Thursday, December 31, 2009

In With the Old, Out With the New

As our traditionally Western holiday season winds down and another new year begins, many take time to reflect on the year past, and look forward to starting fresh.  I know I do.  I think about the crazy year we just went through and think, "Whew, what a ride!  We did all THAT in just 365 days?  No wonder I am tired!"   But, this time is also a time of celebration, welcoming in the New Year with hope and optimism. 
I think over the last year, we've learned a lot as a society.  We've learned that investment bankers aren't always the smartest people in the room (quite far from it).  We've also learned that credit cards are not necessarily our friends and that just because something is shiny and new, doesn't make it better than what we already have.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Why Eco-Steps Matter

It's no secret that the world population is increasing at alarming rates. As a human race, we consume resources to survive.  And, some of us consume more than others (far beyond what would be considered necessary for survival).
Just recently, I read an article addressing our consumption entitled, "What's Your Consumption Factor?" by Jared Diamond, author of "Collapse," and "Guns, Germs and Steel."  Some of the highlights of the article are that developed nations consume resources at a relative per capita consumption rate of 32 whereas the "rest" of the world consumes at a rate far lower than that-- somewhere around 1.  And, that the disparity in these resource consumption rates is at the root of many of the world's conflicts.  This article uses China as an example of where we are headed with our consumption.  In 2008, China's per capita consumption hovered somewhere around 11.  China has the world's fastest growing economy and four times the population of the United States.  If China's consumption rises to be on par with the US, oil consumption would increase by 106 percent, and world metal consumption would increase by 94 percent.  I don't mean to pick on China or single out any particular nation.  But, it is clear that we all need to start thinking a lot differently about how we consume. 

Monday, December 14, 2009

Looking Good on the Cheap

We all want to look good.  It's part of human nature.  I dare say that what we don't want is to spend a lot of money to look our best.  And the good news is, we don't have to!  With the economic downturn of the past year, second-hand stores, consignment shops, and stores like the Good Will and The Salvation Army have come back into popularity and for good reason.  You can really find some tremendous deals on stylish, gently used clothing while helping people, saving money and being kinder to the planet.  If you haven't already seen The Story of Stuff, check it out and you'll see why shopping just a little differently is much nicer to Mother Nature.  You can look good and feel good too!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Dirty Dozen

Eating green, healthy and organic on a budget can be a challenge in the best of economies.  Whether or not you agree that organic food is more nutritious for you, it's hard to argue against the idea that pesticide-free fruits and veggies have to be better for you-- and for the environment.

What to do if you can't spend your weekly food budget going entirely organic?  You can pick and choose certain organics to avoid the most pesticides and chemicals while being kinder to your wallet.  These pesticide-laden produce are called "The Dirty Dozen." 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It's a Wrap!

It is no secret that we generate a lot of garbage.  In fact, the EPA estimates that the average American throws away 4.5 lbs of garbage per day.  And, it gets even worse during the holidays.  It is estimated that 25 million tons more waste is created during the holidays than over a typical 10-week period.  That's roughly 1 million extra tons of waste per week!  EEK!

In the spirit of taking small, eco-steps to help the environment, here are a few things you can do to help reduce that very large and ugly figure, get creative, and save yourself some time and money in the process.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Environmental Vegetarianism?

This may be the worst possible time of year to be writing about what people should or shouldn't eat.  But, it may also be the best since we are presented with many food choices at Thanksgiving, Christmas and holiday parties galore.  It is becoming mainstream knowledge (although perhaps not very popular) that what we eat affects the environment. Recently, my father-in-law passed on an article from the Washington Post that addresses just that.
 (Warning: It may not be for squeamish readers, and should probably carry a PG-13 rating due to its graphic descriptions).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Food for...Thought?

20,000 -- The number of steel cans recycled in the US every minute.

100 Milllion -- The number of cell phones Americans threw out in 2006.  Recycling them would have saved enough energy to power 194,000 homes for a year!

250,000 -- The number of gallons of water that can be polluted by a single quart of motor oil that seeps into the ground.  Definitely a reason to handle motor oil with care and dispose of it properly.

2.5 -- The number of cans of soda the average employee consumes at work per day.  Switching to filtered water via a reusable water bottle is definitely much healthier for you, your wallet and the planet!

4 pounds, 6 ounces: the amount of cosmetics that can be absorbed through the skin of a woman who wears makeup every day, over the period of one year. Your skin is eating your makeup! 

Learn more about what is in your makeup and how to make safer cosmetics choices at the Environmental Working Group's Cosmetics Database.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Slow Your Roll

Have you started your Christmas shopping yet?  I haven't.  Mentally, I am still on Halloween since I am enjoying a piece or two (or three, let's be honest here) of my kids' trick-or-treating candy haul.  And really, it's not even Thanksgiving.  Shouldn't the question be, "How are you celebrating Thanksgiving this year?"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Let There Be Light-- Compact Fluorescent (CFL) Light, That Is!

Believe it or not, the light bulb is 131 years old!  In those 131 years, we have gone from horse and buggy to rocket trips to space and back.  The world's population has grown from less than 2 billion people to just under 7 billion-- and is still growing!  That's a lot of households, a lot of light bulbs (for those with electricity) and a lot of energy to power those light bulbs! 

Since the US consumes a large majority of the world's energy, it seems only fitting and fair that we should also be a leader in conservation and environmental stewardship.  How to do your part?  You can start by changing your light bulbs.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pet Dander, Dust Mites and Mold, Oh My!

Sure, wall-to-wall shag carpet sounds all nice and cozy.  Who doesn't like walking barefoot across a plush and cushy rug?  They're warm, they're fuzzy and can pull a room together for that certain "look."  But... you may change your mind after learning about what hangs out on those carpet fibers.
In addition to the bits of popcorn from last night's movie fest and other food particles that get dropped on them, carpets can harbor things like pet dander, dust mites, mold spores, pollen, pesticides and dead skin cells.  Ewww! 
How to get rid of these things?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Take off Your Shoes and Breathe a Sigh of Relief

Many societies in the world consider it impolite to wear your shoes inside someone's home.  Well, they may be onto something!  When you think about all of the places your shoes have been during the course of a day (assuming you travel outside your house), and all of the crud that they can pick up, it seems only sensible that leaving your shoes at the door is a good thing to do.

Back in 1991, the EPA did something called a "Door Mat Study" to measure all of the bad nasties that we pick up on our shoes and bring home.

The bad news:   Their study found that we bring lead dust, chemicals, pesticides, animal dander and animal feces in from the outside.  That's pretty gross.  Of most concern was the lead dust and it's toxic effect on children.

The good news:  By doing a few simple things (like taking off our shoes at the door), we can dramatically reduce tracking all of these pollutants into our homes.  The Door Mat Study found that:

Using door mats cut toxic lead dust inside the home almost in half.
Taking shoes off at the door cut the lead dust by 60%, better than door mats.
Doing both actions — door mats and shoes off — over a five month period wiped away a stunning 98.5% of the toxic dust. Virtually eliminated all of it. 

So there you have it.  Get yourself a good door mat, take off your shoes and let your little piggies breathe cleaner air.   If you have pets that go outside, definitely go for the door mat!  And, the next time you feel weird about asking someone to remove their shoes at your house, don't.

Next up:  The Ugly Truth About Carpets (somewhat of a continuation of this post...)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Clean Your Air With House Plants

With the cooler weather upon us, most of us will be putting on our storm windows and battening down the hatches at home.  While that may bring nostalgic ideas of chestnuts roasting on an open fire and spending more time indoors,  it also brings up a far more unpleasant topic: Indoor Air Pollution.  Yuck!
On average, we spend 80-90% of our time inside buildings.  And the air we breathe inside is often more polluted than the air outside!  According to the American Lung Association, the air in our homes can contain molds, dust mites, pet dander, VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from carpets and glues used in furniture and paints, viruses and bacteria.  

What to do about it, you ask?  Plug in an air freshener?  NO!  Most commercial air fresheners and wax-based candles only cover up the smell-- and they actually ADD to the VOCs and bad nasties that you're breathing in.  Don't cover it up, clean it up-- with house plants.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fight Club - Make Your Own Laundry Soap

Yes, you can make your own laundry soap.  The formula is a bit different from the one in the movie, "Fight Club," and if you've seen it, you'll be glad that it is.  If you haven't, well, it's not for kids, but a good movie if you like Ed Norton and Brad Pitt.  I've been told it's a must-see for "intellectual hippies."

But I digress.  Back to the soap.  It's cheap, it's way easy, and it really works to get clothes clean.   I can't take credit for this recipe.  Credit goes to my cousin, Gen, who shared it with me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hey! Did Ya Know?

Interesting Factoids for a Tuesday:

The average American meal travels 2500 miles before it hits your table!
Try selecting locally grown food whenever possible.  

The average American throws out 4.5 lbs of garbage every day!

Reuse, Reuse, Reuse.  Then Recycle, Recycle, Recycle.

Americans consume more than 2.5 million bottles of water every hour, and only around 10% are recycled.
Tap water costs about $0.0015 per gallon vs. $2 for a 16-oz bottle at the convenience store!  ($16 per gallon!!)  Save yourself some money and do the planet some good by buying a good reusable and refillable drink container.

The average American is exposed to about 3000 advertising messages a day.

Think about that for a moment... (you just missed out on 2-5 ads while doing that...)

Children ages 8-12 see the most food ads on TV — an average of 21 a day, or 7,600 a year.

Many of those ads are not for healthy, nutritious foods.  Why are our kids unhealthier than ever?  Hmmm.....

Monday, October 12, 2009

Re-Run: Small Eco-Steps to Live Better, Preserve the Planet, Save Money and Be Happier

We hear it everyday: Reduce our carbon footprint, eat less meat, turn down the thermostat, put on a sweater, recycle, stop drinking bottled water. If we don't want to literally melt the Earth, we have to do all of these things, plus keep up with our jobs, our daily lives, running the kids here and there-- combining as many trips as possible to avoid emitting CO2. It can be overwhelming to mentally juggle all we already had on our daily plates, let alone throw some more "helpful" ideas to save our planet.

But does it need to be that hard? Well, in a nutshell, no. It does not. Let's face it, no matter where we fall on the "green" spectrum, there is always room for improvement! And that's where this Blog comes in. The objective here is to help people help themselves, help the planet and maybe get a little happier in doing so. So, here is a list of 10 small "eco" steps you can take to do your part for the environment. It's not long, and you can probably pick just one, maybe even two things for starters. But, if you're feeling bold, do them all. It can only help.