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Archive for November, 2010

LED Christmas Lights Make for a Greener Holiday

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010
By Christa

Forget about dreaming of a white Christmas, let’s all dream of a green Christmas. It’s easier to go green over the holidays than you might think. For food, use the same tricks you used when greening Thanksgiving. When it comes time to give gifts, choose eco-friendly Christmas presents or consider making homemade holiday gifts. And when it’s time to decorate a tree or hang up lights outside, opt for LED Christmas lights over the regular kind.

LED Christmas lights last 10 times longer than their traditional counterparts and consume 75% less energy to boot. They don’t get hot, at all – we’ve had a string on in our basement for something like two years straight now – and you can connect multiple strings of LED Christmas lights together without overheating them. They come in all of the same varieties as traditional Christmas lights, like color-changing, icicle style, and the net kind for tossing over bushes. And LED Christmas lights even come in solar powered varieties!

The biggest complaint I hear from people is that LED Christmas lights are expensive – er, more expensive than traditional Christmas lights, anyway. Which isn’t actually that much more expensive than your everyday Christmas lights used to be once upon a time. Sure, the dollar store has strings of Christmas lights for a buck, but I don’t exactly trust their commitment to my safety. Trust me when I tell you that LED Christmas lights are safer and greener, and aren’t going to break the bank:

Have you tried LED Christmas lights? What did you think?

Green Shopping: Thrifting Is Where It’s At

Monday, November 29th, 2010
By Christa

Green fashion and green furniture and green *everything else* assault us from all sides nowadays, reminding us that the stuff we already have is probably not as green as we’d like it to be. Are my shirts made from organic cotton? Is my couch still off-gassing? Should I replace my reusable shopping bags with something more eco-friendly? Do I need to start making my own green window cleaner?

Maybe yes, maybe no. It sure is easy and it sure does feel good to say out with the old and in with the new when thinking about the health of the planet. And thanks to the fact that the green movement has money behind it, finding that earth-friendly couch is not a problem these days. But that brings up an important question: How green is buying new, anyway? Especially when it’s something that you maybe don’t need so much as want or what you really want is the pleasure of shopping for and having something new.


10 Green Gifts For Everyone On Your List

Friday, November 26th, 2010
By Christa

This year, on Black Friday 2010, I hope that you’re thinking about your holiday gifts in terms of not only great deals, but also eco-friendliness. It’s no longer difficult to find great green gifts – long gone are the holidays where your only choices were soy candle or rough raw organic wool sweater and the vegetarians at the table were limited to the mashed potatoes. Below you’ll find some of my favorite green gift ideas, and I’ll be posting a few more gift guides as we get closer and closer to the holidays. Enjoy shopping, and feel free to add your green gift suggestions in the comments!

1. For the green glam girl:

bamboo makeup brushesorganic perfumecandy wrapper clutch

Staying beautiful and going green aren’t mutually exclusive goals, and beauty accessories make the best grownup stocking stuffers. I wouldn’t mind waking up to some bamboo makeup brushes (at 15% off squee!), a bottle of organic wheat almond perfume, and a cute recycled candy wrapper clutch to store everything I need for a glam night out.

2. For the fitness buff:

flowered stainless steel water bottlestainless steel water bottlegreen water bottle

Stainless steel water bottles aren’t just trendy and way better than plastic bottles, they’re also easy to clean, won’t retain scents, don’t leach yucky stuff into your water, and last just about forever. You can satisfy anyone obsessed with hydration with the gift of a stainless steel water bottles from CamelBak, Lifeline, and Gaiam.

3. For the bag fiend:

I am a total bag collector, but I try to keep my obsession green by buying designer vintage. For those for whom new is the only option, I recommend these super cute hemp and recycled polyester handbags from Reveal – fashionable and good for the planet? Sweet!

4. For the tiny tot:

Under the Nile fruit Flat CatUnder the Nile vegetables

If you’re in the market for organic cotton soft toys appropriate for very young babies and toddlers, you can’t beat Under the Nile. Our household has gotten a lot of play out of the Fruit Tote, Flat Cat (my daughter’s best friend in the whole world), and Veggie Crate, which is on sale for 26% off.

5. For the home:

recycled orange wall clockowl framefleece blanket

Now these, I love… an adorable clock made of reclaimed and recycled detergent bottles, a eco spun felt photo frame, and a 100% recycled plastic polar fleece throw for those chilly January evenings. Recycling – especially plastic – keeps those landfills little.

6. For the coffee or tea lover:

reusable coffee cupreusable iced coffee cupreusable tea cup

Mmm, hot beverages. But if you get them on the road, you’re talking about a lot of waste. So for the coffee, tea, or hot chocolate lover in your life, how about wrapping up a thermal coffee cup with the look of a travel cup, an iced beverage cop for the summer months, or a reusable cup just for tea lovers?

7. For the gadget fiend:

electricity monitor

Everyone knows someone who loves gadgets, so let’s think green. My favorite green gifts for the gadget lover have to be the trendy electricity usage monitor that shows you were waste is happening, a solar bag charger that can charge your phone or serve as a battery, and a wee USB battery charger so no more trying to figure out where to recycle batteries.

8. For the kid in your life:

stainless steel lunch boxrecycled pencilsrecycled pencil case

Students need a lot of gear, so going green can make a big impact. For the student gift recipient, pick up a stainless steel bento box for lunches from home, arecycled pencils (who knew?), and recycled plastic pencil case for all those pens.

9. For the gardener:

There’s nothing like some nice fresh compost when you’re a gardener, so help your green thumb friends out this holiday season with the gift of a roto composter that is child safe and pet safe, and easy turn. Getting 25% off the regular price sweetens the deal!

10. For the pet and pet lover:

eco friendly dog toysorganic dog treatseco cat toy

Fido and Fluffy want to go green, too, and they love a good gift as much as the rest of us. Here are some faves recommended by my pet-loving peeps: a plush organic hemp toy for a pooch, all natural, organic, grain-free doggie jerky, and step and scratch cat stairs that are recyclable when kitty gets bored with them.

Have a Great Green Thanksgiving From Green Manolo!

Thursday, November 25th, 2010
By Christa

Hope you and yours are having a wonderful (and green) Thanksgiving day!

Green Window Cleaner: 4 Eco- and Wallet-Friendly Window Cleaner Recipes

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010
By Christa

Blue and purple window cleaner sprays do work a treat, but they’re not exactly full of the sorts of things you’d want to soak your hands in for any length of time. And most of the squeaky clean folks I know aren’t willing to pay double for certified eco-friendly window cleaners. So what’s a green-minded clean freak to do? Make their own window cleaner, of course.

Unlike making one’s own detergent – which usually requires things like Borax and washing soda that not everyone has on hand – homemade window cleaner is made from stuff you more than likely already have in your kitchen and bathroom cupboards.

I know some people are suspicious of homemade cleansers, but as someone who’s made their own green window cleaner from scratch for years, it works just as well as the blue stuff – and not just on windows! We use it for countertops and sinks and just about everywhere you might think of using an all-purpose cleaner. The only downside? Use too much vinegar, as you might end up with visitors asking if you’ve been cooking sauerkraut. For real, my brother did just that. Small price to pay, I think, and the vinegar smell doesn’t last long.

Here are some recipes that have worked for me in the past – personally, these days, I just eyeball it and hope for the best. A method that, I should add, hasn’t let me down yet.

1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 tsp mild liquid castile soap or detergent
2 cups of water

1 gallon warm water
1/2 cup white vinegar

1 cup water
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 cup rubbing alcohol

1 gallon water
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup vinegar
squirt liquid dish detergent

For all, just put everything into a spray bottle and shake it up.

These green window cleaner recipes are just recommendations – you can adjust all of the proportions until you hit on something that works for you. Unless, that is, you’re not as comfy as me eyeballing homemade green cleansers or following recipes you found online. In that case, let me recommend a trio of great books on the subject of green cleaning:

Green Clean, Green Housekeeping, and Nontoxic Housecleaning are all great how-to books that will help you reduce or eliminate your use of chemical cleansers, rid your home of toxic substances, and improve your indoor air quality while making sure your home stays squeaky clean.

7 Things You Can’t Recycle (But Maybe Thought You Could)

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010
By Christa

What does and does not go into the recycling truck can sometimes be a little confusing. Some people err on the side of overdoing, throwing everything that seems remotely recyclable into the bin. But I hate to tell them, that’s can sometimes win the entire contents of the bin a one-way trip to the dump. Other people err on the side of under doing, and don’t bother to recycle at all. I’m assuming, if you’re reading this, that you probably recycle, but do you know what can and can’t be recycled? It pays to check your city or town’s web site to see if there’s anything they specifically do and do not take, but until you do, here’s a quick list of seven things most curbside recycling programs won’t take:

Paper Food Containers
It doesn’t matter if that pizza box hardly has a drop of cheese on it or if the Chinese food container held nothing more insidious than white rice, putting them in the recycling bin is a no-no. Oil from food can contaminate an entire batch of cardboard, making it impossible to process into new clean paper. The same goes for paper plates and napkins, and any other paper with food yuck on it.

Foiled, Glossy, Glazed, Waxed, Glassine, and Lacquer Coated Containers
Some items look recyclable because they’re cardboard or paper on the outside, but lurking inside you have foil, wax, plastic, and other stuff that can’t be separated from the paper. Think juice boxes, waxed paper bags, chips bags, and candy wrappers. Basically, anything made from blended material needs to stay out of the bin. Even sorting it out at the center is difficult because lightweight stuff like fruit snacks wrappers will stick to actual recyclables.

Plastic Bottle Caps
Surprised? I was. Bottle caps – soda and water bottle caps, peanut butter jar lids, detergent caps, etc. – are frequently made of polypropylene, i.e., plastic #5, which most recycling centers will not take. When in doubt, though, look for the recycling number on the inside of the cap because some will be recyclable. The good news is that if your street pick-up doesn’t take caps, there might be a recycling center nearby you can bring them to.

Polystyrene and Packing Peanuts
The only time I’ve ever gotten a note from the recycling guys was when I put a whole bag of styrofoam in with the recyclables because The Beard was convinced that they’d take it. Turns out, they don’t. While polystyrene plastics are, like all plastics, recyclable, it’s pretty unusual to live in town that will collect it for recycling because recycling polystyrene is time consuming and expensive so no one wants to do it.

Plastic Bags
Again, surprise! A lot of people put their plastic and glass recyclables in plastic bags before putting them in the bins, but apparently this is a one-way ticket to getting your carefully washed recyclables tossed in the trash. So don’t put your plastic and glass in plastic bags before putting them in the bin, and bring your plastic bags to the supermarket if yours happens to accept plastic bag turn-ins (which is getting more common).

Wire Hangers and Metal Wire
Turns out that a lot of recycling centers aren’t set up to deal with wire, even if they have not problems processing other metals. Instead of placing wire hangers in the recycle bin or tossing them, stop by the closest dry cleaners and see if they have a return program. Those that accept wire hangers will usually sell them for scrap, but at least you know they’ll get recycled.

Shredded Paper and Heavily-Dyed Paper
Weird, no? But true! Shredded paper is usually accepted at drop-off recycling centers, but not for curbside pick-up because it takes up a lot of space, it’s more difficult to sort and recycle, and it can end up producing a lower quality of recycled paper. Heavily-dyed paper can bleed into batches of recycled paper, making it impossible to get a nice clean pile of new paper.

Are Homemade Holiday Gifts Really Greener?

Friday, November 19th, 2010
By Christa

I think the most common quickie answer to the question I pose in the headline would be YES! But stop for a moment and consider how ‘meh’ some homemade gifts can be. I’m not saying that your homemade gifts wouldn’t be absolutely fantastic, of course, but too many homemade gift ideas I encounter – and I’m always on the lookout – are more homey versions of the impersonal gift grab gifts we get at work. Bath salts. Candles. Soup ingredients in a jar. Etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things if you like them, but not everyone does.

The first step toward making sure your homemade holiday gifts are really green should be choosing presents that won’t eventually end up in a landfill. Wasted food, for example? Not green. The next step is making sure that your homemade gift doesn’t involve more consumption of new resources than buying something from a store would. What can you make using materials you have on hand or get source secondhand or even outside? What can you make using trash? (You know, nice clean trash like bottle caps, not old butter wrappers.)

So with that in mind, here are five green homemade gift ideas that aren’t too difficult and can be made with stuff you already may have lying around.

Need a gift for a baby or a bunny lover? Wee Wonderfuls has an easy pattern for a wee bunny that can be made with fabric scraps or old clothes.


Reusable Shopping Bags: Going Green Means USING THEM

Thursday, November 18th, 2010
By Christa

Commenter Nora Charles brought up an extremely good point in a recent post, namely that those supposedly eco-friendly reusable grocery bags pitched by stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes are made from petrochemicals. Not to mention that they don’t always last that long, and it’s so easy to forget them in the car. Advertised as a green option, reusable shopping bags can be a good alternative to paper or plastic, provided that you actually remember to bring them into the store every time you shop.

But are they green? As WSJ described the reusable grocery bag that supermarket chains frequently display by the checkout:

It’s manufactured in China, shipped thousands of miles overseas, made with plastic and could take years to decompose. It’s also the hot “green” giveaway of the moment: the reusable shopping bag… Home Depot distributed 500,000 free reusable shopping bags last April on Earth Day, and Wal-Mart gave away one million. One line of bags features tags that read, “Saving the World One Bag at a Time.”

You could say, okay, I’ll opt for a nice new set of cotton grocery totes, but that’s not necessarily the best choice, either. Even non-recycled plastic grocery totes may be more eco-friendly to manufacture than ones made from cotton or canvas, both of which can use large amounts of water and energy to produce, not to mention harsh chemical dyes. And even that plastic grocery tote may have taken 28 times more energy to produce than a plastic bag and eight times more energy than a paper bag. Huh.

So what, exactly, makes a reusable grocery bag green? The short answer? Using them. Four or five reusable shopping bags can apparently replace 520 plastic or paper bags each year. Unless you’re one of the (relatively rare, according to surveys) people who recycles your plastic bags, that means a whole lot of bags that won’t go into landfills. So remember to grab those bags!

What, that’s not green enough for you? You’re still worried about those petrochemicals and all that production energy? Great, I have yet another solution for you, and this one is even greener than buying new reusable shopping bags and actually using them. You could, if you have a sewing machine/serger or can borrow one, make your own reusable grocery bags using:

I think the first and the last DIYs are my favorite, even though I don’t have the patience (or the bags) necessary to actually make the first ones. The last one, though, I’m itching to try, and not just for reusable grocery bags, either. (The Beard has apparently lost all the lunch bags in the house.) Have you tried making your own reusable shopping bags? How’d it work out?

Image via

8 Ways to Have a Greener Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
By Christa

Eat Locally
Depending on where you live, you may be able to get your turkey from a turkey farm that you can actually go and visit. How far did that shrinkwrapped Butterball travel, anyway? And the same goes for everything else on the Thanksgiving table. Sure, a locally-sourced Thanksgiving meal may mean choosing only seasonal items, but that’s how whoever really held the first Thanksgiving would have ate (whether they were in Massachusetts, Virginia, or Florida, as some claim).

Eat Organically
Farming as it exists today can be a dirty business – even if you’re not terribly worried about eating pesticides, how about all the pesticides and weird chemical fertilizers that end up in the soil, then the ground water, then pretty much everywhere else as that water makes its way toward the ocean?

Eat Vegan
Okay, I know it’s not the most popular green Thanksgiving option – even The Beard and I can’t manage to make the jump to veganism. But if you create a vegan menu that does not include all the weird processed faux meats and pre-packaged products that often go hand-in-hand with veganism, you can create some amazing organic, locally-grown foods that comes with less of an environmental impact than meat and animal product farming (even the cruelty-free kind).

Opt for Dry Over Canned
Canning food takes more energy and more water (duh) than drying, so whenever you’re using something like rice or beans or lentils in your menu, look for dried alternatives in bags. With all the cooking already going on, how hard is it to soak your beans overnight? And in some recipes, no pre-soaking is required. Bonus: Dried X is almost always less expensive than canned X.

Think Whole Foods
I secretly think that cooking Thanksgiving dinner is a huge pain in the butt that’s usually not worth the trouble, but I understand that not everyone feels the same. So I can absolutely understand why many people are driven to use a lot of convenience foods – bottled gravy, cranberry sauce in a can, etc. – but whole foods are a whole lot greener. Cranberry sauce? So easy to make. Gravy, a little trickier, but not impossible, and so much tastier.

Cook Less and Use the Leftovers
Do you really need the biggest, baddest turkey out there? Some people do, but not everyone. Do you really need to make sure everyone at Thanksgiving can go back for thirds? That’s how Americans manage to pack away 4,500 calories at Thanksgiving dinner. Sure, it’s one day of excess, but most families end up working their way through leftovers until they can’t take the turkey any more. Don’t forget to compost those food scraps!

Use the Good Stuff
It’s Thanksgiving! So bust out the nice plates and the real napkins! Paper plates and napkins may be convenient, but they’re not all that Earth friendly and they don’t exactly contribute to a festive holiday atmosphere. And while we’re on the subject of grandma’s silver, skip the harsh, caustic polishes and try cheap white toothpaste instead.

Keep Clean-Up Green
If you’re not already using eco-friendly cleansers and soaps, now is a great time to start! How about a bar of organic goat’s milk soap in the bathroom and a spray bottle of Biokleen All-Purpose Cleaner for the countertops?

People In Straw Houses Shouldn’t Fear Fires

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
By Christa

Let’s talk about straw bale construction! Hey, wait, before you zone out, straw bale construction is pretty darn cool, and renewable building materials are something everyone who’s interested in owning a home or building some day should think about. At least a little. What’s so great about straw bale construction in particular?

For one thing, straw is what’s left over when grains – like wheat, rice, barley, oats, and rye – are harvested, so it’s not in short supply. Sometimes fields of straw are just burnt, releasing not insignificant amounts of air pollution. And since straw is a secondary waste material, its embodied energy is low. Straw bales are great insulators, which means less energy spent on heating and cooling.

If you’re worried about fire, don’t be. Researchers at the University of Bath determined through testing that straw bale homes have fire resistance as good as houses built of conventional building materials. The main worry that straw bale construction enthusiasts worry about is moisture, but fungus or mildew growth can be avoided with smart building practices.

Sounds good, right? And straw bale construction doesn’t have to look like some wacky eco house. There are two flavors of straw bale construction: load-bearing and in-fill. Load-bearing straw bale construction doesn’t require a frame – weight from the room is distributed on the bales themselves. The drawback to this flavor is that you’re limited to a relatively simply one-story structure. With in-fill straw bale construction, you have more design flexibility because the bales are integrated into a wood frame.

In either case, you’re not simply looking at straw, whether you’re inside or out – walls are plastered and covered with a variety of materials. Straw bale construction can result in some very beautiful homes, a la the eco-friendly country home above.

Two books I recommend looking into are The Straw Bale House and Strawbale Home Plans. The first is a great comprehensive guide to the whys and hows or straw bale construction – basically, it’s a great primer for anyone interested in eco-friendly building. The second contains 30 inspirational pictures and plans to help anyone who wants to delve deeper into the world of straw bale construction take the next step.

P.S. – Speaking of homes and housing, go check out my post about the Small House Revolution on Manolo for the Home!

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