Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ode to the Winos

At the ripe old age of forty-something I belong to a "sorority" of sorts. It's a sorority of sisters that began with the commonality of living in the same neighborhood, yet we have evolved to become a group of friends who get together, drink wine and enjoy each others company. We dish about caring for and killing class pets, ailing parents, snoring spouses and the finer points of pole dancing. Ranging in age from 30's to 70's, we are varied characteristically and professionally, have children, pets or neither, are single, married, divorced. Other than being modern, like-minded, liberally thinking women from an urban territory we could potentially come from a slice of life in Any Town, USA. Except maybe Utah. We even have a moniker that we use to introduce our connection. "So, how do you know Mary?" "Oh, she's a Wino." Yes, we are a proud kind.

I assure you folks, my sentimental meandering does have a purpose. The point I'm getting at is that we drink a lot of wine which leaves a lot of bottles and corks at the end of the night. The bottles go straight into the recycling bin, yet the corks often get tossed to the trash. It turns out, however, that you can now recycle your corks. It takes a bit more work, but environmentally speaking, is worth it. Yemm & Hart, a company in Missouri, is collecting wine corks with the goal of turning them into sustainable products, most specifically wine cork tiles. At the end of 2007 they had received 3,000 lbs. of corks! Recork America, a subsidiary of Amorim and located in Larkspur, CA, is working to turn the corks into items such as flooring, ping pong paddles and insulation. Thus far they have collected over 300,000 corks. Convienently, Recork has set up donation drop offs at several Whole Foods within California, as well as many locations throughout Napa, Yountville and St. Helena. You can view a complete list of collection locations here.

Recork's motto is "Making a difference one cork at a time." I'm thinking that might also be a pretty good motto for The Winos to adopt. Now we can enjoy our favorite pastime while doing some good for Mother Earth. So, here, here. I toast to The Winos. My favorite ladies who have my back, as I do theirs. Cheers.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Enjoy What You've Got, While You've Got It.

"It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it's still here." - Edward Abbey

There is a list of places to see before they disappear due to climate change. Places that we take for granted in the same manner of thinking that our friends and family will always be by our sides. There is a circle of life that occurs and it now appears that the same cycle applies to many of our beloved historical sites.

According to CNN there are some specific sites that scientists expect to be altered or ruined due to climate change. Those locations are: Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado, Alpine Glaciers, Switzerland, the Amazon Rain Forest in Brazil, and my beloved favorite New Orleans, Louisiana. Others have hinted at the demise of The Pyramids of Giza, the Tower of London, the city of Venice, The Dead Sea, Florida Everglades... the list goes on and on. Heck, Frommer's has created a whole book on the 500 places to see before they disappear.

In my world I cannot imagine the possibility of not visiting the rain forest, alps or heading back to N'awlins. In my world we all dance with flowers in our hair while dreaming of places such as those mentioned above. Instead we are destroying the beauty around us. I suppose this metaphor could be used for many scenarios. [insert favorite noun here]. As a sheltered girl who didn't get on a plane until the age of 16 there is nothing more that I want for my children other than to be happy and travel. Traveling opens our eyes, our hearts and our minds. It is a tragic occurrence that we are losing some of the beauty that makes our planet so incredibly wondrous. What will we be left with once its all gone? Pixar has left an indelible mark on me as my mind usually wanders to the scenes from Wall-E when imagining our future world. It looks nothing like the future I imagined as a kid: can you say, Jetsons?!

So get your travel on and go. Forget the new carpet and paint. Forget the boob job you don't need. Go travel. Learn. Listen. See. Those images you stumble across might be gone tomorrow.

Monday, March 16, 2009

What is Fluffy Laying On?

Once upon a time there was a little kitty named Midnight. Midnight loved to lounge about on the comfy, flame-retardant sofa that her master so lovingly provided for her. Day and night she had her spot, and no one dare invade her spot or think of shooing her off. Years went by as Midnight lounged in the sun while taking in toxic fumes that emanated from the fire-proof perch she called home. Of course, during those last years her master did have to become a bit of a nurse while injecting Midnight with fluids to keep her alive due to a hyperthyroid disease. As you can imagine she didn't like those needles anymore than you or I would like them. In the end, Midnight perished from the toxic chemicals found in his owners couch. That couch belonged to Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute and a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley's Department of Chemistry. Blum documented her story in an L.A. Times article titled "Did the State Kill My Cat?" It's a reasonable question considering that Blum's cat was tested by a veterinarian epidemiologist and was found to have among the highest levels of PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers - aka: bad chemicals) ever documented in animal research. This has led Blum to become a leader in defeating proposed standards that would keep PBDEs in our products.

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers are organobromine compounds that are used as flame retardant and can be found in several products including furnishings, airplanes, textiles and building materials. The problem with PBDEs is the ubiquitous usage in household products that provide low-levels of exposure. Those low-levels add up to significant problems. PBDEs can be inhaled and ingested without an individual even realizing it and then are stored in fat tissue, breast milk, blood... Individuals who are most at risk are those working in the manufacturing plants that use PBDEs in their products. Some of the risks from exposure include asthma, kidney and liver problems, hormone disruption, and brain development disruption in children. It 'aint pretty, folks.

So, here's the biggest problem. California is the worst in the United States for high levels of PBDEs, being ten times higher than other states and 200 times higher than Europe. A law authored by assemblyman Mark Leno would require all seating, bedding, and furniture to comply with requirements that eliminate brominated or chlorinated flame retardants and be adequately labeled by January 1, 2010. One can only hope that we will begin to move in the direction of eliminating toxic and unnecessary chemicals from all household products. Until it is required of companies it is imperative that you do your homework on products and buy organic. Companies such as EcoChoices, Furnature, Lee Industries, and Cisco Brothers all produce lines of organic furnishings that do not contain PBDEs. Until then, keep Fluffy off the couch and work toward eliminating those PBDEs from your life.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Where Do All the Baggies Go?

I hate making school lunches. I hate coming up with clever menus in an attempt to get my kids to eat somewhat healthy meals each day. I mostly get by with pb&j sandwiches, a bit of fruit, and goldfish crackers that are likely loaded with more ingredients than necessary, and every so often I get very savvy and plan ahead with leftovers from the previous nights dinner. So how do I package all of these delicious morsels for my little chicas? Why, with love, of course. I also have utilized products from Kid Konserve and Wrap-N-Mat. Both provide wonderfully reusable products that can be used in kid and adult lunches. The Laptop Lunch just didn't do it for me, but I know many families who rave about it and manage to make the bento style box work amazingly for their food choices.

So, while I was diligently using the reusable sandwich wraps and stainless steel food containers I always felt remiss while grabbing for a plastic ziplock bag for particular items. It was only after stopping in at Kid Dynamo, a great "healthy kid, healthy planet" retail store in Berkeley, that the owners turned me onto natural waxed paper bags. They are unbleached, non-toxic when incinerated, landfill safe, and will not contaminate ground water. You can just toss them in your compost or trash and know that you are not contributing to our growing environmental detriment. Since using them I have found them to hold up great for sliced fruits or veggies, chips, crackers, etc.... pretty much anything you would use plastic bags for except mushy-type items that would be better served in a reusable glass container.

To put the plastic bag usage in perspective Americans throw away close to 100 billion plastic bags each year. Many of those are plastic ziplock baggies. These bags often end up in our bodies of water, which then end up in our fish, and then onto our dinner tables. As described by Katharine Mieszkowski of Salon Magazine, "Plastic bags are killing us." By replacing our plastic bag usage with non-toxic items that we can compost there is a chance of eliminating this epidemic while preventing scenarios such as this...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What Would Dave Do?

Yes, what would Dave do? Dave being none other than the formidable Dave Brower, former founder and executive director of the Sierra Club, founder of Friends of the Earth (FOE), Earth Island Institute, Rainforest Action Network, and several other environment groups. Dave was basically just a kick-ass guy who stood up for what he believed in, and wasn't afraid to back down to those who told him no. Dave also was the guy who, way back in 1970, created the first Earth Day. Heck, Dave was even born in Berkeley which I find pretty cool. Oh, and he was also nominated THREE times for the nobel peace prize. Pretty impressive, hey? So now you can watch this quick little video about Dave and the Brower Youth Awards. Just remember to think about that question they leave you with... what WILL you do

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Story of Stuff

Once upon a time there was a story of stuff. A lovely story, really. Extraction, Production, and Distribution. And then there was Consumption and Disposal, all at play while Mother Earth watched over.

To hear The Story of Stuff, narrated by Annie Leonard, settle in, get comfortable and enjoy the story. I hope that you are able to come away with some reflection on our daily routines and how those habits effect our planet.

"Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step." -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Things Are Not Always as They Seem

What does it mean to be green? There are more and more "green" labels getting slapped onto one product after the next these days. Green has become the new trend and companies are trying every which way possible to be a part of the new movement. Be forewarned, however. Many of these so-called green companies are practicing what has become known as greenwashing. As explained on Wikipedia:
  • Greenwash (a pormanteau of green and whitewash) is a term used to describe the practice of companies disingenuously spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly, such as by presenting cost cuts as reductions in use of resources. It is a deceptive use of green PR or green marketing. The term green sheen has similarly been used to describe organizations that attempt to show that they are adopting practices beneficial to the environment.
Some of the most blatant examples of green washing is to simply slap a green leaf on the packaging and call it pure, natural or organic. The current Power of Human Energy campaign by Chevron is a prime example. They have spent $15 million coming up with some great diddies that are plastered on buses and billboards touting statements such as "I will carpool to work" and "I will use less energy" while being listed as one of the top ten corporate polluters. Chevron has been fined more than $300 million by the Kazakhstan government for environmental violations and $1.8 million in the United States for their water and air pollution violations at their Richmond, California refinery. One can only hope that there is some truth to their promise of investing in clean and efficient energy options.

Bamboo. Ah, bamboo. Everyone loves bamboo these days. It is the "it" item to have, install, wear. Granted, bamboo is a rapidly renewable resource but there are several additional factors that should be considered. For instance, with wood floors. There is a knee-jerk reaction to install bamboo flooring without looking deeper at the environmental implications that can be at play. Urea-formaldehyde is an incredibly noxious chemical that can be found in adhesives in many wood floor options. It is very important when installing bamboo, or any flooring, that it is a UF-free product. Next, you should inquire as to where your bamboo flooring is coming from. Quite frequently you can find a bamboo product that has travels to five different countries for total assembly. Bamboo in one country. Adhesives in another, assembly in a third. So yes, bamboo is a sustainable choice but not if its travels half way around the world and contains dangerous chemicals that will off gas in your home for the next twenty years. Plyboo is just one of many great flooring option available within the U.S.

So what's the moral of all this blabbering? Ask questions and think about the big picture when looking at "green" products. Things are not always as they seem.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Many Uses of Coffee Filters

There is a spam spewing email inundating the internet that touts the many uses of coffee filters. It's actually a quite useful set of ideas except that a more sustainable practice would be to use a rag, a reusable cleaning cloth, or one of Methods multiple use clothes that are for glass, wood or stainless steel. If you are set on sticking with coffee filters just make sure they are unbleached and natural, and don't forget to follow #15, my added suggestion, to compost those bad boys.

Okay, here goes:
  1. Cover bowls or dishes when cooking in the microwave. Coffee filters make excellent covers.
  2. Clean windows and mirrors. Coffee filters are lint-free so they'll leave windows sparkling.
  3. Protect China. Separate your good dishes by putting a coffee filter between each dish.
  4. Filter broken cork from wine. If you break the cork when opening a bottle of wine, filter the wine through a coffee filter.
  5. Protect a cast-iron skillet. Place a coffee filter in the skillet to absorb moisture and prevent rust.
  6. Apply shoe polish (who uses shoe polishes anymore?!). Ball up a lint-free coffee filter and use to apply polish.
  7. Recycle frying oil. After frying, strain oil through a sieve lined with a coffee filter.
  8. Weigh chopped foods. Place chopped ingredients in a coffee filter on a kitchen scale.
  9. Hold tacos. Coffee filters make convenient wrappers for messy foods.
  10. Stop the soil from leaking out of a plant pot. Line a plant pot with a coffee filter to prevent the soil from going through the drainage holes.
  11. Prevent a Popsicle from dripping. Poke a hole or two, as needed, in a coffee filter and drop the popsicle handle in. Drip will fall onto filter and away from little (or big!) hands.
  12. Use strips to wax your eyebrows. (*disclaimer. this is not something I advocate unless you truly know what you're doing!!!)
  13. Put a few filters in a plate and put your fried bacon, french fries, chicken fingers, or other greasy foods on them. They soak out all the grease.
  14. Keep them in the bathroom for "razor nick fixers."
  15. Compost. Compost. Compost.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

In Through The Front Door...

...once around the back, peek through the window, and off jumps Jack! If you are a knitter you will recognize the phrase. As a newbie, just off the turnip truck beginner, I managed to get through a stitch or two with that phrase. I have found knitting quite zen-like. A great way to calm the mind with the meditative practice of working the needles and yarn. Now, with the onset of several sustainable yarns you can feel at peace while also giving a nod to the planet.

At Purl in New York City you can find bamboo and organic cotton fibers, while Mango Moon Yarns, working to change the world one stitch at a time" sells yarn and thread from discarded saris and sarongs. Lana Knits Designs carries a luxurious hemp line that is both durable and nonshrinkable, and vegan knitters can get their groove on with Soysilk hypoallergenic and vegan fibers made out of the remnants from tofu manufacturing!

You can find more information on working with these fibers and knitting tips here. So grab a nice, comforting cup of tea, sit on down and get Jack jumping off the needles.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Can You Hear Me Now?

Have you ever wondered what happens to the 2 billion cell phones that are currently in use worldwide after we've all stopped talking? After we've upgraded the old Nokias for the newest and snazziest, got-to-have model? Gee, that sort of comes out sounding like the 60 year old going through a mid-life crisis while upgrading his older, but stable wife for the younger, and cuter model. But I digress.... cell phones. Yes, they've become the necessary evil, but they do prove to be useful, especially in times of emergency. Which leads me to one of the best uses for recycling your old cell phone. The Wireless Foundation is a non-profit organization that refurbishes old cell phones for survivors of domestic violence. The refurbished phones are sold with 100% of the sales going toward prevention programs and national awareness campaigns. You can go here to find your local drop off location. You can also find drop boxes for Cell Phones for Soldiers at various AT&T stores throughout the United States. AT&T has donated more than $500,000 for pre-paid phone cards allowing our troops to call home.

But what about your small appliances and television, you ask? With MP3 players inundating every ear canal on the planet its a worthy question. Apple will accept your old iPods or cell phones and provide a 10% discount on the purchase of a new iPod. It's not a perfect solution since keeping your old player is better for the environment, but if you've got to toss it than at least toss to those who will recycle. Staples and RadioShack have also implemented in-store recycling programs where you can drop off your smaller, unwanted electronics. Best Buy will haul away and recycle your old television when you purchase a new one from them, and Office Depot provides a Tech Recycling Program by selling boxes for $5, $10, or $15 which you fill with as many approved items as possible and the company will do the recycling for you.

If none of the above options fill your recycling needs you can always turn to the tried, and true, Earth911 for information on recycling virtually anything in your area. Now clear your conscious and your closet and get on with your recycling!