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Archive for January, 2011

Should You Put Your Home On a Diet?

Monday, January 17th, 2011
By Christa

Is decluttering green? That’s the question that popped into my head while I was reading a HouseLogic post entitled “Resolution: Put Your House on a Diet“, which advises paring down your collection of *stuff* for a better new year. Of course decluttering is green when you recycle what’s recyclable and sell or giveaway the perfectly good things you just don’t want or need. But is decluttering overall a necessary part of green living – as in, can one live a cluttered life while still following the tenets of an eco-friendly philosophy?

Some people argue not in favor of the cluttered life, but against the current societal obsession with organization that can be in and of itself not quite green. After all, if decluttering your home requires you to buy bunches of plastic storage bins and rooms of new furniture to accommodate your newly organized lifestyle, maybe you’d have been better off staying cluttered. Ditto if you can’t sort through your unwanted possessions without feeling an intense urge to throw everything out as soon as trash days rolls around or if are one of those people who finds themselves itching to shop until you drop after decluttering because there is suddenly so much space to fill.

On the other hand, there are plenty reasons to consider the act of decluttering part of a green and balanced and healthy existence. Having too much stuff that isn’t wanted or necessary forces some people to live in houses or apartments that are bigger than they want or can afford – and that can mean unnecessarily high heating and energy costs. Sometimes the old – as in, ‘out with the old’ – is itself unhealthy, like old baby bottles made with BPAs. Clutter is also in opposition to the part of the green mantra that suggests people reduce (along with re-use and recycle). And if air quality is something that’s important to you, decluttering your home means fewer surfaces on which dust and pollutant particulates can settle.

In the early part of 2011, I personally hope to make good on the Throw Out Fifty Things challenge, and I do happen to think decluttering is an important part of green living when done right. How about you? Do you get rid of clutter as a part of living a more eco-friendly life?

Image: MixedGrill

For Those Not In the Know: Riparian Zone Defined

Friday, January 14th, 2011
By Christa

In last week’s post about whether going green should be a moral duty, commenter Carla brought up “zoning regulations limiting Riparian development” as it pertains to how far one should go when it comes to dictating green behavior. Now I do sometimes like to pretend I know everything about everything, but that’s just not true, and the word riparian gave me pause. It’s just not a word I’d heard before, so of course I had to go and look it up. Here’s what Wikipedia had to say:

A riparian zone or riparian area is the interface between land and a river or stream. Riparian is also the proper nomenclature for one of the fifteen terrestrial biomes of the earth. Plant habitats and communities along the river margins and banks are called riparian vegetation, characterized by hydrophilic plants. Riparian zones are significant in ecology, environmental management, and civil engineering because of their role in soil conservation, their habitat biodiversity, and the influence they have on fauna and aquatic ecosystems, including grassland, woodland, wetland or even non-vegetative. In some regions the terms riparian woodland, riparian forest, riparian buffer zone, or riparian strip are used to characterize a riparian zone.

Well, huh. It never really struck me before, but now that I think about it, it’s pretty obvious that the strip of land on either side of a body of running water will always be important and often a bit different from the surrounding landscape for a variety of reasons. Riparian, riparian, riparian! It’s one of those words I think I’ll be glad to have picked up in the future, and I hope you’ll keep it in the back of your mind, as well.

Re-Use Doesn’t Have to Mean Lots of Effort for Little Returns

Thursday, January 13th, 2011
By Christa

Boy, the last couple of posts have been downers. Greenwashing? The problem with carbon negativity? Huge islands of garbage? Bleah. It’s that kind of stuff that keeps some people from embracing a greener lifestyle. Not that it’s right – more knowledge is almost always a good thing – but there are plenty of people who, when confronted with a huge problem, would rather close their eyes to it than figure out how to become part of a solution. That’s when those green baby steps I mentioned on Monday come in handy… and one of my favorite green baby steps is re-use!

Re-use doesn’t always have to mean stuff like washing out plastic zipper bags or using a sewing machine to turn old clothes into smaller, less holey clothes or finding uses for every single coffee tin you’ve ever accumulated. Though, frankly, they’re all good things to do. Sometimes re-use means taking something that’s basically unwanted and turning it into something artful and beautiful that makes your personal environment that much nicer. Individuals can do this all on their own, of course, but not everyone is crafty by nature, which is why companies like Ghost Furniture exist. They specialize in making the unwanted into the coveted, and they do a pretty good job of it.

Right now, I’m lusting after this piece, which began its life as a dressing table mirror found in an abandoned house. Ghost Furniture added five delicate little vintage patisserie tins, a fabulously ornate vintage cake server, and two delicately decorated spoons, and painted the whole thing in a matte grayish taupe color that highlights the unique silhouettes of each object. If that isn’t a sweet way to re-use old kitchen accessories that aren’t pulling their weight at mealtimes, I don’t know what is. And even though this particular piece costs £175, I can easily see even a non-crafty person DIYing it with either things he or she had around already or little things found at garage sales and swaps for cheap.

Some Good News for a Change? The Great Pacific Garbage Patch May Not Be So Great

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011
By Christa

You may have heard tell of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which floats lazily in the center of the North Pacific Gyre, and how it is roughly twice the size of Texas or even larger than the continental U.S. But like a lot of tales, the story of the Great Garbage Patch may turn out to be a tall one. At least according to one Oregon State University scientist. I certainly won’t debate that there is plenty of pollution in the Earth’s oceans, both close to the shore and far from human habitation, and that it’s bad for the environment and ought to be cleaned up. But I think it’s easier to inspire people to take on stewardship of the oceans when everyone is honest about just how much there is to clean up.

Angelicque White, Professor of Oceanography also has no interest in trying to convince anyone that Earth’s oceans are clean, but she did take part in a scientific expedition to examine the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and found that it may just be that genuine scientific concerns are being undermined by scare tactics.

“There is no doubt that the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans is troubling, but this kind of exaggeration undermines the credibility of scientists,” says Professor White. “We have data that allow us to make reasonable estimates; we don’t need the hyperbole. Given the observed concentration of plastic in the North Pacific, it is simply inaccurate to state that plastic outweighs plankton, or that we have observed an exponential increase in plastic. The amount of plastic out there isn’t trivial, but the patch … is a small fraction of the state of Texas, not twice the size.”

Assuming Professor White and the team’s findings are correct, I’m glad to hear that there’s not as much garbage floating out there as was initially predicted. That much plastic and human debris bobbing around in the Pacific (not to mention the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans, which also have their garbage patches) was really a scary thought. But I also agree with Professor White when she says that plastic and garbage do not belong in the ocean and that what’s needed now are initiatives to keep it from getting dumped in there in the first place since even a Great Garbage Patch that isn’t so great would still cost a ton of money to clean up.

Fiji Water: Another Reason You Can’t Believe Every Piece of Green Press

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011
By Christa

Have you heard that Fiji Water is the latest company to find itself on the wrong end of a lawsuit for greenwashing? The water co. is apparently going to court for deceptively marketing itself as “carbon-negative.” As it turns out, Fiji Water’s self-proclaimed carbon-negativity is wishful thinking since, according to a US District Court class-action suit filed by a Newport, California firm, the company is giving itself credits for carbon reductions that haven’t actually been secured. Sounds interesting, right? But is it true? According to Mother Jones, Fiji Water has said in a press release that the offsets necessary to make it carbon-negative will not be realized until 2037.

Bah, it’s crap like this that made me say no to bottled water – especially bottled water that has to be shipped around the world to get to my mouth – in favor of the classic Brita Pitcher and a still-trendy stainless steel water bottle. Municipal tap is where it’s at.

Green Baby Steps

Monday, January 10th, 2011
By Christa

Last week, I asked whether it was humanity’s moral obligation to go green, and a pretty big majority said yes. In fact, when I ran the question by my fairly conservative father, I was surprised to hear him agree that people need to think of caring for the Earth as a responsibility we all have, not something anyone can do or not do as the mood strikes. There was less agreement when it came to how to handle that moral obligation… should it be left entirely up to the individual and his or her choices? Should the government play a part in caring for the environment through regulation? (RFID recycling bins come to mind…) MarinaS brought up a good point in the comments, saying that lifestyle changes, innovation, regulation, and responsible consumerism should all be a part of going green. I wholeheartedly agree.

I also think, however, that this is where things get complicated for a lot of people who might support environmental stewardship as the responsibility of all people if it didn’t start to get overwhelming when you start expanding the scale of it all. Maybe it’s a tad intimidating – like it’s not enough that I recycle and compost and buy Fair Trade goods, now I have to vote for the right politicians and lobby for certain regulations and figure out how to support green energy when I can’t afford to switch to an electric car or install solar panels on my roof? That’s commitment right there, and I think commitment is difficult for a lot of people.

The good news is that going green is one of those things that’s easy to do on a small scale and feels kind of good when you do it, so people who start out doing a few things that are good for the environment end up doing a few more things and then a few more things. And when you’re suddenly living in a pretty environmentally conscious way, suddenly it doesn’t seem like so much work to suss out those politicians who support green legislation or to drive less and bike more and find ways to use less electricity. So while I think we should all be pursuing a greener world via as many avenues as possible, I’m totally okay with the idea that some people are taking green baby steps with short-term feel-good returns since those baby steps can lead a person in the direction of more knowledge and a greater level of commitment.

5 Ways to Go Green at Work

Friday, January 7th, 2011
By Christa

1. Solve the paper problem at your place of employment by starting a recycling program or encouraging people to use the one already in place. Some businesses are still printing things that don’t actually need to filed in hardcopy form, so consider why you’re printing that report or email next time you feel tempted to do so. Try using the .WWF file format when sending stuff to print-happy colleagues, and if you do have to print, use both sides of the paper.

2. Bring a mug to work. It sounds so simple, but little things like two paper cups of coffee a day can add up to a lot of trashed paper cups over time. Whether you have a coffee maker in your office or you’re stopping into the coffee shop downstairs, enjoy your brew in a real mug. Not a coffee (or tea) drinker? Bring a refillable water bottle instead of using the little plastic cups dispensed on the side of the big jug. Just remember to wash your mug and your bottle out at the end of the day.

3. Brown bagging it is not only a green option, it will save you money over time, too. Except skip the brown bag and the plastic wrap and get yourself a nice lunch cooler and a reusable sandwich bag or a fun bento box for leftovers. Yes, bringing your own lunch means you actually have to make your lunch ahead of time, but you may find that you’re so creative with your lunches that your coworkers look longingly at your eats as they dig into yet another round of deli sandwiches.

4. If you have a choice of computers, opt for a laptop over a desktop because laptops consume less power than a standalone tower and monitor. At the end of the day, shut down your computer before going home instead of letting it run all night in hibernation mode. Remember, that whole ‘it takes more power to turn on a computer than to leave it running‘ idea is seriously out of date. And while you’re at it, turn off the lights if you’re the last one to leave. You may not be paying for the electricity, but it’s within your power to stop people from wasting it.

5. Your morning and evening commute may just be the most environmentally unfriendly part of your workday if you drive to work solo both ways. Not all areas have a useful train or bus system in place, so mass transit may not be an option for you. But have you considered riding your bike if your commute is a short one or carpooling with a coworker if it’s a longer drive? There’s also ridesharing, where people from different workplaces sharing driving duties. And if you absolutely must drive in, alone, drive smoothly and make sure your car is well maintained.

Returns Before Shipping: Green or Gauche?

Thursday, January 6th, 2011
By Christa

Have you heard of Aunt Mildred? No, she’s not that one distant relative of yours who always gives the worst gifts, but that’s who Amazon had in mind when they came up with the Aunt Mildred program. According to the Washington Post:

The online retailer has quietly patented a way for people to return gifts before they receive them, and the patent documents even mention poor Aunt Mildred. Amazon’s innovation, not ready for this Christmas season, includes an option to “Convert all gifts from Aunt Mildred,” the patent says. “For example, the user may specify such a rule because the user believes that this potential sender has different tastes than the user.” In other words, the consumer could keep an online list of lousy gift-givers whose choices would be vetted before anything ships.

So what makes Amazon’s Aunt Mildred program green? In addition to being an economic headache and a logistical nightmare, the whole business of returning and exchanging a gift bought online isn’t exactly eco-friendly since there’s a whole lot of shipping involved. If a gift recipient can exchange a gift before ever receiving it, that’s two fewer trips that any one product has to make. Less shipping means less emissions and that means cleaner air.

Huh. I’m thinking that this might be one of those times where manners should trump making the Earth a better place, if only because Amazon’s Aunt Mildred program kind of takes the fun out of receiving gifts and seems like yet one more way that not-so-great gift givers can get out of having to find something their recipients will actually like. I know that gifts are returned and exchanged to the tune of 30% around the holiday season – which adds up to a lot of time in transit for stuff and for people – but when green gets gauche, is it really worth it? Would you use Aunt Mildred?

Yet Another Thing to Bum About: Ghost Nets

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011
By Christa

Ghost nets? Ghost fishing? Sure it sounds cool, but it’s actually pretty gross. What I didn’t know and what you may not know is that all over the sea going world, fishermen and women regularly discard old, worn out nets in the ocean. You might think, oh, how bad could it be, since they must sink to the bottom and settle there. Wrong. Those discarded nets actually float and, worse yet, just keep on fishing.

Ghost nets as long as 60 miles have been spotted floating around fishing areas and the open ocean, trapping hundreds of thousands of fish, aquatic mammals, turtles, and other living things as they move. They can also collect garbage, growing larger and more dangerous as they do, or even choke coral reefs to death.

Luckily, there are groups out there who’s sole focus is finding and collecting ghost nets and taking care of animals who find themselves wearing pieces of old fishing nets. The Ocean Defenders Alliance, for example, has made it their mission to take dangerous man-made objects like ghost nets out of underwater habitats and liberate animals stuck in those nets. And then there’s Hawaii-based Nets to Energy and New England’s Fishing for Energy, both of which are committed to collecting ghost nets and recycling them for fuel.

5 Ways to Recycle Your Christmas Tree

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011
By Christa

Unless you’re one of those people who religiously takes down your Christmas tree on the first of January, there’s a good chance it’s still sitting in your living room, possibly looking a little worse for wear at this point. I can understand why it’s still up. In addition to the whole tedious business of taking off all the decorations, there’s also the question of what to do with the thing. Unless you have a fake Christmas tree, in which case it will go back to living in the basement for the next 11 months, it’s time to start thinking about how to dispose of the Christmas tree. Put it in the trash? No way, that’s for amateurs. Recycling the Christmas tree? Now that’s what I’m talking about.

Make a Big-Ass Bird Feeder
Old Christmas trees make awesome hiding places and roosting spots for passing birds – especially if you lure them to it by “decorating” your tree with peanuts, orange slices, cranberries, strings of popcorn, suet, and seeds. Just stay away from starchy decorations, as these will attract raccoons and chipmunks instead of birds. If you don’t have a lot of places for wild fliers to hang in your yard, this is a great way to recycle your Christmas tree and invite some native birds to spend part of the winter with you and your family.

Cut Out Some Coasters
For those without fireplaces or access to community tree recycling programs, branches can be used in compost or on top of flower beds for the rest of the winter… but what to do with that pesky trunk? Turns out the trunk of your old Christmas tree might be just the right diameter for coasters. All you have to do is saw off as many rounds as you like (from the dry part of the trunk, not the part that was in the water), sand the rounds smooth, varnish or seal them (do one side and let dry before flipping), and then attach felt dots to the bottom.

Extend the Festivities With DIY Garlands and Potpourri
It’s amazing how long those needles with stay green and fragrant if you’ve been taking good care of your Christmas tree. And it’s not that difficult to weave a garland or turn green pine needles into a sweet smelling potpourri with the addition of cloves, cinnamon, dried orange peels, and other nice stuff. Make one or both, and you can extend the holiday season without being one of those people who keep their tree up until April.

Mulch It!
Do you have a neighbor with a chipper? Or maybe you just have a lot of post-holiday aggression to get out and you’re handy with a saw. Either way, it’s possible to mulch your own Christmas tree given the time and the right equipment. For those without access to a chipper, some towns have mulching events where anyone can walk in with a Christmas tree and walk out with a free bag of mulch.

Or Just Find Your Local Recycling Center
…and let them handle it. Many locales provide pick-up service between certain dates because old Christmas trees become free mulch for city property, but if yours doesn’t, you may be able to drop off your tree at a Christmas tree recycling center somewhere nearby. Try ringing up your town hall to find out how and where you can make your tree someone else’s responsibility.

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