Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Are Motorcycles Eco-Friendly?


Motorcycles: Better for the Environment or Bad to the Bone?


Is riding your hog causing too much of a fog?


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Just you vs. the open road… The wind blows through your hair (or hopefully helmet) as the engine rhythmically switches from monstrous revs to soothing purrs. Simultaneously, you enjoy dramatically better fuel efficiency than your average SUV driver.

Your mode of transportation from home to your destination is a big part of a green lifestyle. To go along with the better gas mileage, motor driven cycles provide other advantages such as: they require less material to produce, saving on energy and manufacturing costs; they are easier to maneuver in city traffic; they’re smaller, which eases traffic congestion and you can park them almost anywhere; and did we mention better fuel economy?

Aside from being all the rave in most European countries (which are known to be more “green” than we are here in the United States), you’re well on your way to doing your part with saving the environment, because motorcycles are better for the environment than your average four-wheel vehicle…. right?


They Aren’t Perfect for the Environment


That may not necessarily be the truth, because although they use less gas, the hydrocarbons emitted into the air from your average motorcycle, can be up to 90 percent higher than your average SUV (according to an article posted by the EPA)! Motorcycles also produce greater amounts of emissions called oxides of nitrogen which are one of three pollutants that the EPA and the California Air Resources Board measure to see whether or not a vehicle meets acceptable emission levels.

Hydrocarbons are caused by unburned compounds in fuel that escape through your vehicle’s tailpipe, gas tank and fuel line. When combined with NOx and sunlight, ozone is formed which is the key component of smog. These fumes can also cause damage to your skin, lungs, and eyes. According to the EPA, a study shows that hydrocarbons dry out the protective membranes of the nose and throat, interfering with the body’s ability to fight infection. Some hydrocarbons are also considered toxic, causing serious health problems such as cancer or even death.


Other Considerations


Of course, there are ways for you to enjoy your need for speed without damaging the environment:


The electric motorcycle


There are new electric motorcycles on the market these days. Many can travel between 50-100 miles between recharges which generally only require an hour to recharge fully. At the Portland International Speedway, a special high performance 390 horsepower electric track-only bike turned a 158 mile per hour quarter mile in only 8.192 seconds!


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Converting your current bike into an electric motorcycle seems complicated and expensive, but actually, it’s easier than you think and the money that you would save with the conversion, suggests that the makeover is well worth having a more eco-friendly motorcycle. sustainlane.com has a great article and video that discusses the prices and steps necessary to convert your bike.


Home sweet Vrooom?


Some bikes will carry you and one passenger, but you can’t transport many others on a motorcycle. Also carrying groceries is not really an option. With carpooling being essential in helping out the environment, motorcycles seem to go against this principle. You also are hampered by weather conditions. Cold weather, rainy or snowy weather and sometimes extreme heat are problems for riders.


Overall, keeping a smaller, fuel efficient motorcycle for local errands can save fuel and space. A partially green solution if you will. Not as good as riding a bicycle or walking, but generally better than using an automobile.


Other Reading and References


Eco-Rider


RVs Go Green(or at least try)

Be Green for the Holidays


Don’t Get Coal in Your Stocking

How to go green without breaking a sweat



The holidays usually mean lots of travel, local mall runs and trips across the country to visit family. Don’t forget there are many little things you can do to offset your carbon output. Follow these easy steps to start your holidays off with the right foot and lower emissions. Also, remember to encourage your friends and family to be conscious of the environment this season.


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  1. elevatorGoodbye elevator. If you are decided between taking the stairs and the elevator, especially on the way down, avoid the elevator. The energy expended by the average elevator when traveling one floor up and back down is equivalent to fully charging one cell phone.

  2. Keep the trash. Avoid throwing away your garbage bag unless it is full. Plastic bags are petroleum based items that are non-recyclable after coming in contact with waste. They also do not biodegrade in landfills, so remember to use them sparingly.

  3. Is one dish worth it? Run the dishwasher only when it is full and avoid using heat when drying the dishes. Your dishes will be just as shiny when washed with biodegradable detergent and cool-dried.

  4. And around we go. When doing laundry, remember to set the appropriate water temperature and level. If you are planning on washing only a shirt and a few pairs of socks, do it by hand or wait until you have a full load.

  5. Air-dry your hair. Blow drying your hair my not be costly based on your utility bill, but it does require energy that can be avoided. After washing your hair air-dry it. Skipping the blow-dryer will also protect you hair, preventing it from being brittle and frizzy.

  6. Off with the shoes. When you visit a friend or come home, opt to take your shoes off at the door. Doing this will decrease the amount of airborne pollutants and improve your indoor air quality. Also, dragging in dirt means you have to use extra power for the vacuum, not to mention extra cleaning products which also affect indoor air quality.

  7. Natural fragrances. Instead of buying an ‘Island Orchard’ scent in a spray bottle, set out orange or lemon peels. This will encourage you to eat more fruit and reduce pests, as flies hate citrus.

  8. Reuse gift bags & tissue paper. After the holidays it seems like there is a never ending supply of gift bags in your house. Instead of throwing them away, just fold them up nicely and reuse during the next celebration. This will save you money, shopping time, and the earth’s resources.

  9. Green your pet. If you have a dog or a cat, consider decreasing their carbon footprint. When walking your dog use biodegradable waste bags. If you have a cat, purchase eco-friendly litter that is either biodegradable or compostable.

  10. Natural hygiene products. Before taking a shower or getting ready for a busy day at work make sure you have your eco-friendly hygiene products ready. Buy products that are marked USDA organic, Blue Bunny/cruelty free, phthalate-free, paraffin-free, and biodegradable. If you prefer truly natural products use things like oatmeal for a body wash and henna as a shampoo.

  11. Lights Out. If no one is in the room, turn the lights off!

  12. Reduce. If you have to think to yourself, “Do I really need this?” you don’t. Consume less, and create less waste. Even though recycling has its perks, if we decided to use less material and resources we would ultimately spend less energy on recycling.

  13. Shorter Showers. Try shortening your showers in five minute increments; you might realize you’re spending way too much time in there. Over the course of a year, you will save hundreds if not thousands of gallons of water by cutting shower time and eliminating baths altogether.

  14. Eat Right. Buy locally and what’s in season. Mangoes in January just aren’t right. If you have the chance, invest in organic produce. USDA organic foods are free of hormones and pesticides.

  15. Walk. A mile or two is always good for you. If you live a short distance from your local grocery store and only need a few things, grab your reusable bag and head on out.

  16. No more plastic bottles. Stop buying bottles of water and get yourself a nifty aluminum bottle instead. A great benefit of aluminum bottles is that they are ultimately recyclable.

  17. plantFoliage. Buy just one plant, it’ll look nice and convert all of that nasty CO2 into oxygen. Good indoor air quality is very important, especially if you have children with asthma or pets.

  18. Unplug. TURN EVERYTHING OFF. If you’re not using it, then why let it use up energy? Vampire energy (energy that, unknowingly to you, sucks up electricity) can cost you approximately 20% of our annual energy bill.

  19. Cruise Along. When driving downhill take your foot off that accelerator and let gravity do the work for you. Also, remember to be easy on your brakes and fuel tank by shifting down a gear or two.

  20. Strings Attached. Hang your clothes out to dry (when weather permits) instead of using your dryer. You’ll save loads of energy and your clothes will have a true fresh-air scent.


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Learn More


Water conservation


Showers and faucets


Toilets


Water heaters – conventional

Eco-Friendly Holiday Lights


Let there be Light this Holiday Season!

How you can be festive this Holiday Season without being an energy vampire


A large portion of the energy used during the holidays goes to power Christmas and other special holiday lights. This season, why not try eco-friendly alternatives that are still unique but save you money?


Alternatives



  • LED lights


xmaslightsIf you can’t go a Christmas without gazing at colorful, bright lights on the tree and outside the house, consider buying LED lights. LED lights consume less energy watts per string than regular lights. Admittedly more expensive to buy than regular lights, LEDs will save you money when it comes time to pay the electricity bill without sacrificing beauty.



  • Solar-powered lights


Solar-powered lights work by collecting sunlight through a solar panel which powers the rechargeable battery that is included with every set of solar-powered lights. These lights are eco-friendly and, unlike regular lights, still work even if one bulb goes out.



  • Laser Projectors


Although relatively new to the holiday light market, laser projectors are great alternatives to string lights. One laser projector can emit thousands of small bright lights onto your house or tree. You don’t have to worry about bulbs going out or tangled wires with a laser projection system.



  • Candles


Before lights on a string came around, Christmas trees were decorated with candles. This can easily be recreated at home by using a couple of small candles. Look for candles made out of soy or beeswax as they last longer and burn cleaner.


Follow these simple steps to give your tree a touch of light: First, select a few sturdy branches on your tree. Pour some melted candle wax onto the end of the branch. Secure the candle onto the branch with the melted wax. Make sure the wax is completely dry and the candle is secure before letting it continue to burn.




  • Popcorn


Nothing says old school Christmas like sitting around with your family, stringing popcorn. This is a great alternative to lights and any plastic ornaments in general. Reuse the string afterwards and feed the corn to birds.



Top Tips



  • Safety


Whenever you are dealing with lights, always be careful to prevent electric shocks or fires. Do not place electrical wiring near water, and keep wires free from tangles and away from children and pets.



  • Choose lights that are low voltage


Regular Christmas lights use around 100 watts of energy per string. Choose lights that use less than this. The Christmas Lighting Energy Calculator is a useful tool to calculate not just the energy consumption of your holiday lights, but also the estimated electricity costs.



  • Turn on your lights for a couple hours a day


Instead of keeping your lights on for the whole day, turn on your lights at night for a couple hours until bedtime. Not only is turning your lights during the day a waste of energy and money, no one can fully enjoy lights under the sun.



  • Turn off your lights when you aren’t at home


Other Considerations




  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle


Sometimes less strings of lights used is better. For the Christmas tree, fill in the empty space with homemade ornaments and popcorn strings.


Reuse your holiday lights. Keep them in a storage box until the next holiday season.


If your Christmas lights no longer work, recycle them at your local recycling center or send them to a center that recycles lights at no cost.



  • DIY ornaments from home


Make your own ornaments instead of shopping for plastic ones. Use items found around the house; something as simple as a small photo, to a piece of jewelry to even a small stuffed animal can work as an ornament. Try making ornaments that are unique and full of memories that you can reuse over the years.


Benefits…



  • …to your wallet


Many Christmas light alternatives are easier on the wallet right away. However, for some alternatives like LED lights, you have to wait to enjoy the cost benefits until the electricity bill is received.



  • …to the Earth


Eco-friendly lighting alternatives reduce energy consumption, which saves natural resources, such as coal. Greenhouse gas emissions are also decreased when less energy is used.


For more information


Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree…


Eco-Friendly Lighting Overview

Friday, December 18, 2009

25 Eco-Gifts for the Holidays

25 Eco-Gifts for the Holidays


Love being green? Love the holidays? Why not do both!


Sierra Club Green Home has compiled a list of 25 Eco-Gifts for the holidays. From wind powered chargers to tree logs that play iPods. Not only are these ideas and gadgets cool, but they’re a great way to decrease your carbon footprint. SCGH is not endorsing these items as we have not tested or inspected them.


____________________________________________________________________ 1. Donate to a good cause


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Your option of environmental or preferred organizations is truly endless. Pick an organization that you really believe in or that the receiver of the gift enjoys and make the donation in their name.


2. Hand in Hand serving tools


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These serving utensils would make an interesting and a sustainable gift. They are made out of bamboo and come in recyclable packaging.


3. Give the gift of life.


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If you are looking for extra ways to decrease your carbon footprint planting a tree might be just the right fit for you. Planting a tree is not only an interactive experience, but it’s a great way to note a special day like a birthday, baby’s first Christmas, or an anniversary. Most tree purchases are made as a donation to non-profit organizations.


4. Organic make-up


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Purchase products that are marked cruelty-free (not tested on animals), organic, eco-certified, and made out of recycled content. Also, look for products marked paraben-free. Parabens, similar to phthalates,have been reported by the Food and Drug Administration to cause tumors, hormone malfunction, and other health issues.


5. Recycled jewelry


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Recycled jewelry has a unique vibe and it’s environmentally friendly. Recycling and reusing resources like gems, wood, and metal decreases the need to harvest virgin resources.


6. Bike chain bottle openers


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If your friend enjoys cycling and hosting parties, then this is an excellent gift. The tops of bottle openers can be customized by logo and color. Who ever said bikes aren’t welcome at the dinner table?


7. Solar powered shaver


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We have heard of organic shaving creams and recycled plastic shaving grips. Add a new member to your personal hygiene family, a solar powered shaver. This shaver has all the operating mechanisms of a conventional electric shaver, but it produces its own energy. When not in use, simply lay the shaver on a windowsill and charge away.


8. Eco-Friendly Furniture


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Eco-friendly furniture comes in all shapes, sizes, and materials. Many pieces can be used indoors and outdoors. Sustainable furniture is a unique way to spice up a new room in your home or to give as a present.


9. Recycled Art


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Who ever thought that a Frankenstein art piece could be environmentally friendly? This piece is created out of various scrap metals and plastics. If you are looking to purchase something like this, buy from a local artist in person or online. We recommend visiting your local art college or district to inquire about possible sales.



10. Reusable Wrapper Bag


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Candy wrappers, metallic juice packs, and chip bags are actually non-recyclable. However, many companies are collected and reusing these wrappers by creating fashionable reusable bags. An excellent example is Terra Cycle.



11. JVC Bonsai Speakers


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Good music and good air quality out of the same product, who would have thought? These speakers are sure an interesting conversation piece. Speakers come without vegetation, so feel free to add your favorite plant.


12. Laptop Charger


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It’s true, sometimes our office equipment is not as green as it should be. The solar charger is very compact and can be used to charge various small electronic devices.


13. Aero Garden


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The Aero Garden gives you the convenience of having fresh herbs all year round just an arm’s reach away. This hydroponic system requires no soil or growth hormones. Seeds and all required accessories are sold together.



14. Hymini Wind Charger


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This great little gadget can charge small appliances, similar to the standard mobile laptop charger. Currently, this model is the only wind charger of its kind on the market.


15. Blade tailpipe attachment


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This is a great gift those who are striving to reduce their carbon emissions, especially those associated with their vehicles. The Blade is a tailpipe filter that is collects and reduces a vehicle’s CO2 and particle emissions


16. Feel Goodz


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Feel Goodz is a company which manufactures 100% natural rubber and 100% recyclable eco-friendly flip flops. Not only that, but these flip flops are biodegradable.



17. Sony’s ODO


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These little gadgets are new to the sustainability market. They run by kinetic energy and can be used to charge a variety of devices.



18. The Wood iPod Speaker


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This iPod dock is one of a kind. This system is built entirely inside a wooden log. The dock is a great piece that brings the outdoor charm indoors.


19. SuperGreen Longboards


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These boards are made out of eco-friendly materials like bamboo. The company states that the bamboo is a better choice for such high action boards because it handles impacts better than the conventional wood. The adhesives associated with the manufacturing process of these boards is low in VOCs.


20. Typewriter Cuffs


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What a unique gift? These cuff links are custom made using the old fashioned keys of a type writer. You may choose whatever keys or initials you prefer. This eco-gift is a definite promoter of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”



21. Recycled Computer Parts


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When recycling computers, many new gadgets can be made from the scrap metals. If you enjoy a contemporary and creative d├ęcor, then you may want to look into recycled computer art. The options are endless; mother boards can be made into picture frames, jewelry boxes, coasters, and much, much more.


22. Keyboard Bag


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Ever wonder what happens to a computer keyboard when it gets thrown away? This full functioning red purse is made out of reclaimed keys. An excellent present for a tech geek or an avid environmentalist.



23. Compact Adventure Tool


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If you are a big fan of the great outdoors, this is gadget is a must have. It’s very compact device which includes a variety of tools. With this device you will never lose direction or time!


24. Kids Konserve


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If your present is going to a child, consider investing in an eco-friendly and healthy lunch pack. Kids Konserve is a company which provides you with BPA-free and renewable products.


25. A Greed Read


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If you are looking for a great read and some relaxation time, indulge in an environmentally friendly read. Some of these eco-educational books are even printed with sustainable inks and on recycled paper.



Other Considerations



  • If you are looking to gift an interactive present, consider gifting an experience. Instead of shopping for a material based item give an annual National Park pass, schedule a hike or a tour of a cool spot, etc. This is a great way to spend time with your friends and family!



Learn More


Tall Tales of Recycling


O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree…


Indoor Air Quality


Indoor Heating by a Concrete Wall


Your holey home

Monday, December 14, 2009

SCGH on Solar Panels at CNBC

Recently, Jennifer Schwab, Director of Sustainability for SCGH, was interviewed by CNBC concerning solar panels.

An excerpt from the article,
"“It’s impressive that they are the first in a big box retailer. It’s a real coup,” said Jennifer Schwab, director of sustainability at Sierra Club Green Home. Investors had a similar reaction: Akeena Solar’s stock
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[AKNS 1.40 0.02 (+1.45%)]
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shot up over 50 percent on Thursday after the announcement.
But other aspects of adding a solar system may prove challenging.
First, “you have to have the guts to get them on your roof,” said Schwab, whose organization is dedicated to helping people be more sustainable at home. It will take a moderate to experienced do-it-yourselfer to get that job done."

For the complete article go to CNBC's website

Staying Eco-Chic this Winter


Warm Yourself, Not the Planet

How to keep warm, while staying green


Come winter season, many people start shopping for clothes that will keep them toasty warm. To avoid that winter chill this holiday season, spend your dollars on affordable, sustainable clothing while saving energy. Follow these tips to learn how to be a greenie, even under the snowfall.


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When shopping, consider these guidelines:


Sweaters



  • sweaterWool and heavy cotton sweaters are best for insulating your body against the cold weather. If you prefer a fleece sweater look for those that are made out of recycled fibers, like Patagonia’s recycled polyester clothes.

  • When washing your sweaters, remember to use eco-friendly detergent and to let them air dry when a bit moist. Shrunken sweaters are never in style.


Pants



  • Keeping your extremities warm and snuggly is a must, especially in the snow. If you live in a very windy and wet region, invest in water resistant pants. Keeping dry will limit the amount of clothes changes you have to make and this will ultimately decrease the amount of energy you will use on washing your clothes.

  • Pants made out of recycled or organic fibers are always easier on the environment because they require little energy and no pesticides to produce.


Undergarments



  • Ask any winter athlete and they will tell you, the proper foundation to any winter outfit is adequate undergarments. If you are planning to spend a great deal of time outdoors, make sure you are wearing thermal leggings. Leggings come in all types of fabrics and lengths.

  • When shopping, buy those made out of organic fabric and avoid purchasing those that are loose fitting. Loose leggings will allow the cold air to travel between the fabric and your legs.

  • If you can’t find leggings, think long-johns.


Coats/Jackets



  • Before you buy a new coat, try reinventing any coats you may already own. Replace the buttons, change out one trench coat belt for another, or even swap coats with a friend or family member.

  • When you finally decide there is no hope for that old coat and truly need a new one; shop green. Look for coats made of natural fibers like organic cotton and linen, bamboo fabric, or hemp.


Boots



  • If a way to stay dry and remember your childhood is appealing, try a pair of rubber boots. Unless you’re running in them for extended periods, they should last a long time and can be recycled when worn out.


Scarves



  • Scarves come in a wide variety of styles and eco-friendly materials. Choose scarves that are made from materials such as hemp, linen, organic cotton or wool.


Gloves



  • Protecting your hands from the cold is very important as your hands release heat very quickly. When choosing gloves, pick those that are made from organic materials.


Hats



  • Your head is the major heat-releaser of your body, so wear a hat that covers your whole head, including your ears, during chilly temperatures.



coatTop tips:


Layer. One of the best ways to stay warm in winter is to layer. The layer closest to your skin should be made out of materials that soak up moisture to prevent sweat from cooling down your body. The next layer of clothes should be made out of materials that insulate, such as organic cotton or wool. The outside layer of clothing should be waterproof. Depending on the temperature, you can wear as many or as few layers as necessary.


Do it yourself. Who says clothes need to be bought? Gloves, hats, scarves, and even sweaters can be fun, relaxing DIY projects. You can find knitting tutorials online. Just make sure to choose organic yarn made from natural fibers.


Thrift stores. Besides choosing eco-friendly clothing this winter, you can also decrease your carbon footprint by buying clothing at thrift stores. Choosing to shop at thrift store eliminates the energy needed to manufacture and ship new clothes. Not only is recycled clothing helpful to the environment, it is beneficial to your wallet.


Online shopping. Shopping online can be eco-friendly and convenient. When shopping for clothes online, skip the big retailers; buy second-hand clothing direct from sellers instead. Forums and marketplaces, like eBay, are filled with people selling their old clothing. Just make sure the seller does not have negative reviews.


Avoid fur. The manufacturing process of fur is a very extensive one. The production of fur entails agriculture, pesticides, possibly environmentally unstable hunting and chemical processes.




    Other Considerations/Common Mistakes



    • Check the labels and make sure your coat is in fact green and not an explosion of man-made fabrics.

    • Avoid buying a new coat at all costs- trade with friends and family, buy used or even trade it in for a used coat and resist that shopping urge at least until next winter.

    • After you have made your smart purchase, consider donating your old coat. If you don’t need it anymore, someone else may.


    ____________________________________________________________


    Benefits…



    • …to your health


    Staying warm this winter in sustainable clothing will keep you healthy as you will be less susceptible to catching a cold.



    • …to your wallet


    Buying recycled clothing or making your own accessories this winter will save you more money than if you buy new clothing.



    • to the Earth


    Choosing organic clothing free from pesticides decreases the amount of these harmful chemicals released in the environment. Also, your carbon footprint will decrease if you buy recycled clothing.




    Learn More


    Tall Tales of Recycling


    O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree…


    Indoor Air Quality


    Indoor Heating by a Concrete Wall


    Your holey home


    Food Gone Frankenstein

    Food Gone Frankenstein

    How Genetically-Modified Food is Taking America by Storm


    applefrankWe usually look for the reddest tomatoes and the biggest ears of corn because we believe them to taste the best, but did you know that a good bit of the produce you purchase at the grocery store is genetically modified?


    Genetically modified foods (GM) are foods that undergo DNA changes through genetic engineering to enhance desired traits, such as nutritional value and resistance to herbicides and pesticides, while eliminating unwanted traits in the process. GM foods are fairly new to the market, first commercialized and marketed in the early 1990s. The first commercial GM produce was the tomato, genetically engineered to be more resistant to rotting. Then, in 1996, soybeans genetically modified to be more resistant to herbicides were released for commercial sale. Currently, GM ingredients make up the majority of all processed foods in the US. However, there are no laws in the US requiring companies to label their foods as genetically modified.


    So why should we be concerned about buying and eating genetically-modified foods? After all, they seem to have many advantages like resistance to chemicals and insects, better taste, high nutritional value, and increased shelf life. Unfortunately, GM foods have their disadvantages. Critics say GM foods are unsafe, misleading, and damaging to the environment.


    Top Tips


    Because the US does not require any special labeling for genetically-modified foods, it may be difficult for you to find foods that aren’t GM. However, there are ways to avoid genetically-modified foods.



    • Buy food labeled 100% organic. While the FDA does not require companies to label GM food as genetically-modified, it does not allow 100% organic food to be genetically modified.



    If you’re on a budget and can’t afford to buy all 100% organic groceries, save a little money and spend it on the foods that are most likely to be GM. Soybeans, corn, rice, alfalfa, canola, and dairy are just some of the foods that are commonly genetically modified.



    • Shop at your local farmer’s market. Not only will you help support local farmers, you will be buying quality produce as well.



    • Grow your own food. It seems that gardening is on the upswing, given the First Lady’s affinity for this hobby and the current economy. Not only will you feel safe when eating a salad created from crops grown in your backyard, a sense of pride will linger as you think about how hard you worked growing your own garden.



    • Reduce the amount of processed foods in your pantry. Instead of buying pre-packaged foods or eating at fast food restaurants, buy whole foods that you can use to create delicious, from scratch home-made meals.



    • Look at the Bar Code number on produce. According to PlanTea.com, the price lookup codes (PLC) on produce are not just there for quicker checkouts. The numbers tell a story of how each piece of produce was made.

      • A 4-digit number code means the produce was conventionally-grown

      • A 5-digit number code beginning with the number 9 means the produce was organically-grown

      • A 5-digit number code beginning with the number 8 means the produce was genetically-modified




    Other Considerations



    • Benefits of genetically-modified crops. Supporters believe GM crops are helpful to the environment for the following reasons.

      • Crops that are engineered to be more resistant to chemicals like pesticides and herbicides need less spraying, decreasing the amount of these chemicals in our water supply. Crops that need less spraying may be safer for farmers as well.

      • GM crops can be engineered to resist drought

      • GM crops can be engineered to be more beneficial and convenient for people. For example, rice with added vitamins, watermelons without seeds, and potatoes with more protein.

      • GM plants are being engineered to produce more chemicals for the creation of plastics, new vaccines, and even drugs. For example, scientists are trying to modify rapeseeds to produce more oil for use in biodegradable plastics.

      • Environmental Effects from GM foods. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, genetically modified crops pose environmental risks.

        • GM crops can become weeds, plants that produce undesirable effects.

        • GM crops could become channels through which new genes move to other plants, causing these plants to turn into weeds.

        • GM crops that are engineered to produce viruses could produce new, more widely spread viruses.

        • GM crops may have unpredictable, rippling effects through natural ecosystems, effecting wildlife, cross-pollinating with other plants, and affecting the organic nature of organic crops.

        • GM crops might threaten centers of crop diversity.



      • Although no serious environmental impacts have occurred in the time period that GM foods have been in existence, some scientists say that it is too early to measure if and how GM crops will impact the environment. Although small changes in animal and plant populations have occurred, these changes aren’t radical enough to garner attention.




    Benefits…


    …to your health

    Your health can be directly related to what you eat. Buying organic food can reduce your exposure to pesticides, and eating locally likely ensures that your food will be fresher and full of nutrients.


    …to your wallet

    Buying whole foods that are in season usually costs less than buying processed foods or out-of-season imported foods. Organic food usually costs more than food grown with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. But with giant retailers and agribusinesses getting into the organics game, the cost of pesticide-free food is coming down.


    …to the Earth

    Responsible food consumption can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support environmentally sound agriculture and aquaculture practices that conserve soil and protect waterways, and transform the inhumane and unsustainable practices in the livestock and fishing industries.


    Learn More


    Healthy Eating


    10 Ways to Eat Well

    Friday, December 11, 2009

    Mattresses, Box Springs, and Bed Frames

    Lay the foundation for a good night’s rest

    The most common type of mattress, the inner-spring, is made with a host of synthetic materials in addition to its metal springs. The outer fabric is polyester or cotton/poly “ticking.” Then there is polyester batting (sheets of stuffing), and layers of foam, including polyurethane foam, latex, or visco-elastic foam (commonly known as “memory foam”). All these materials are derived from nonrenewable petrochemicals. While sellers of natural-fiber mattresses may claim that synthetics are bad for you, there’s little evidence substantiating this, especially since most manufacturers have stopped using PBDE flame retardants (see below).

    Choosing the correct mattress

    From an environmental and health perspective, there’s little to distinguish one synthetic mattress from another. Spend plenty of time testing mattresses at the store, and buy one that feels good to you and is priced right. Although Consumer Reports doesn’t rate mattresses, the magazine does report that paying more doesn’t necessarily get you a better mattress, and all but the cheapest mattresses can be fine.

    If you are trying to minimize your use of petrochemicals, you may want to look for an all-natural mattress. There are a number of options to choose from, but they can be pricey and hard to find in stores.


    Top Tips

    At home

    • Extend the life of your mattress with a pad, cover, or mattress protector.
    • Vacuum. To remove dust, vacuum your mattress periodically, or purchase zippered mattress protectors to contain the dust.
    • Treat natural materials with TLC. Some special care is required for a natural mattress: Don’t put it on the floor or on a solid platform bed frame-use the box springs or bed frames designed for it. This will ensure the mattress can breathe. If possible, take the mattress outdoors for a day of airing and sunning at least twice a year.

    When shopping

    • Take your time. From a health and environmental perspective, there’s nothing that makes one brand of conventional synthetic mattress stand out above another. Take plenty of time to shop around for a mattress that feels good, is well made, and fits your budget.
    • Size matters. Regardless of whether you are buying a synthetic or natural-fiber mattress, the larger it is, the bigger its impact on the environment because it requires more material to make (and more fabric for the sheets and other bedding that will cover it). If a double or queen will suit you fine, don’t feel pressured to upsize to a king.
    • Decide what type of mattress is right for you:
      • Innerspring? The metal innerspring mattress and box spring is the most common bed system in the United States today. Choose an innerspring mattress if you want a conventional mattress that has good, firm support. If you want an all-natural bed, make sure your covering (also called “ticking”) and batting (stuffing) are made from materials such as organic cotton, wool, or hemp. One environmental disadvantage of innerspring mattresses is that they are 70% to 80% steel, which requires more energy to manufacture than other types of mattresses; however, steel is fully recyclable and will be recovered if your local waste hauler recycles mattresses rather than landfilling them.
      • Foam? The most popular type of foam mattress is visco-elastic, a petrochemical-based product more commonly known as “memory foam.” Many people like the pressure-free support that memory foam provides. If you’re looking for an all-natural alternative, however, consider a natural latex mattress, which is made from the sap of rubber trees. (Many synthetic latex or synthetic/natural latex blend mattresses are also available.) Natural latex has good, resilient “spring,” provides excellent moisture regulation and efficient air circulation, and resists mold and dust mites. Be aware, though, that some people don’t like the smell of natural latex.
      • Stuffed? These mattresses, also called futons, have cotton, wool, or hemp casings stuffed with cotton, wool, or hemp batting that is usually 4 to 6 inches thick. You can customize the firmness by layering multiple mattresses made of different materials. They require periodic sunning and airing.
    • Then choose a matching foundation:
      • Box spring? If you choose an innerspring mattress, you’ll probably want a box spring (an assemblage of spiral bedsprings attached to a foundation and enclosed a box) underneath it. Despite the name, box springs aren’t springy. They should be very firm. To go all-natural, make sure the box spring is covered with natural-fiber fabric. If your old box spring is in good shape–the fabric isn’t torn and the metal supports aren’t sagging or springy–consider keeping it and just buying a new mattress. Some mattress warranties will be voided if you don’t buy the accompanying box spring, however, so check with retailers for mattress that can be sold separately.
      • Wood slats? For a latex mattress or stuffed mattress, you will want a wood slat foundation. Some bed systems come with a mattress and wood slat frame designed to work together. Most of these frames are stationary, but some European slat systems are adjustable. Most have plain, exposed wood; others are upholstered to look like a box spring. If the bed frame is made of composite wood materials like particle board, be aware that they may give off fumes of urea formaldehyde; choose solid wood or metal frames instead. Some companies make FSC-certified-wood bed frames.

    Other Considerations

    Until 2005, manufacturers of mattresses containing foam commonly used flame retardants called PBDEs that may damage human nervous systems. The good news is, most new mattresses and other polyurethane foam products, such as pillows and mattress pads, are no longer made with PBDEs.

    Without PBDEs, what are manufacturers doing to meet government flammability standards? Natural mattress companies blend cotton with wool, which is naturally flame resistant. (Buying an organic cotton mattress without wool or fire-retardant chemicals requires a doctor’s prescription.) Some companies use low-toxic fire-resistant chemicals like borate or silica. Other companies use chemical treatments that they claim are proprietary.

    To be sure the foam product you are buying is PBDE-free, ask the retailer or check the Environmental Working Group’s list of companies that sell PBDE-free products.

    If you are considering a natural bed, here’s what you should know about materials:

    • Cotton. Sheets of cotton filling give a bed firm support. On the other hand, they pack down over time, getting harder and harder with use, and do not breathe well. Other disadvantages: Cotton absorbs moisture from perspiration and air faster than it can release it. If you are spending the money to have a custom all-natural bed made, you will likely be able choose between conventional and organic cotton for the stuffing and cover fabric.
    • Wool. Many all-natural mattresses today contain at least some wool because of its many benefits. Where cotton gives support, wool offers resilience. Wool is fast drying, so it keeps your body comfortable through the night. It’s also mold resistant, and does not harbor dust mites or bacteria. No chemical flame retardants are needed because it’s naturally resistant to fire.
    • Hemp. Organically grown hemp is extremely durable and similar in its properties to wool. It does not grow mold or harbor bacteria. It’s an excellent choice for mattress coverings because it’s so much more durable than cotton.
    • Natural latex. The benefits of natural latex foam are similar to those of wool. It has a good resilient “spring,” resists mold and dust mites, and provides efficient air circulation and moisture regulation. If you like sleeping on a foam mattress, this is a good natural alternative.

    Benefits…

    …to your wallet
    Natural mattresses range in price from about $500 for a futon to more than $10,000 for a luxury-brand mattress.

    …to the Earth
    Natural mattresses are made from renewable agricultural fibers rather than nonrenewable petrochemicals.


    Common Mistakes

    Waterbeds. A waterbed heater uses about 900 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. That’s about one-twelfth of the average U.S. household’s total electricity consumption. If you have one of the 6.4 million waterbeds in use in the United States, it’s likely one of the biggest energy hogs in your home.


    Getting Started

    • What should you do with old foam mattresses, pillows, and other foam products that may have been made with PBDE? No one has a good answer yet about how much of a health hazard they may be. But if you’re concerned, you could replace old foam products with new PBDE-free products. If that’s not in your budget, make an extra effort to dust and vacuum regularly since dust seems to be a carrier of PBDEs. Keep in mind that infants and toddlers bear the biggest exposure burden, since they’re more likely to put dusty fingers in their mouths.
    • Check your local community disposal options for mattress recycling. In some places there’s an organization that will come collect your mattress, cut it apart, and separate the materials and recycle them for a reasonable fee.

    Related Products & Services

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009

    Choosing the Perfect Christmas Tree

    Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree…

    Should You Choose A Real or Artificial Tree?


    christmastreeIt seems that the battle between real and artificial holiday trees is as old as the tree-decorating tradition itself. Artificial trees were invented in the 1930’s by a toiletbowl brush company. That’s right, the first artificial tree was not much more than an oversized, green toiletbowl brush. Thus, the debate between real and artificial trees began. Which is better for the environment: a synthetic tree made of who-knows-what that you may or may not reuse, or a real tree that must be cut down? It is clear that both choices have environmental pros and cons, so what’s a festive, eco-conscious homeowner to do?


    Many people believe that because artificial trees can be reused, they have less of an impact on the environment. The truth is that an artificial tree has several environmental consequences even if you do keep it for a few years. According to the National Christmas Tree Association, the average household keeps an artificial tree for about six to nine years. As an environementally conscious consumer one may vow to keep it “forever”, but let’s be honest, one day it will probably end up in a landfill.


    Most artificial trees are manufactured in China, therefore the transportation alone creates a huge carbon footprint. The cargo ships and trucks used to transport artificial trees from China to your local store – and then your car trip to the store to buy the tree – produce massive amounts of carbon emissions. Artificial trees are also usually made of materials such as petroleum, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or polyethylene (PE). Polyvinyl chloride is not biodegradable, and since most artificial trees are not or can not be recycled, they will eventually make their way to a landfill to emit these hazardous carcinogens.


    Of course even real trees come with their share of downfalls. You may have to purchase a new one every year, and a visit to the nearest tree farm would still produce some carbon emissions. Tree farms, however, are beneficial to the environment in several ways; they provide habitat for wildlife, remove dust and pollen from the air, and rid the atmosphere of carbon dioxide. If you think cutting down a tree to take home with you is contributing to deforestation, you can rest assured. Tree farms grow trees specifically for the holiday seasons – you can even purchase trees that are guaranteed to be grown responsibly – so you can be sure that forests aren’t surrendering their firs for your satisfaction. Additionally, tree farms replant about one to three trees to replace each one that is cut, so the environment is constantly benefitting from living, growing trees. Real trees are also 100% biodegradable. According to the Sierra Club, recycled trees are used to restore sand dunes, wetlands, and fish habitat, which limits the amount of waste ending up in a landfill and benefits new life.


    So, according to Sierra Club Green Home’s research, real holiday trees win the battle of the most eco-friendly tree choice. If you’re planning on being a little more eco-conscious this season, go green (literally) with a real tree.


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    Top Tips




    • Don’t throw it out! If you already have an artificial tree, there’s no sense in throwing it out to contribute to waste in landfills. Get the most out of your purchase, and then when you must throw it out, you can start to purchase real trees. If you still want a lower-impact tree try decorating with popcorn strings instead of tinsel, and omit the holiday lights.


    We know you want that authentic pine scent, but if you’re still trying to wear out your old reusable tree before purchasing the real thing, don’t pollute your home with artificial air-fresheners that are filled with harmful chemicals.




    • christmastree3Look for the seal. You can purchase trees that are certified environmentally friendly by the Coalition of Environmentally Conscious Growers (CECG). They perform on-site farm inspections to ensure that tree-growers are using environmentally conscious methods to grow their trees. The seal also reminds buyers to recycle their trees after use.

    • Potted Trees. You can purchase potted, living plants to decorate and keep in your home through the holidays. At the end of the season you can either plant the tree in your yard, or keep it in the pot outside to bring in and decorate again next year!




    • Carpool. Make your trip to the tree farm a family affair and try carpooling with another family to save on gas and reduce carbon emissions.



    • christmastree4Treecycle. Like we said above, recycled trees are used to restore sand dunes, wetlands, and fish habitat. They are also used for mulch and compost. Find a treecycling program in your area.

    • Be really green. Unfortunately the greenest option is to not have a holiday tree at all. If you’re willing to give up that tradition in the name of the environment, we recommend decorating a houseplant, a tree in your front yard, or a decorative wooden tree made out of recycled materials.


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    Other Considerations




    • Allergies. Many people choose artificial trees for health reasons. Some people have allergies to tree pollen and tree sap, and although it’s not as widespread as people believe, it does happen. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS), of the 50,000 different kinds of trees, less than 100 have been shown to cause allergies. Most allergies are specific to one type of tree.


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    Benefits…



    …to you



    • Real trees allow you to experience one of the biggest holiday traditions in a more eco-friendly way. You will also be able to make picking your tree every year a family tradition.

    • If you buy a potted tree, you can also make planting a new tree in your yard a yearly family event.



    …to your wallet



    • If you choose a live, potted tree you can opt to keep it in the pot all year and bring it in next season so you don’t have to continually buy new trees.

    • According to the National Christmas Tree Association a real tree can be purchased for as little as $15. Large, full artificial trees can range anywhere from $200 to over $1000. You would need to keep your artificial tree for a minimum of 13 years (way above the average) for it to be of any financial benefit. So, being able to have a real tree every year would cost the same as a keeping an artificial one for nearly 15 years!


    …to the earth



    • Buying a real tree would limit the carbon emissions it takes to fly, ship, and truck artificial trees from the countries where they are manufactured.

    • Real trees do not emit VOCs, while many types of artificial trees may do so.

    • A real tree keeps waste out of landfills because the remains can be made into woodchips for mulch or composting.

    • Potted trees will allow you to have a real tree that you don’t have to throw away or even compost. You can keep it in the pot until it grows too large then plant it.


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    Further Reading



    Composting Video


    Indoor Air Quality


    Healthy Lawns and Gardens