Green Manolo

Congress Spends Big On Bottled Water

February 18th, 2011
By Christa

By now most of us know that bottled water isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Hello, greenwashing! But I guess Congress didn’t get the message – even after a 2009 hearing of a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee received a report indicating that the EPA rules for tap water are more rigorous than the FDA rules that govern bottled water. In case you missed it, a report from the nonprofit Corporate Accountability International found last month that between April 2009 and March 2010, House lawmakers spent an average of $2,000 per member on Deer Park bottled water.

I’d laugh at the whole thing if I hadn’t paid for some tiny portion of that water with my tax dollars.

Yesterday’s post on indoor air quality in the winter included a single mention of winter drafts, which many green living enthusiasts care bunches about since we’re all apparently nutty about turning down the thermostat. Assuming you’ve nudged down your thermostat as far as it can reasonably go this winter – and what a winter! – there are always a few tricks you can user to stay warm by maximizing the warmth you have!

One old school example is the draft dodger – at its simplest, a humble tube of fabric stuffed with uncooked rice or kitty little or dried beans. It doesn’t have to be humble, however, as this DIY draft dodger kit from Banquet Atelier & Workshop shows:

The kit includes a snake front and back (expertly screen printed in water-based ink on 100% cotton), acrylic paint set with brush, needle, thread, wool felt tongue, stuffing (although you’re going to want to supplement his guts with dried beans, old socks etc), and easy-peasy instructions.

How bad is indoor air pollution in the winter, really? According to some people, it can be pretty bad – as in worse than the pollution in the air outdoors. Think of outdoor air as the baseline, and imagine that everything that’s offgassing or putting out emissions in your home is adding to that. Then add to that the fact that in the battle of the wintertime drafts, we’re blocking out incoming fresh air, aka drafts.

So where’s all this indoor air pollution coming from? Cigarettes, if you’re a smoker. And incense, candles, and cooking. Consumer products releasing formaldehyde fumes and other aldehydes into the air. And sometimes even mold, if you like to keep things moist. Among other things.

None of us in cold weather climates is exempt, so it’s pretty important that we look into ways of cleaning our indoor air when we’re spending so much time breathing it in! Here are five ways to improve indoor air quality in your home for the remainder of this long, chilly winter:

1. When you have a choice, stick to VOC-free paint and organic mattresses and air-friendly, natural versions of things that tend to release nasty gasses in synthetic form. That means rugs and couches and plastic products.

2. Make sure your exhaust fans actually vent out of doors – the air in kitchens and bathrooms can get pretty moist, and that can lead to a buildup of mold. If your fans don’t vent to the outside, consider buying a small dehumidifier if your home tends to retain moisture.

3. Quit smoking! It’s not just bad for the air, it’s also bad for you. Can’t fathom quitting? Then brave the cold and light up outside where the secondhand smoke can dissipate instead of lingering in the air.

4. Make sure combustion appliances, like gas stoves, fireplaces, boilers, and furnaces are working at peak efficiency. That means changing filters, getting regular maintenance done, and keeping appliances clean.

5. Speaking of cleaning, damp dusting and vacuuming – especially with a specialized HEPA filters can go a long way toward clearing the air of allergens and particulates that settle and are disturbed, settle and are disturbed. For keeping air clean, stick to homemade cleansers like these.

Hang some houseplants!

In 1984, NASA senior research scientist Dr. Bill Wolverton tested houseplants for their ability to maintain clean air for future habitable lunar bases. Testing in sealed chambers, Wolverton found that philodendrons and golden pothos were excellent formaldehyde controllers; gerbera daisy and chrysanthemums were impressive benzene purgers; pot mums and peace lilies were highly rated for TCE removal. His initial findings suggested that one to three mature plants were enough to improve the air in a 100-cubic-foot area. He also found that it wasn’t just plants doing the clean-up work, but the microbes that were specific to the plants’ roots. Another 1989 NASA study concluded that tested houseplants removed up to 87 percent of toxic indoor air within 24 hours.

P.S. – Yours truly recently posted over at Manolo for the Brides about sustainable wedding trends! If you’re engaged or weddings are just one of your favorite things, check it out.

Could You Choose 10 Essentials?

February 15th, 2011
By Christa

It’s pretty widely agreed that there’s a lot of overlap between the green movement and the minimalist movement. If you don’t have a ton of stuff, you don’t need a ton of space, which means you don’t need to waste a lot of time, money, or or energy heating/cleaning/maintaining/powering/etc. a ton of stuff or space.

Minimalism isn’t necessarily green, just as eco-friendly living doesn’t mean having to live like a monk, but taking a few minutes to consider what you own and why you own it can be plenty green.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits posted about choosing your 10 essentials a la the GQ series – not 10 essential possessions, but rather your 10 essentials for living. What you wear, what inspires you, where you love to be, that favorite food you can’t live without… that sort of thing. And I found the idea to be extremely inspiring.

When you create a list of your 10 essentials, you gain a whole new perspective on all those things that aren’t strictly necessary at all. Turns out there’s a good chance there’s plenty of stuff in your home and in your life that you could get rid of without ever feeling deprived.

What’s on your list of 10 essentials? What have you realized you can live without?

Image: Apartment Therapy

It’s not always easy to keep holidays green, but it’s possible. It’s especially easy to indulge without thinking when there’s chocolate everywhere, but in the spirit of Earth-friendliness, make yours organic!

Too Many Sweaters… Not Enough Scarves?

February 11th, 2011
By Christa

The other day, I took an old sweater of mine and turned it into a dress for La Paloma. I’m really proud of the end result but… I winged it, so there are little things wrong with it. Seams that don’t line up particularly well and so on. If I hadn’t been impatient and had followed directions created by those with more repurposing experience than me, maybe it would have been even better.

Turns out, I still have a ton of old and new sweaters that I’m probably never ever going to wear – sorry, bad gift givers! When I went looking for more repurposing ideas, I found a great tutorial for turning a sweater into a hat and scarf.

Okay, it’s technically a hat and scarf set for a kid, but with a big enough sweater, the sky is the limit! No need to make an owl – or even an animal at all. But if you like the animal idea, the sky is still the limit. This is the kind of clothing repurposing I love – that and t-shirt mods.

Lost Weight By Lowering Your Thermostat?

February 10th, 2011
By Christa

When you hear someone say ‘how low can you go?’ what’s the first image that comes to mind? A limbo stick, perhaps? Or maybe a scale? Or are you like me, and a picture of a programmable thermostat pops into your head? I don’t know where you keep your thermostat in the wintertime, but around here it’s set to 65F during the day. Yep, 65F.

Used to be, we kept it at balmy temperatures – I’m talking shorts weather, all year round – but that’s because I lived in NYC where it’s pretty uncommon to actually pay for heat. In Boston, we dropped it to 68F. Then a while ago, it somehow got set to 65F without anyone really knowing how, and La Paloma didn’t seem to mind and The Beard doesn’t care and the gas bill never looked better… oh, and using less gas is green, too… so I left it.

Now you can bet when I read on Treehugger that research published in the journal Obesity Reviews seems to have discovered a link between increasing average indoor temperatures and rising rates of obesity, I was suddenly feeling pretty good about my little socks-and-slippers house.

lower your thermostat to lost weight

TIME has picked up on the story, linking to a study by researchers at University College London:

The authors of the new study note that average indoor temperatures have risen steadily in the U.K. and U.S. over the last several decades, as central heating has become increasingly available — and rates of obesity have risen too. The average temperature in British living rooms went from 64.9 degrees F to 70.3 degrees F, from 1978 to 2008. Living rooms in the U.S. have long been heated to at least 70 degrees F.

It’s all about the modern expectation of comfort – we want to be warm and we can be warm, but when we’re warm there’s not all that much going on metabolically. But when it’s just a bit colder, even when we’re not shivering, the calorie-burning power of brown fat is activated. It starts working to warm us up, and it sticks around. When we’re warm all the time, on the other hand, levels of brown fat decrease and there goes that ability to burn a few extra calories in the cold. 100 to 200 per day, but hey, that adds up!

The only problem? Dr. C. Ronald Kahn, a Harvard Medical School professor who does research on brown fat, says people don’t like to keep their houses chilly and won’t stick with it. What do you think? Is weight loss enough of a reason to drop your thermostat in the wintertime?

Just Like You: Smart, Good Looking, Eco-Friendly

February 9th, 2011
By Christa

I love bags and I especially love these bags from Plaid Doctrine. Those sweet plaids and checks and stripes? All of them are high-performance recycled fabrics sourced domestically whenever possible. And that leather? It’s vegetable tanned leather, instead of the stuff I was talking about last week that’s tanned using the kind of stuff that ruins rivers.

Plaid Doctrine bags are made for work and travel – we’re not talking about some sissy purse that’s going to get a hole in it after a few weeks of use. Their totes, sleeves, briefcases, and organizers are sewn to last, all while being pretty darn low impact. (I should also mention that all that low impactness doesn’t exactly come cheap, but when does it ever?)

Why No Garbage Power In the US?

February 8th, 2011
By Christa

Averaged out across the US, we’re all producing four pounds of garbage per day. That’s 250 million tons of trash each year. Maybe we’re not making it directly, but we’re indirectly responsible for those numbers. And most of that municipal solid waste, as it’s known, gets collected and shuttled into landfills where it sits. And sits. And sits. And siiiits, doing a whole lot of nothing. But at the Commerce Refuse to Energy Facility in California, trash is being used to create enough power about 15,000 homes at any given time.

That’s waste-to-energy. Or energy-from-waste. Whatever you want to call it. It’s when garbage is used to create heat or electricity or even combustible fuel. At Commerce, garbage becomes energy via fire – there’s a huge furnace where everything from clothing to waste packaging to paper is incinerated in a giant fire that burns all day and all night. The heat powers turbines that make electricity, and that electricity is sold to providers. Supposedly, it burns pretty cleanly, but there are still concerns about poisonous emissions so instead of building waste-to-energy plants, we dig more landfills. (According to the New York Times, modern incineration plants are so clean that “many times more dioxin is now released from home fireplaces and backyard barbecues than from incineration.”)

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Green giving is sometimes a big pain in the tush – and green Valentine’s Day giving is no exception. Maybe you buy the greenest possible gift, but the only place to get it from means a cross country shipping journey. Or those organic chocolates come wrapped in plastic in paper in plastic. And then there are cards – which are always a tough call. Are eco-friendly Valentine’s Day cards really worth it?

I guess the greenest thing to do would be to make a homemade Valentine’s Day card using your stash of elephant dung paper and clippings from E Magazine but not everyone is handy with a pair of safety scissors. Or to skip the Valentine’s Day cards altogether – but what fun is that? With that in mind, here are 9 super adorable green Valentine’s Day cards for your sweetie:

Cute candy heart cards printed on 100 percent PCW paper and printed with soy ink from Earth Invites

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