to avoid disposables such as silverware, plates and cups - especially if you don't have a huge amount of people
  • If you feel like you must use disposables, think about buying biodegradable items (you can find them at most supermarkets, even CVS is selling some)
  • Can you do without plastic? Come up with creative ideas how to avoid plastic wraps (think cloth & rubberband?), ziplock bags (reusable containers?), plastic water bottles (reusable stainless steel or glass) etc. etc. Plastic is everywhere, and gets everywhere. Avoiding is the best strategy to not being exposed to harmful chemicals that might leach into food/drinks, especially when the plastic gets hot in this kind of weather.
  • Bring and offer local foods

Friday, June 4, 2010

Composting To Make The World A Better Place

It's amazing - ever since we started to compost, we literally only need to change our garbage bag once a week!
But not only that, looking into compost and what it does for the planet, it turns out that composting is the most effective way to improve our soil’s well being. In addition, new research indicates three years of applying compost on farm fields can reduce the long-term need for fertilizer and may reduce phosphorus and nitrogen runoff.
Watch this 2-minute trailer of the movie Dirt to get an idea:

If you live in an apartment building and can't start your own compost pile, don't get discouraged.
We are in the same situation and just asked neighbors and friends. At the moment, we bring our scrapes to my son's preschool, they have a garden and a compost pile!

Also, in our community we have a wonderful green store, go lighty, and the owner just started a compost cooperative! She brings hosts (people who have a garden and compost) and members (people who want to compost but are unable where they live) together. What a wonderful thing to do, and it can be done anywhere! So why not start your own cooperative now :-)

My friend John from Vermont sent me an e-mail a while back with some interesting facts about composting in his state (I love that by the way - please keep sending me suggestions and information about anything environmental that you find interesting!):

David Healy from Stone Environmental Inc. came up with The Potential Food Scrap Generation Map which illustrates the estimated food scraps generated by town. The information for this map came from a project to provide information to support statewide composting efforts and to help in determining the feasibility of building a methane digester at Vermont Technical College. Food scraps when added to manure in a digester can boost the amount of methane generated by 80 percent.
Wow! Imagine if every state would do that!

There's a lot of information on the internet about composting. Here's just one link to an online compost guide.
Happy composting, and please let me know how you got started and how you're doing!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Green Baby

I feel like this is a hot topic, at least for me at the moment, with lots of friends being pregnant or having a baby.

From an environmental point of view, breast is best (and from pretty much any other view as well, just to make that clear! But since this is an environmental blog, let's focus on that for now).

Just think about how many bottles, cans, energy to warm up and sterilize/clean and to produce that sugary formula you can save if you exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of your baby's life! You don't need any outside energy (other than your own, which is a good thing in terms of loosing that baby weight, trust me!) to produce this wonderful liquid for your little one. It doesn't need to be stored or warmed up, is always available and at the right temperature and always exactly the formula the baby needs at that very moment. And it's absolutely free!!!

 This is a picture from my news - I think it shows so well the intimacy and the bonding between mother and baby.

The most valuable advice I have to offer for new moms who want to breastfeed is this: get a fantastic support network! Find other moms who have successfully breastfed and enjoyed the experience, look for groups in your area (when we lived in Long Island, I was part of two breastfeeding support groups that were both part of hospital programs - the lactation consultant, Paula LaRocchia, was wonderful and I still call her, years later, whenever I have questions about nursing - we learn as we go!).
Join La Leche in a local chapter and get your husband on board, and this might be the most important thing.
There are tons of great websites out there for breastfeeding moms. Best for babes or Kelly's mom are just two examples.

 I have been breastfeeding for some years now, and find it the most enjoyable thing in the world!

Here are some other things to think about when you're having a baby and know somebody who's expecting:
  • Diapers: the greenest option in our society is cloth diapering. I understand that's not for everybody, but there are other options besides the conventional plastic-made store brands out there. Go for a natural brand that's made without harsh ingredients (for example 7th Generation, but there are many more out there), it's better for your baby and the environment
  • Baby food: once you decide it's time to start the solids, think about making your own. You can't be more in control if you opt for that, and it's easy. Just steam one vegetable (usually start with the orange ones, like carrots, sweet potatoes etc.), and blend it. You can than freeze little portions of it so you don't have to do it every single day. I have asked a nice neighbor to pass empty baby food jars on to me and used those as containers for freezing.
  • Go easy on cleaning products. No need for harsh chemicals. Studies suggest that it's far healthier for babies to be exposed to the normal household germs rather than exposing them to the chemicals found in conventional cleaners. As for the laundry detergent - same goes here: opt for a mild, chemical-free one and never use bleach!
  • Toys: first of all: how many toys does a baby really need? Second, avoid the battery-operated ones. The batteries are, literally, hard for the planet to digest and all the sounds and colors are way too much for little babies anyways. Look for natural, wooden toys that leave some room for imagination. With my own kids, I have found that there's no need for any toys until they're about a half year old.

Enjoy your pregnancy, your baby or the babies in your life! They're so pure and such a joy. Be a good role model for them and show them how to respect our Mother Earth. It's an amazing journey!

I'd be happy to go more into detail about baby issues. If this is something you're interested in, let me know.