Sunday, December 28, 2008

After Christmas Sales - 10 Ways to Go Green

Unseasonably warm, hmm.

Here's your chance (10 ways to be exact) to get those green shopping juices going and still be green. There are bargains to be had as the big box stores try to unload their too big inventory. But first the number one concern:

If you are a big light person (still?), have you ever checked out your electrical bill for December? Usually there's a big bump in use and it all comes down to the holidays and mostly lights. Remember, that your extra electricity is pumping out pollution and CO2 at the power plant (our local Bow Plant is the worst I am sad to say) so anything you can do to reduce power is a good thing but the biggest way to get those reductions is with the first tip:

1 -For all of you who have not made the switch to LED Christmas lights, now's your chance. They are on sale at all your basic stores - Home Depot, Lowe's, Target etc. So run or pedal fast and snatch these bargains up for next year. LED lights use 1/10th, I repeat, one tenth of the electricity compared to conventional lights. Some folks have balked at the price, which has come down, so if price has been your sticking point, there's no excuse now. And remember, this is money well spent. Conventional string lights last 2 years where LED's should last many years. So save, save, save...the planet.

2 - Also along side of many light displays are timers. These too should be on sale. Timers are another way of saving electricity (i.e. pollution/CO2) and can be useful for anything electrical any time of year. It's always handy to have a couple of these on hand.

3 - Christmas Fabric is also on sale at your major sewing centers. So? (Sew?) You Say? This is the ideal time to make the switch to fabric bags and stop using wrapping paper all together. Anyone can make a basic bag or have someone who knows the basics do it in exchange for some fabric. They'll think it's such a good idea, they'll want their own!

4 - Small appliances will also be on sale - toaster ovens, crock pots etc. These are good items in lieu of using a large oven. There are savings to be had.

5 - Candles are usually part of the post holiday sale. Don't go cheap though, stick to soy and 100% beeswax for your health and the environment.

6 - Reusable napkins and table clothes with holiday themes will also be on sale. If you don't have your cloth napkins yet, now is a great time to start. Chances are you can get some colors that might work for all year round too.

7 - Look for gifts you can give for next year that do not use batteries!

8 - Invest in a rechargeable battery pack, solar is even better!

9 - Bake ware is often on sale - the cookie sheets, baking dishes etc. If you haven't yet, now is the time to invest in glass baking dishes or solid stainless steel, and forgo the Teflon and non-stick products.

10 - Green ornaments will also be on sale. Look for fair trade ornaments made out of earth friendly materials for instance, things like gourds. You can also support your local arts and crafts center and buy locally made hand crafted ornaments, earth friendly much preferred.

Did I miss anything? So now's your chance to go after those Christmas Sales and get those shopping juices out of your system, help stimulate economy AND go green.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

FDA Reconsiders BPA Plastic Bottle Risk - Merry Christmas!

Light snow - how appropriate :)

I couldn't believe my eyes - I thought it was a joke. How long can you keep tossing this issue around? But it's true! The FDA is going to reconsider the risk of BPA in plastic bottles.

The NY Times broke the story yesterday, please read the article for details. I've been covering BPA for awhile. There is good information on the right side panel of this blog. If you would like to read previous writings just click here.

Maybe the FDA sees the writing on the wall. Maybe the FDA sees a new wave coming through in January. But for what ever reasons they are taking these bold moves (yes bold, after saying no for so long, its pretty hard for anyone to "reconsider" something), this is a great day for public safety.

I do believe!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Underwear Project at Allegheny College - Pants Off to You!

Beginning of a blizzard - just beautiful.

I love passionate college students. The world is at their finger tips to make a difference and it made my day to see this group of dedicated environmental students make their point at Allegheny College. The point being...hang it up. Hanging up laundry that is.
The Underwear Project at Allegheny College - they did their homework. They've got the CO2 facts down. And now it can come live to you via their video with just the right mix of facts, passion and home grown charm.

Think our youth isn't engaged? Think all they do is party? Think again and watch this video. It will give you hope for our future. Enjoy!

Underwear project at Allegheny College from The Meadville Tribune on Vimeo.

To all the students involved in this project... My hat's, rather pants, off to you!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Green Emergency Kits - Earth Friendly Survival

It's dark out!

In case you haven’t heard, the State of New Hampshire has been declared to be in a state of emergency. A few days ago we were hit by the worst ice storm in history. Over half the state remains in the dark and without power even after 3 days which is pretty nasty given that it is December. Shelters have been created, schools and town facilities, if they can be, are available for showers and people scramble to keep the pipes from freezing.

I was pretty lucky since I only lost power for about 10 hours, most of which was during the night. I did lose my phone service and Internet which I thought, at the time, was more of a nuisance. However, I think differently now.

So here I sit writing by Freeplay Lantern (no Internet) in the dark because we now have lost our power due to winds. In fact, even a larger portion of the surrounding area is without power and school is canceled again. I thought I would be fully prepared in the event of a power failure, but I definitely need to update my “green emergency kit”.

Going into this, I thought I had enough clean burning candles, beeswax and soy, but clearly I do not. As I began to run out of my too few supply of soy and beeswax, I had to resort to some old paraffin candles, the ones in glass jars that are heavily scented which I shall remain nameless. (I rarely throw out anything).Well it didn’t take long before the over powering stew of smells gave me a headache and tickled my already sensitive cough. Needless to say I cringe at the soot damage going on now. So I guess I need to stock up on more beeswax and soy candles for sure. I recommend the soy be in a heavy bottom jar for safety and placed on a good coaster in case the glass gets hot. You can get them in tins but make sure they go on a hot plate. Beeswax doesn’t need to be in a container, but I would get pillars no higher than 5 inches for safety’s sake. Three inch tall pillars are ideal since they are very hard to tip over. While the scents are nice for a single candle, when you have a house full of lit candles, the smells get overwhelming. So stick to unscented soy for your emergency kit. Same goes for beeswax. Besides, why ruin the good natural beeswax scent anyway. So this takes care of one kind of your light source.

Of course there are battery powered lanterns and flashlights but unless they are rechargeable, they are far from eco friendly since you can quickly go through a ton of batteries. You also run the risk of not having enough batteries or old dead ones by the time they get used.

There are some fine solar panel charging lanterns out there but not many quality ones. The technology is far from perfect so you get what you pay for. I have opted for the crank lantern by Freeplay which is working just great. They say I should never have to change the LED bulb or the rechargeable battery pack, ever. Plus Freeplay runs the Freeplay Foundation that does quite a bit of goodwill and is currently working in Rwanda and giving out free flashlights that use solar and crank for power. Nice company. Besides the lantern, Freeplay has other flashlights and radios that are both solar and crank. Lots to choose from. That should do it for light sources.

Since we have no power or phone service, the good old fashion radio is key in these times of emergency. Luckily we have one in the house, actually two, and old fashion battery sucking kind and the new crank one from Freeplay. The Eyemax has an incredible sound and a small built in LED light. It also comes with a weather band option. What else do you need to stay in touch with the world?

I won’t bother with heat since that isn’t really part of an emergency kit but there is one more thing that is…water. Not just for drinking, heck a jar of juice can satisfy your thirst. I’m talking about basic water for your everyday ablutions, you know, the morning ritual of face, teeth and oh yes, the toilet. Since most of us really don’t want to pull out the survival school manual and poo bags, it comes down to having enough water on hand for those special moments. (no I won’t say it) So make sure you always have several gallons of water stored away somewhere. Every few years, replace the water for safety purposes. The quantity depends upon how many people are in the house and…other things. The suggested rule is one gallon per person per day.

A couple more things for earth friendly survival are wet naps, though if you have water, not necessary. A solar panel charger for small items might be nice or a crank charger for cell phones. Just a thought.

So to recap, here is a list for your “Green Emergency Kit”:

1 – Candles – stick to unscented soy and beeswax. And have more than you think you need.

2 - Flashlights – look for crank or shake flashlights with rechargeable battery packs (that never need replacing)

3- Radios – Look for solar or crank or a combo solar/crank radios.

4 – Water – Have several gallons on hand, one per person per day.

I have to sign off now since my battery is about to di…………….

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

To Cut or Not to Cut - Eco Christmas Trees

Back to rain, too bad.

So it's that time of year when greens begin to adorn...everything and it's time to "put up the tree". Since the green movement has progressed, there is the occasional discussion about what constitutes an environmentally correct or eco Christmas tree. So here are my latest thoughts on the topic.

Artificial, the traditional type, is made of one thing - plastic. They do offer the person with tree allergies a chance to have a tree but other than that, I believe they are not worth the environmental impact. Why?

The carbon footprint for making these plastic trees in China is huge. Then add that most are made from PVC and have lead in them, and it becomes almost impossible to justify. I know they are reusable, for a few years, but then what? You can't really mulch them and spread them around, now can you? Discussion over... almost.

So what about all those cut down trees? How can any good environmentalist condone this? Well the reason (excuse?) is that standard curbside or cut your own Christmas trees are farm raised, as in an agricultural business. Sort of like growing a bunch..a lot.. of asparagus. This promotes farming and gives many farmers a winter income, especially around here in New Hampshire.
Tree farms provide birds some habitat but so would letting the trees just continue to grow. Not very convincing is it?

Farmed raised trees are often given pesticides just like other crops which really isn't good for anything or any of us. There are many farms that have gone organic because of this. For a biased view but with worthwhile information, the National Christmas Tree Association has a website so you can find a local farm.

If you have your own land, you can just go in the woods and cut down a straggler, maybe a tree that needs to come out since it might split and make a mess later on. You can also grow your own and you don't need much land either. It's really fun and very rewarding.

Another option is a potted tree that you can plant later on but they can be pretty finicky so be careful. Having a perpetual tree that you decorate during Christmas is a viable option. Norfolk Island Pines are perfect for this.

There is something lovely about cutting down your own Christmas tree. Maybe it's more about family and the hot chocolate after. Either way, I'll opt for the eco Christmas tree with the real smell. Happy trimming.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Eco Friendly Ornaments - For Greener Holiday and Christmas Tree Trimmings

Light dusting of snow on the ground and more to come - yeah!

It used to be that if you wanted to do your Christmas tree up in a "back to nature" kind of way (that was before earth/eco friendly) you resorted to options like popcorn strings (cranberries too) and real pine cones with maybe their tips painted white dipped in sparkles, maybe. And don't forget the chains of paper strung around the tree too. Hopefully with old, not good for anything else paper. The finally of course would be gingerbread cookies.

Of course you could then up the ante and do the DYI ornaments made out of things around the house, like bells made from egg cartons (each little cut out indent, hang upside down and make green) hanging tin can tops, cork tops with 2 pipe cleaners for moose antlers, old light bulbs ( the old kind, not cfl's) and, if you really want a challenge, eggs with a hole on the side for the scene of your choice.

That was then. Now comes the 21st century eco friendly, earth friendly, cradle to cradle green Christmas tree ornament options. Oh, and remember fair trade if you dare to go outside the country.

For local options, you might find someone who does felting from old wool sweaters. They make wonderful little ornaments. Local artisans also have brought back old European traditions like Stroh Stars, a northern German tradition of working with grass and wheat reeds. The idea of using something recycled or something that you could actually even compost (the ultimate in cradle to cradle). Recycled glass is becoming more available and has that nice traditional feel.

Making ornaments from gourds is a specialty from Peru. They make them into all sorts of things by etching them. Just make sure if they are colored, it is with a safe dye or paint. They are just as nice plain and the seeds shake inside. Ornaments can also be made from different types of grasses and are quite something with unlimited ideas. Other options are ornaments made from orange peels (very cool), soda cans, and rolled up newspaper.

Another very cool idea is ornaments made with some kind of tree-free material (hopefully recycled) with wild flowers seeds in them. For something more traditional, Maple Landmark out of Vermont has plain wooden ornaments made from properly forested tree.

Any other ideas? Let me know! The more options the better. Going green with eco friendly ornaments is not only an option but totally doable. Have fun.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Global Day of Climate Action - Today! Dec. 6th

Lovely cold December morning.

Big day today, Dec. 6th, all over the world called Global Day of Climate Change. It is a chance to recognize what the number 350 means. Check out these excellent videos and most importantly, pass it on:

- - Act NOW - only 1 minute & 30 seconds!

Need something to do today? Find something fun and meaningful somewhere in the world right here:

Now. take action.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

One in 3 Toys Is Toxic - Please Santa, Deliver Healthy Toys

Beautiful December morning, frost in the air.

I might have been ahead of myself suggesting plain wooden rattles as a safe option, as this latest article is after the fact. But these recent research findings must get out to the public.- they are very troubling. One in 3 toys is considered toxic in the U.S.A. !^$%!^%???

CNN reported the research (thank you for making this national news) but its origins are also reported from the eco-based Ecology Center out of Michigan who has links to a consumer oriented group called Please read one of these articles, its our children after all.

Here are highlights to wrap your head around:

1 - 1/3 of the toys had "high" or "medium" levels of chemicals of concern
2- Lead was found in 20% of the toys
3 - 10.7 % had lead above the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended ceiling of 40 ppm.
4 - 18.9 % of the toys contained detectable levels of arsenic
5 - 4.2 % had detectable levels of mercury
6 - 2.9 % had bromine at concentrations of 1,000 ppm or higher (flame retardant)
7 - Not ALL the toys were from China, many made right here
8 - Children's jewelry is the worst, is 5 x's more likely to contain lead above 600 ppm

1 - 62 % tested contained LOW levels of chemicals of concern
2 - 21 % contain NO chemicals of concern. (and these were not just plain wooden toys either, just toys made right)

The irony here is how children are exposed to chemicals. Our e-waste is going to countries, mostly in Asia, where children pick through toxic e-waste looking for marketable bits. Their exposure is frightening. Yet here in this country, our children are exposed to similar chemicals through their toys and play. What's wrong with this picture?

Please Santa, deliver the kids some healthy toys.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Safe Baby Rattles - Wood Is Good

It's dark out!

Toys have been getting a lot of deserved attention lately as the expose of toxic plastics continues. But what about baby toys or their play things? Here's the tattle on the rattle...

Babies really can't "play" and so they are restricted to things that they can hold in their tight little grasp. And what goes in their hand, also goes in their mouth. Historically speaking, babies have been given a combination of things that rattle (to ward off evil spirits) and things to chew on (even stones strapped to sticks!) Humans have been using "natural" materials up until... plastic. My opinion is there is no safe plastic, not any number - no how- that should be sucked on or chewed on or gummed on by a baby, period. Since there is no further discussion of plastic, what's next?

There is the fancy heirloom silver or stainless steel rattle that is beautiful, easy to wash, sounds nice (usually), dents when dropped - but hey, it's an heirloom. I don't know about you, but sucking on something cold (unless you need teething comfort) gives me the shivers. It probably hurts too when you whack it up against the face.

There are also soft toy rattles, even some made out of organic fibers. My concern about those is that, given the sucking power of babies, there is a risk of small fibers breaking off and being ingested. What dyes were used? What chemicals were used for fabric processing?

That narrows the choices down to wood - good old mother nature...wood is good. Wood is receiving a revival, not just because plastic is bad, but because wood actually might be good. Research coming out of analyzing wooden cutting boards has shown that wood might contain some antibacterial properties that plastic doesn't. Makes sense Mother Nature would have some built in protection.

When looking for wooden baby rattles, look for the following properties:

1 - Soft, well sanded edges
2 - easy grip
3 - solid construction
4 - not too big
5 - not too little
6 - unfinished surface OR edible finish

Let me finish with... the finish. You might find some products that say "safe non-toxic finish". What exactly does that mean ? Nothing really, it is up to you to find out what they mean. The reason is because the two most popular finishes are food grade mineral oil and water based epoxy/polyurethane type paint. Since there is no regulation on what these are called, companies have taken upon themselves to call them non-toxic. (nice marketing idea, eh?) Food grade mineral oil (like baby oil) is nothing more than what is left after the production of crude oil (as in what we heat our homes with), like paraffin to make candles. It is no different than a baby sucking on a paraffin candle. Food grade is just a bump up from really disgusting crude oil, but make no mistake, it is still petroleum. (petrolatum when in cosmetics)

The safest option really is unfinished wood. There are finishes out their that combine vegetable oils and beeswax but rare to find. So remember when that label says "Non-Toxic", ask "How?".

After all, what would you want to suck on?