Archive for the ‘educational’ Category

Why Compost?…Garbage Land

Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte

I am often asked why people should compost.? My general answer has been because it is better for the environment and then I usually say something about how organic materials do not break down well in landfills.? My attempt to find a better answer to this great question led me to the book Garbage Land written by Elizabeth Royte.? I want to first disclose that while I made my way through the majority of the book, I was unable to finish it before it was due to return to the library.? I will however share with you what I was able to learn from my limited reading.? Care to hear?? Well, to get your mouth watering, your mind turning, and your hands eager to make change I present you with a brief (and by no means thorough) list of reasons WHY:

  1. Limited Space:? So, when your garbage leaves your possession–as it does with your neighbors and their neighbors…–it eventually makes it way (after a few stops) to a landfill.? Now the current system encourages the public towards an out of sight, out of mind approach to garbage.? Sanitation workers come by weekly to remove garbage from our presence and after that occurs we no longer have to think about it, and because we do not have to, we don’t.? For this reason we have no comprehension of the vast amount of garbage we individually and collectively create.? We have, as a group, become disconnected from the waste process. Let us try to get reconnected. To do so we must think.? 1.? If everyone produces as much or more waste as you do AND 2.? All that waste gets put in landfills AND 3.? We know that even organic matter will not break down in your lifetime or even in many lifetimes (The book goes over why organic material doesn’t break down in landfills.? It basically has to do with the vacuum that landfills create, keeping out oxygen, a necessary component of decomposition) AND 4.? There is a limited amount of land space then, what is going to happen?? We will run out of room and the out of sight, out of mind mentality will no longer be a possibility or our means of disposal will need to be more creative.? This leads me to the next reason….
  2. Poor neighborhoods get stuck (or are paid to get stuck with) the stink.? So, it turns out that not everyone has the luxury of not being impacted by garbage.? Once, it gets put in the bin and placed on the curb it becomes public property.? Yet, it does not become the burden of all.? It often becomes the burden of those already marginalized and/or in need of financial assistance.
  3. Large amount of gas is used as fuel-inefficient sanitation vehicles transport increasing amounts of material (garbage).
  4. Fossil fuels are used to make fertilizer when compost could be used.? 5.5 gallons/acre of land (p. 125)
  5. Organic material gets mixed with toxic material and goes from having the potential of being nutrient rich soil (see #4) to being polluted by toxic substances that are also being deposited in the landfill (such as, that bottle of nail polish remover you threw out).? In some cases, depending on the design of the landfill, apples have been found intact decades after finding a “resting place” in a landfill.
  6. AND….my contribution to The List…..the cycle of life.? This is not to be taken lightly, especially given the fact that it has existed since life on Earth began.? A perfect example of this is the Amazon Rainforest whose rich biodiversity depends on the “life –> death –> decomposition –> life” cycle.? (A side note:? the soil of the Amazon Rainforest independent of this cycle is actually not all that nutrient rich.? When parts of the Amazon Rainforest are clear cut for timber and/or cattle ranches within a few years the soil is becomes dry, depleted of nutrients, and thus no longer is able to produce much vegetation.)

There you have it.? A few reasons to begin composting your organic waste, as well as incentive to decrease the amount of overall waste you produce.

As for Garbage Land, I would definitely recommend giving this book a read.? Be aware (but not discouraged) that this is no easy book to process as it is packed with information–history, research, studies, interviews, book references, etc., but Royte does a applaudable job presenting it in an interesting manner.

How can you help those sweet bees and chirpy birdies….

The Birds and Bees

The Bees:

Since the cause of colony collapse disorder (CCD) is still being debated by bee keepers, researchers, and scientists we unfortunately can do little to help with the solution.? However, we do know when these kind of crises occur, it is always the small scale operations that are hit the hardest.

So, what can you do?? Support small, local bee keepers by purchasing their products.

The Birds:

We do know the causes (and there are quite a few) of the sharp decline of common backyard birds and fortunately we are able to still act to help.? The best overall resource is the National Audubon Society.? They are a terrific organization that has been around in one form or another since the 1800’s.? This is a list of things you can do straight from their site:

Protect Local Habitat
Join local Audubon Chapters and other groups to protect and restore habitats close to home. Audubon’s Important Bird Areas program offers opportunities to save critical bird habitat, from small land parcels to broad landscapes.

Promote Sound Agricultural Policy
This has enormous impact on grassland birds and habitat. Promoting strong conservation provisions in the federal Farm Bill and Conservation Reserve Program can help to protect millions of acres of vital habitat.

Support Sustainable Forests
The Boreal Forest in the Northern U.S. and Canada is essential breeding territory for many species of birds. Federal and state legislations promoting sustainable forest management will help fight habitat loss from inappropriate logging, mining, and drilling.

Protect Wetlands
Support for local, state and federal wetlands conservation programs is essential to protect a wide array of species. Learn more.

Fight Global Warming
Declining birds populations is just one impact of global warming’s mounting threat to people and wildlife around the world. Individual energy conservation along with strong federal, state, and local legislation to cap greenhouse emissions can help to curb its worst consequences. Learn more.

Combat Invasive Species
Invasive non-native species disrupt the delicate ecological balance that sustains birds and other wildlife. Federal, regional, state, and local regulations are needed to combat this growing environmental threat. Learn more. The Audubon At Home program also offers tips for supporting birds with native plants.

The Audubon Society also has a page called Healthy Yard.? It is a great interactive picture that allows you to hover over aspects of it, such as the bird feeder and click through to find out more information, such as:

In the United States, 54 million people FEED BIRDS around their home. Tens of thousands participate in citizen science projects, conducting bird censuses in their own backyards to help ornithologists track population trends.

I found it very accessible and helpful.? It is also a great activity that you can do with your kids and then together you can pick a project to work on.? Encouraging your kids to be informed and be a part of the solution empowers them and teaches them to be actively involved in the world.? If you are looking for more birding activities to do with your children, the Audobon Society has a space on their site dedicated to children’s education.

In addition to/with emphasis on here are my own tips to keeping those crazy birds around:

  1. Condensed urban living is the way to go to combat urban sprawl.? The less land we bulldoze, cover with cement, lots of houses, and perfectly manicured lawns the better.
  2. SHARE.? Whether you live in a house or an apartment transform your yard or the area surrounding your apartment into a healthy living space for birds and other animals (again I will point you to Audubon’s Healthy Yard).? Remember that much of being a good steward and being a part of a healthy ecosystem means having biological diversity within our shared space.? It is not OK or healthy to move into a habitat once occupied by many species and transforming it into a controlled and sterile environment.? So, make room for the birds and other creatures.? We can have our space and they theirs.
  3. Do a little research on what birds are native to your area (look online or check a book out of the library).? They buy or make a bird feeder filled with food for those birds.? It is important that you keep your bird full of clean food.? Birds will come to depend on this food, especially in the winter, so please keep it stocked.? Also, do not feed birds moldy bread or seeds, this will make birds sick when they eat it and try to get or make a squirrel proof feeder.? As a side note, if you do the research of birds in your area with your kids they can begin to look out for those birds.? Encourage them to draw the birds, their feathers, the eggs, what kind of nests they have, and even what they eat.? Some kids may even want to keep a journal recording their bird encounters.

A few resources:


Feeding Our Feathered Friends by Dean T. Spaulding

The Backyard Bird Feeder’s Bible by Sally Roth

Make Your Own Bird Houses and Feeders by Robyn Haus


Important Bird Areas Program

Audubon At Home

The Crafty Crow: Feed the Birds and Wild Bird Treats


Birds in Backyards

Mary’s View

Make and Craft have a lot of tutorials on making your own bird feeder

Build A Squirrel Proof Bird Feeder for Under $10

The birds and the bees

There is a weird rabbit guy at the Farmer’s Market and by weird rabbit guy I mean, the guy who sells honey that has the Flemish Giant rabbit. I have heard so much about this rabbit and I have never even bought honey from the guy or even gone up to his stand to peruse his goods.? I love honey, especially local honey, but I so d.r.e.a.d. getting stuck in a conversation about his giant rabbit that I am completely deterred from approaching his stand.? Thus, it was to my surprise that last Sunday as I was walking through the market the sound of his voice caused me to slow my steps (yet, despite my curiosity, habit would not allow me to bring myself to a full halt).

It was the content of his words that caught my attention?

What in fact caught my attention was that his voice which carried farther than one might hope was talking not about his rabbit, but about bees.? The sentence that almost-stopped-me-in-my-tracks-but-not-quite was, “In the past two years I have lost $91,000 worth of bees.”

What is causing the disappearance of bees?? Have you heard this question being asked?? Sitting here at 1am, the question has the feel of a Steven King movie.? Unfortunately though, it is true.? The bees are disappearing and so are backyard birds though not necessarily for the same reasons.

The bees first:

The disappearance of bees is officially called colony collapse disorder (CCD).? The peculiarity behind this phenomenon is that bee researchers don’t know what has happened to the bees, although there has been speculation that it is the result of pathogens.? However, the only known is that colonies are abandoning their hives and disappearing, leaving no trace of dead bees anywhere.? In this process the adults are leaving the hives, while the queen bee and a few younger bees in the pupa stage are left behind.? To add another puzzling clue to the mystery is the fact that no pests or other bees are invading the hives affected by CCD.? Bee losses are between 30-60% on the West Coast, while on the East Coast and in Texas there are losses of up to 70%.

The loss of honey bees does not only present problems for our honey supply.? Honey bees are a vital part of our ecosystem, particularly as pollinators.? Without bees to pollinate fruit crops we can have no fruit.? According to the USDA about 1 out of every 3 bites we consume is dependent upon honey bees for pollination.? In addition to the foundational loss of honey and food that we rely on, the structure within which those products are traded will also be negatively impacted.? Unfortunately, the decline of honey bees will cause the global economy to suffer.? While honey bees are not completely gone, the $14 billion worth of seeds and crops pollinated by honey bees annually in the United States alone will certainly be affected.

Some possible causes of the disappearance of honey bees are: pesticides, stress put on the bees by a shorter off-season, stress of having their colonies transported across the country, mites, insecticides, or a yet unidentified pathogens.

The Birds:

Audubon’s unprecedented analysis of forty years of citizen-science bird population data from our own Christmas Bird Count plus the Breeding Bird Survey reveals the alarming decline of many of our most common and beloved birds.

Since 1967 the average population of the common birds in steepest decline has fallen by 68 percent; some individual species nose-dived as much as 80 percent. All 20 birds on the national Common Birds in Decline list lost at least half their populations in just four decades.? National Audubon Society

Some of the reasons that are thought to be causing the decline in a wide range of common backyard birds are:

  • urban sprawl: the habitats of these birds (grasslands, forests, and wetlands) are being destroyed as an increasing amount of vegetation is destroyed and replaced with homes, non-indigenous landscaping, strip malls, parking lots, highways, and energy development.? The ecosystem that these birds once thrived in has been transformed, in no time at all, into an inhospitable environment.
  • Climate Change: climate change is changing the seasonal calendar.? The internal clocks of the birds have not been notified of this shift.? Thus, if Winter lasts a couple weeks or a month longer than they biologically anticipated then the birds and their chicks are unable to sustain themselves without the nourishment provided by Spring.? Additionally, in some northern climates:

Greater Scaup and other tundra-breeding birds are succumbing to dramatic changes to their breeding habitat as the permafrost melts earlier and more temperate predators move north in a likely response to global warming. Boreal forest birds like the Boreal Chickadee face deforestation from increased insect outbreaks and fire, as well as excessive logging, drilling, and mining.

  • Intensification of Agriculture: farming in general has a negative impact on animals, including birds, as land is stripped in order to grow crops and again, as tractors sweep through to harvest.? As the demand for food rises with the growing population more land is needed to grow food.? Although all farming has its animal casualties, industrialized farming is especially harmful.? The single production of crops has a negative impact on the ecosystem as it limits biodiversity.? Additionally, the enormous quantities of pesticides and herbicides that are used in this form of farming are devasting to the life surrounding the farm.? Birds (and other animals) will invariably ingest these toxins which are incredibly harmful to their health and life.

Informative New Solar Energy Report

In June Co-op America and Clean Edge Inc. released an assessment of the potential of solar energy in the next fifty years entitled Utility Solar Assessment Study. The 75 page report is detailed enough to include data and evidence to support it’s claims while refraining from being written in a dry, unengaging fashion.

The report’s analysis includes a general introduction to solar energy, including CSP (concentrated solar power), PV (Photovoltaics) technology and the electric utility industry. The report goes on to give a comparison of projected solar energy costs per megawatt with fossil fuel costs. I found this section especially intriguing because the solar cost projections given here, which are based on progressions in similar computer technology and the annuals decreases in solar energy costs in the last 20 years, are what will inevitably draw electric utilities toward major solar investments. Solar Utility investment as well as updating an aging, one way electrical grid are the greatest obstacles that stand in the way of major U.S. solar development according to solar energy experts. Presently, .1% of U.S. energy consumption is produced from solar energy, but Co-op America and Clean Edge Inc believe that this could reach 10% by 2025 if solar energy continues to grow at a rate of 40% each year as it has for the last decade. It’s an excellent report and I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in solar energy.

The ANWR Debate

The ANWR debate has been going on for decades and while conservation groups have been winning for the most part, it doesn’t seem like big oil companies are going to give up anytime soon. When reading about the ANWR issue there are many conflicting facts based on different testing and who is funding the tests. Most of the information that I have in this relatively brief overview of the situation is from The Union For Concerned Scientists, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Information Update and has been supplemented or confirmed by The Class Menagerie written by David B. Williams, ANWR Oil Threat Drilling Delayed by Dawn M. Smith, and World Wildlife Fund.

It is estimated that there is 100 million to 49.5 billion barrels of oil located in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). In 1998 the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that there would be a 50/50 chance of 7.7 billion barrels of oil being technically recoverable. The debate over whether to drill, or not to drill in this protected area only stands to get more intense as oil nears a record $100/barrel.

I am aware that there are many possibilities for new jobs and financial gains by drilling in ANWR. However, when this region became a refuge, it was not done so under the contingency of the wants of corporations or residents. The whole reason that these areas of protection have to be established, in the first place, is because we have bulldozed our way through so much of our natural world that we have to protect it from our own greed. ANWR holds more than just wealth for oil companies and petroleum for gas-guzzling consumers.

This is an area rich in wildlife and wilderness. Porcupine caribou, polar bears, grizzly bears, Dall sheep, wolves, moose, a herd of rare muskoxen, snow geese, shorebirds, loons, songbirds, raptors, and fish such as the Arctic char and Arctic grayling all live within ANWR. All of these animals create a balanced ecosystem living off the tundra and other animals. As a result of industrialization we have lost respect for the delicate balance of ecosystems and living in a way where we take only what we need. When we drill for oil, we do so at the expense of the ecosystem that it is located within. There is evidence from previous oil spills of the damage that it causes. The Exxon Valdez oil spill is still affecting Alaskan beaches and in 2005 (10 years later) unweathered oil was found on over half the beaches and still causing harm to fish, birds, and polar bears.
The risk for oils spills only increases as we continue to drill for and transport oil. Polar bears, endangered bowhead whales, and the fragile tundra are all disturbed by the seismic testing used for oil exploration. The porcupine caribou herd that migrate through ANWR from the mountainous area to the coastal plains to give birth, are thought to be the largest animal group immediately affected by the drilling. The cows (female caribou) and calves are disturbed by the seismic activity. In addition to this, the porcupine caribou, especially the cows and calves, that depend on the nutritious vegetation of the tundra will be negatively impacted as the permafrost that is easily broken by road construction and seismic explosions, changes the water drainage patterns of the soil, thus retention of moisture, and further the vegetation which grows on the tundra.

Ecosystems hold a complex ecology of organisms that rely on each other and, in doing so, create a balance that sustains their existence. The affects of drilling for oil in this protected refuge for wildlife and wilderness could destroy it. It is a sad truth but the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge needs to be protected from the actions of human beings that prey on these precious ecosystems.

Take Action.

StatAttak: tshirts that tell quite a story

StatAttak Mozambique TShirt

Los Angeles-based design company Stolen, Inc. was researching a project they were working on and came across some staggering information.

came across “Life Expectancy at Birth.” Andorra was the highest with 83.51 years, and all the way at the bottom was Mozambique with 31.1 years

They decided to do something about it. They’ve created a line of tshirts to educate and raise funds. It’s called StatAttak. Stolen will be setting aside 20% of the money from the sale of the shirts to build an orphanage in Mozambique.

Since Mozambique was the country that inspired all of this, the Sons of Stolen are putting 20% of the money from the sale of the shirts towards building an orphanage in Mozambique. Instead of giving the money to a charity, we will go to Mozambique with a group of volunteers from the design industry and build an orphanage from the ground up. We hope that this will help us better understand Africa and that a personal interaction with the local population will inspire everyone involved to keep working towards solutions to the many problems facing that continent.

Not only is this a great opportunity to make a change in the world, the shirts are also beautiful. Mollie and I will both be sporting StatAttak tshirts.

A list with some information.

This is the slightly longer version of the “10 small changes you can make for the benefit of creation” list I made for my church back in April for Creation Sunday. It has some good and interesting information in it so I thought that I would go ahead and share it with you guys.

  1. Eat Local (Grow your own veggies, buy a share in Community Supported Agriculture, shop at farmers markets)
    Info: Supermarket food travels an average of 1,500 miles by the time it gets to your plate. Buying local strengthens the local economy. A dollar spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy. You get to celebrate the seasons by eating local in-season food.
  2. Buy fair trade, organic, shade grown coffee and fair trade, organic tea.
    Info: Sun coffee (grown with no shade canopy) destroys natural habitats and cannot be sustained for many years without intensive management (additions of chemical fertilizers and a range of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides). The few studies that have been conducted have found that the diversity of migratory birds plummets when coffee is converted from shade to sun (studies in Colombia and Mexico found 94-97% fewer bird species in sun grown coffee than in shade grown coffee) 1.
  3. Buy organic food when possible, especially organic chocolate.
    Info: Non-organic cocoa is 2nd only to cotton in terms of the most pesticides used on the crop. Exposure to pesticides is being increasingly linked to various kinds of cancer. Industrialized agriculture produces food that is deficient in minerals and nutrition because it has over-cultivated the land. Crops get their nutrients and minerals from the soil that it is grown on. If the soil is not taken care of and becomes unhealthy then the food grown on it will also lack nutrition and health.
  4. Buy products with minimal or reusable packaging or buy in bulk (like the bulk bins at Madison Market Co-op or Whole Foods) and use your own containers when shopping and bring your own shopping bags.
    Info: Around 33% of trash in the average American household comes from packaging.
  5. Start an indoor or outdoor compost bin.
    Info: “The landfill is not designed to help things biodegrade, which requires contact with air and water. Instead, landfills hermetically seal their contents away from the environment to protect it from the toxic things in the landfill that aren’t biodegradable. What this means, is that organic things like apple cores and yesterdays newspapers and cornstarch cups, when dumped in the landfill, either don’t break down at all and certainly don’t end up returning nutrients to the earth or they break down anaerobically, which means they produce methane, a worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.”2
  6. Buy recycled paper toilet paper to help protect endangered forests.
    Info: Every day, the amount of toilet paper used equals about 270,000 trees.
  7. Make your own household cleaners.
    Info: The EPA says indoor air pollution is often 2-5 times worse than outdoor air pollution, and harsh cleaning chemicals contribute.
  8. Switch to compact florescent light bulbs (CFL)
    Info: CFLs are some of the most efficient lights available – they can replace incandescent bulbs that are roughly 3 to 4 times their wattage, saving up to 75% of your lighting energy.
  9. Buy used products when possible (books, clothing, furniture) and make repairs when possible instead of buying new.
  10. Print only when necessary and on recycled paper.
    Info: Offices use 1.5 lbs of paper per person per day.
  11. Use a coffee mug or travel mug.
  12. Reduce your carbon footprint caused by travel (buy a TerraPass, use flexcar, carpool, public transit, bike, or walk)
    Info: Every gallon of gasoline burned creates about 20 lbs of climate change-causing CO2.
  13. Enjoy God’s creation by being part of a community garden (or start your own community garden in your own backyard), volunteering on a farm, or getting out and enjoying nature with loved ones.

1Smithsonian, National Zoological Park, Migratory Bird Center; 2 No Impact Man;

Always learning

compact flourescent light bulb
photo courtesy of elvisripley

My friend Mike sent me a very much appreciated link to this article, The CFL mercury nightmare.

How much money does it take to screw in a compact fluorescent light bulb? About US$4.28 for the bulb and labour — unless you break the bulb. Then you, like Brandy Bridges of Ellsworth, Maine, could be looking at a cost of about US$2,004.28, which doesn’t include the costs of frayed nerves and risks to health.

* * *

As each CFL contains five milligrams of mercury, at the Maine “safety” standard of 300 nanograms per cubic meter, it would take 16,667 cubic meters of soil to “safely” contain all the mercury in a single CFL. While CFL vendors and environmentalists tout the energy cost savings of CFLs, they conveniently omit the personal and societal costs of CFL disposal.

My first response was to feel really sad because I have encouraged a lot of people to switch to CFL bulbs because they are more energy efficient.

My second response was to remember that this blog is a place of learning, encouragement, and positive life changes based on education. It is a process and sometimes that process involves mistakes—this is in general a helpful life lesson to learn, none of us are perfect and we are all in need of grace.

In trying to find out more information on CFL’s and how to properly dispose of them I came across this NPR article which acknowledges the problem but discusses it in a more productive and helpful manner.

“The problem with the bulbs is that they’ll break before they get to the landfill. They’ll break in containers, or they’ll break in a dumpster or they’ll break in the trucks. Workers may be exposed to very high levels of mercury when that happens,” says John Skinner, executive director of the Solid Waste Association of North America, the trade group for the people who handle trash and recycling.

[Wendy Reed, who manages EPA’s Energy Star program,] says that even though fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, using them contributes less mercury to the environment than using regular incandescent bulbs. That’s because they use less electricity — and coal-fired power plants are the biggest source of mercury emissions in the air.

“The compact fluorescent light bulb is a product people can use to positively influence the environment to… prevent mercury emissions as well as greenhouse gas emissions. And it’s something that we can do now — and it’s extremely important that we do do it,” Reed says. “And the positive message is, if you recycle them, if you dispose of them properly, then they’re doing a world of good.”

I haven’t decided what to do with the current CFL light bulbs that I have throughout my home, except that I will be very careful in my handling of them, or what I will do when I need to buy new bulbs.

However, here is what I have taken away from this:

1. We use more energy than is good for our planet and there is no easy or problem-free solution to our need to light our homes, offices, and stores. Maybe it was better when the sun and moon were used to light our way.

2. If a bulb breaks near your home you will have soil contamination which is dangerous because it is a neurotoxin and if it breaks in your home there is a major hazard waste issue.

3. Throwing CFL light bulbs in the trash in not an option even if it is legal in your county because you could cause dangerous health problems to workers who are exposed to the neurotoxin.

4. You can bring light bulbs to IKEA to recycle them, search Earth 911 to find a disposal options near you, or look into lamprecycle.

5. “CFLs are safe to use in your home. No mercury is released when the bulbs are in use and they pose no danger to you or your family when used properly. However, CFLs are made of glass tubing and can break if dropped or roughly handled. Be careful when removing the lamp from its packaging, installing it, or replacing it. Always screw and unscrew the lamp by its base, and never forcefully twist the CFL into a light socket by its tubes. Used CFLs should be disposed of properly, learn how to properly dispose.”

6. Finally, this has been a good reminder that we all need to be working to live a sustainable life, trying to leave the places we touch better than we found them.

Resources via NPR article:

Co-op America’s list of Ten Things You Should Never Buy Again

Co-op America put together a list of 10 things you should never buy again, with some facts and alternatives choices. I thought this would be perfect for you one/changers so here it is with a few added links:

1. Styrofoam cups
Styrofoam is forever. It’s not biodegradable.
Alternative: Buy recyclable and compostable paper cups.
Best option: Invest in some [if possible used] reusable mugs that you can take with you.

2. Paper towels
Paper towels waste forest resources, landfill space, and your money.
Alternative: When you do buy paper towels, look for recycled, non-bleached products. Search the National Green Pages for recycled paper products.
Best option: Buy dishtowels or rags to wash and reuse.

3. Bleached coffee filters
Dioxins, chemicals formed during the chlorine bleaching process, contaminate groundwater and air and are linked to cancer in humans and animals.
Alternative: Look for unbleached paper filters.
Best Option: Use reusable filters such as washable cloth filters.

4. Overpackaged foods and other products
Excess packaging wastes resources and costs you much more. Around thirty three percent of trash in the average American household comes from packaging.
Alternative: Buy products with minimal or reusable packaging.
Best Option: Buy in bulk and use your own containers when shopping.

5. Teak and mahogany
Every year, 27 million acres of tropical rainforest (an area the size of Ohio) are destroyed. Rainforests cover 6% of Earth’s surface and are home to over half of the world’s wild plant, animal, and insect species. The Amazon rainforest produces 40 percent of the world’s oxygen.
Alternative: Look for Forest Stewardship Council certified wood.
Best Option: Reuse wood, and buy furniture and other products made from used or salvaged wood.

Learn how to become WoodWise at home and in your office?

6.Chemical pesticides and herbicides
American households use 80 million pounds of pesticides each year. The EPA found at least one pesticide in almost every water and fish sample from streams and in more than one-half of shallow wells sampled in agricultural and urban areas. These chemicals pose threats to animals and people, especially children.
Alternatives: Buy organic pest controllers such as diatomaceous earth.
Best Option: Plant native plants and practice integrated pest management. Plant flowers and herbs that act as natural pesticides.

7. Conventional household cleaners
Household products can contain hazardous ingredients such as organic solvents and petroleum-based chemicals that can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into your indoor environment, positing a particular danger for children. The average American household has three to ten of hazardous matter in the home.
Alternative: Look for nontoxic, vegetable-based, biodegradeable cleaners.
Best Option: Try making your own green cleaner using vinegar, water, and castile soap [click here for some easy recipes].

Find safe, green cleaners in the National Green Pages?

8. Higher octane gas than you need
Only one car in ten manufactured since 1982 requires high-octane gasoline. High-octane gas releases more hazardous pollutants into the air, and may be bad for your car.
Alternative: Buy the lowest-octane gas your car requires as listed in your owner’s manual
Best option: Make your next car purchase a hybrid. Or ditch the car and take public transportation, ride a bike, or walk.

Learn more about green transportation?

9. Toys made with PVC plastic
70% of PVC is used in construction, but it is also found in everyday plastics, including some children’s toys. Vinyl chloride, the chemical used to make PVC, is a known human carcinogen. Also, additives, such as lead and cadmium, are sometimes added to PVC to keep it from breaking down; these additives can be particularly dangerous in children’s toys. PVC is also the least recycled plastic.
Alternative: Avoid plastics that are labeled as PVC or #3.? Look for #1 and #2 plastics, which are easier to recycle and don’t produce as many toxins. Use sustainable construction materials.
Best option: Take action to tell manufacturers to stop using PVC plastics, especially in children’s toys.

Find safe toys in the National Green Pages?

10. Plastic forks and spoons
Disposable plastic utensils are not biodegradeable and not recyclable in most areas.
Alternative: Use compostable food service items. Companies such as Biocorp make cutlery from plant materials such as corn starch and cellulose.
Best option: Carry your own utensils and food containers.

I learned about this list via The Worsted Witch.

Cleaning Supplies

Windex and Fruit

Toxic chemicals are all around us, in our homes, cars, work, and even supermarket. It is our job to limit the amount of toxic chemicals that enters our body. Exposure is the term for how toxic chemicals can enter our bodies. Exposure to toxic chemicals can occur through three ways, ingestion, inhalation, and absorption.

Chemicals are ingested through eating items that have chemicals on them. One common way toxic chemicals are ingested is through not adequately washing fruits and vegetables before eating. Inhalation occurs through breathing in chemicals. Chemicals can become suspended in the air and easily breathed in, the smaller the chemicals the deeper in the lung the chemical can go and the more harm they can cause. We breathe in toxic chemicals all day with the use of aerosol or spray cans. Absorption can occur when toxic chemicals come in contact with our skin. Our skin is a great barrier, but chemicals are still able to penetrate through skin or easily enter through cuts on our skin.

Cleaning is not something most of us enjoy, but it is part of life. Cleaning can expose us to very toxic chemicals found in common cleaning supplies sold in stores. When we clean we are exposed to chemicals through ingestion, inhalation, and absorption. Ingestion can occur by spraying toxic chemicals near food that is out on the counter. Inhalation through breathing after Windex has been sprayed. Absorption can occur when we are wiping anything down with toxic chemicals and they touch our skin.

To reduce the toxic chemicals we are exposed to and create healthy homes, here are some non-toxic recipes to use to clean our homes.

These recipes are effective, smell good, cost less than commercial products, and don’t pollute the indoor air. I have tried all of the recipes and was amazed at how well they worked and how clean our apartment smelled. There was no toxic smell or over powering smell of cleaning agents. These recipes are best when made fresh each time in small batches. Do not mix these recipes with other chemicals.

The following recipes use the various combinations of six basic ingredients: baking soda, vinegar, salt, liquid castile soap, club soda, and water. More than likely you will already have most of them in your cupboards and if not they can easily be bought at the grocery store. Enjoy!

Drain Cleaner
½ cup baking soda
½ cup vinegar
Boiling water

Pour the baking soda down the drain first, then vinegar. Let it fizz a few minutes than pour a tea kettle full of boiling water down the drain. Do NOT use after using commercial drain cleaner. If this does not release the clog try using a plunger or mechanical snake.

Oven Cleaner:
¼ cup baking soda
2 tablespoon salt
hot water

Remove charred spills with a non-metallic bristle brush. Mix baking soda, salt, and enough hot water to make a paste. Apply to oven surfaces and let stand a few minutes or over night. Scrub off with non-metallic scouring pad and water. Keep paste off oven wires and heating elements. Do not use on self-cleaning ovens.

All-Purpose Cleaner:
1 2/3 cup baking soda
½ cup liquid castile soap (Can be found in supermarkets or drug stores)
½ cup water
2 tablespoons vinegar
16 oz bottle

Mix baking soda and liquid soap with fork in bowl. Add water. Add vinegar last. Pour into squeeze bottle: if it is too thick, add more water. Shake well. Squirt in tub, sink, toilet, counter, etc. Scrub and rinse.

Scouring Powder:
Baking soda
Liquid castile soap

Baking soda can be used in place of your scouring powder. First, wet area you want to clean. Then sprinkle baking soda on and rube with a wet rag. Add a little soap to the rag for more cleaning power. Rinse well. For toilets, sprinkling baking soda into bowl, add a few drops of castile soap, then scrub.

Mirror and Window Cleaner
Club soda
Spray bottle

Put club soda into spray bottle. Spray on surface. Rub with lint-free cloth (such as a cloth diaper) or squeegee.

Adapted from: Thurston County Hazardous Waste Program

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