Friday, July 31, 2009

14 Green Things to Bring to College

Overcast, quiet and still.

With the recent list of the Top 15 Green Colleges (UNH number 2 right now, yahoo) I was reminded that my baby is soon venturing off to college. Since colleges seem to be the greenest communities right now, I think she should be prepared to show up with some pretty darn green things herself.

So, I have compiled a Checklist for College Students of 14 Green Things to Bring with you:

1 - Stainless Steel Water Bottle - You know the reason by now, right?
2 - Crank/Solar Flashlights - never need batteries again
3 - Reusable Canvas Bag - for books and shopping
4 - Organic Sheets and Blankets - No toxins, soft
5 - Safe Laundry Soap - Charlie's is concentrated, inexpensive and works
6- 100% PCW Copy Paper - that's post consumer waste
7 - Low Chemical Profile Personal Care Items
8 - Ladies! - Reusable Menstrual Cup - get over the "ick" factor
9 - Smart Strip Energy Saver
10 - Safe Mulit-Purpose Green Cleaning Product
11 - Mini Happy Light - low wattage, good for SAD
12 - Spork - you never know when you'll need one
13 - Drying Rack - using a dryer is not cool
14 - Hemp Writing Cards - just in case they might write you

These are good investments, for your child and the environment. Besides, he or she will be the coolest green college students on campus.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Town Bans Bottled Water - Tips for Surviving Bottle Free

Beautiful sunny morning. Nice hawk over head.

So a remote Australian town, the first in the world to take this action, had the chutzpa to ban bottled water. That's right; no more plastic water bottles for sale in that town. It wasn't even a close vote either with only one nay for reasons of questioning all plastic bottles.

So what the heck is the town going to do? What would any of us do without bottled water?

I was in a local radio station getting ready to go on the air and the host and I were talking about the ban. She conceded to the waste bottled water produces and understands the importance of reusable containers (she does use a Klean Kanteen but only in situations where she knows she won't lose it, other wise she reaches for the bottled water - no comment). In the office was a wall stacked with cases of bottled water which she referred to as a necessity for guests and hygiene. After all, "What would we do without bottled water? There is no way we could offer people water in this setting without them."

Really? I've been so struck by that comment ever since. All I can think of is, what did we do 50 years ago? We didn't have bottled water back then. So what did folks do?

Maybe, back then, a radio station had some soda (in reusable glass bottles). Maybe they had their own mugs or tea cups and even, hm, a glass that they filled from the tap. Maybe that's why we have a morning and afternoon "coffee" break to get fluids because folks didn't carry around water bottles back then. That must mean humanity has survived all this time, up until the last 30 years, without bottled water. Gosh, how did they do it? And do we even need to drink so much water in the first place? (Humans have seemed to survive this long without 8 glasses per day)

Now I'm not talking in rural areas where "Don't drink the water" still applies. I'm talking about communities that have tap water that's been tested for safety, the same tap water that fills a lot of the bottled water too. I think there is sometimes a snobbishness against our own tap water; that ordinary people are left to drink that water, while others can afford to buy it bottled. But the irony is that, because of no regulation or supervision, you really don't know what is in the bottled water because up until now they haven't had to be tested like municipal water supplies. The FDA has recently added some regulation so by December 2009, "bottle companies must eliminate E.coli in their products". So does that mean there can be E.coli in bottled water now?

So back to the water dilemma that this radio station faces, and perhaps other work places face where guests might come and go. What is a company to do? What did they do 50 years ago? Can we go back to the reusable mug era? Could a work place have an array of mugs for clients to fill from the...tap? And someone would be designated to clean out the mugs? Would hygiene freaks and germ phobics freak out? What is the liability for all this? (now that's pathetic) Does a work place only offer something hot that has been boiled? (and only because of our litigious society)

So in the event that you, your work place, town or city is exploring banning water bottles yourself, here are some tips to deal with a bottled water ban:

1 - Encourage everyone to use reusable water bottles

2 - A work place or businesses can sell reusable water bottles

3- Offer clean mugs and glasses so people can use tap water.

4 - Take turns cleaning out the mugs/glasses or use a dishwasher.

5 - Offer safe filtered water from either counter top filters or attached faucet filters.

6 - Offer a water bubbler (in glass not polycarbonate) and if all else fails, small compostable cups or cups from recycled paper

7 - Offer hot coffee or tea as an alternative to water.

8 - Larger companies and municipalities need to have public water fountains, again.

See, it's not so hard. We humans just hate change, and hate being told what to do, and hate maybe even a little perceived inconvenience. The ban on bottled water was about sustainability; how our current lifestyle of waste and the use of plastic and petroleum is not good for any of us or the environment in the long run. The ban was about reducing this silly, unnecessary "habit" of bottled water (and all the outrageous stats that go with it) and getting back to basics.

This inconvenience of a bottle ban far out ways the coming inconvenience if we don't think about being more sustainable. Wasn't there a movie about that?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Stainless Steel Ice Cube Trays - Tips for Making Ice

Beautiful clear day, windy,cool. Only slight brown horizon.

Stainless steel ice cube trays were the original metal ice cube tray invented over 75 years ago in 1933 by Guy Tinkham. (yes they had refrigerators back then, even though people still used block ice cut from the winter, hence the name "ice box") The 1933 ice cube tray model was thin enough to flex causing the dividers to crack and dislodge the ice. There definitely is a knack needed for getting the whole cube in the end; hence the tips for making ice later. But safe to say - the crack is back.

It seems the aluminum tray with the lever, the one some of us fondly remember, didn't appear until 1950, even though aluminum was widely used for cookware. Pulling the lever seemed to be an improvement over having to flex a cold tray and hoping for the best. The aluminum ice cube tray is still around but may be going out of favor with the concern for leaching aluminum.

Aluminum toxicity
is of concern for some and even the American Academy of Pediatrics has a policy statement about it. Aluminum is not an essential trace mineral and can be excreted by the kidneys but the concern is that the brain has a tough time excreting it. The half life appears to be 7 years for the brain. So a lot of concerned parents are looking for safe ice cube trays, not only for their ice, but for purees and baby food.

And so here we are witnessing the come back kid - the stainless steel ice cube tray. It's not plastic or aluminum, or silicon, which is suppose to be safe (but then they add all sorts of colors and other stuff). Stainless steel has a high recycled content (minimum50%) and can easily be recycled again (after the car drives over it?) and so is considered a more earth friendly alternative. Food grade Stainless does not leach any highly toxic minerals (at least tested in parts per million) and may leach some iron or nickel, both of which are essential in our diet (if you don't want nickel, here's a huge list of foods to avoid)

In case you are new to using a metal ice cube tray, here are some tips for making ice:

1 - Do not over flow the tray with water as this makes cracking and releasing the ice cubes more difficult.
2 - When the ice is ready, the "slow method" takes, well a little bit more time. Just pull the tray out and set it on the counter for 5 minutes. This allows a little melting so the cubes will release in more cube like fashion. And probably will extend the life of the lever.
3 - The "quickie" is to run the tray, top and bottom, under water to, again, melt the contact between the metal and ice.
4 - After either method, anchor the tray with one hand (might need a tea towel if it is cold) and gently pull up the lever enough to crack the cubes and dislodge the ice. Both of these methods should result in more whole cubes.
5 - For more of a crushed ice result, don't bother with the slow or quickie method. Just pull the lever and crush.
6 - What ever method you used, you may gently shake or wiggle the divider out of the tray; most of the ice remains in the tray.
7 - If you don't use all of the ice, just put the tray back in the freezer and grab it as needed. Wash and store the divider until you make ice again.

I'm not sure what is used to hold the ice in automatic ice makers inside refrigerators. Is it plastic or metal? And what kind? Maybe that's why there seems to be a growing trend, especially among moms, toward the stainless steel ice cube tray.

See what I mean? The crack is back.