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It’s always fun to update your home to match the season at hand, and if you can do so with green goods it makes the whole process that much more fun. You don’t need to spend a lot (or spend anything if you’re inventive) to update your home with sun-inspired finds that help bring the outdoors inside. With so many companies jumping on the “green” bandwagon these days, you can find the perfect set of sheets or fun frame to fill with this season’s memories for every price range. So check out some of my favorite finds, sit back and get ready to welcome summer in to your home!
If you’re looking for attractive mainstream furniture and accessories with a green twist, you need look no further than your local Pottery Barn. For the past few years Pottery Barn has focused on the impact their business has on the environment and has started operating under a series of Environmental Commitments.
From increasing the percentage of recycled post-consumer waste in their packaging to developing products that use sustainable materials and manufacturing processes, Pottery Barn has restructured their business to reflect a growing corporate concern for the environment. Look for the “Earth Friendly” logo on the Pottery Barn website – products marked with this label have been designed and developed using reclaimed and sustainable materials that include FSC-certified wood and organic fabrics.
OK, let me start by admitting that yes, I love luxurious sheets and I also love the color green. I can’t help it, but when I see bedding like these Tonal Stripe 400-Count Organic Sheet Sets (to the left), I want to run out and buy them immediately. And while I can’t afford to drop $119 on a Full Sheet Set, I’m hoping that someone out there reading this can! If you’re a sheet fan like me, you might also like Pottery Barn’s Boathouse Stripe Organic Duvet Cover & Sham, or their Botanical Embroidered Organic Quilt & Sham in Porcelain Blue.
It’s also no secret that I am a big fan of Viva Terra – an eco-friendly store that sells clothing, jewelry, furniture, garden goods and accessories to beautify green-loving homes. If you’re looking for something quirky and different to display on an end table or desktop, consider these granite Owls. You can get a set of 2 for $75, or buy 1 large owl for $95. I also like the Porthole Mirror Collection (comes in a set of 5 mirrors). With frames crafted from naturally aged, sustainable sheesham wood, these funky mirrors will light up your house with their shine. While pricey at $369 for the set, these mirrors are sure to last a lifetime and have been manufactured in a manner that hasn’t harmed the Earth.
If you’re looking for something to serve your summer visitors, try tea – and use Gaiam’s Pressed Leaves Tea Set to do the serving. This handmade celadon pottery set comes from Thailand and includes a teapot, 4 teacups and a wooden tray to pull it all together. This $40 tea set is finished with lead-free glaze, and the product is manufactured under guidelines established by the Fair Trade Federation. And if you really want to set the mood while you sip your tea, check out these Handblown Glass Lanterns for $18 apiece. Handcrafted in Georgia, these one-of-a-kind lanterns come in blue, ruby or amber.
I know how challenging it can be to wade through the masses of stuff available online – there are so many well-made, eco-friendly, interesting products out there that deciding exactly what to buy can bring about a certain paralysis when it comes to making decisions. I hope that my pointing out a few of my favorite goods here helps you make your own decisions, and that you’re able to pick up a few new pieces to really spruce up your home this season without breaking the bank.
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Have you ever wondered what you should do with the old pills in your medicine cabinet? Or do you remember being told that you should just flush old prescription drugs down the drain, or flush them away when they had expired? If so, you’re not alone. Until recently, the disposal of prescription drugs has been little considered by federal or state governments, and as a result, tons of antibiotics, mood stabilizers, heart medications, hormones, and other drugs have landed in our water and our soil.
If you’re looking for the nation’s official policy on how to dispose of all those old pills littering your medicine cabinet, you might turn to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Established in 1998, this office’s principle purpose is to determine the policies, priorities, and objectives of the nation’s drug control program; the handing and disposal of prescription drugs falls under that broad umbrella.
The official recommendations published by the federal government include 3 options. You can flush your pills down the toilets ( if directed to do so by the drug’s label), you can call your county or city household trash and recycling services, and ask if they have a community drug reclamation program, or you can follow their instructions to throw away pills in the garbage.
To throw away your drugs, the fact sheet states that you should place your old pills in a sealable container (like a Tupperware container with a lid), add an undesirable substance such as coffee grounds or kitty litter, and place the container in the bottom of your trash barrel – making sure that it’s out of sight and doesn’t contain any information about you or the medications contained therein. The video above was produced by the office to assist people in understanding the drug disposal process.
I was a little disappointed with the information provided by the Office of National Drug Control Policy – they didn’t provide any background information on why drugs need to be disposed of in these manners, nor did they address the environmental implications of disposing of drugs improperly.? I was also dismayed that they didn’t provide a list of state, country or local offices that run drug take-back programs, websites directing people to learn more, or links back to the EPA’s research on the matter.
To learn more, I visited the EPA’s website and found a section focused on educating people about the harm caused by Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products (PPCP) to the environment and people. The EPA is quick to point out that PPCPs are turning out in increasing amounts in our water supply, but they’re not so forthcoming when it comes to linking PPCPs and harm to human health. The EPA does stress however, that placing PPCPs into the sewage system (via flushing them down the toilet or pouring them down the sink) does have uncertain risks.
The nation’s water treatment system is not equip to handle the removal of PPCPs, and any contamanents placed into the system have the potential to disrupt the overall health of our water treatment and processing facilitites. At the same time, there has been scant evidence suggesting the increased concentration of antibiodics in our water system has caused some antibiodic-resisdent disease strains in aquatic organisms.
Since the concentrations of drugs in our drinking water remains low however, the public and environmental health impact of dumped drugs is not yet fully known. So while it’s troubling to think about throwing medicine in the garbage, there’s little research out there suggesting that doing so could cause environmental harm. My concern on this matter is that landfills leak and pollute ground water; since there’s little in the way of established research on this matter however, the best course of action today is to follow the government’s advice.
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Last June I wrote a blog post about my personal Green Guilt. The post detailed my eco-sins, and at the end of it I promised that I’d try and make some meaningful changes and work towards reducing the negative ecological impact I was causing with these actions. In the 9-months since publishing that post, I am happy to report that, all-in-all, I’ve done a pretty good job at changing my behaviors and lessening my impact on the Earth. So without further ado…
1. The first item on last year’s list was the fact that I was driving 500+ miles per week. Between my 70-mile daily commute and trips back and forth to visit friends, I drove 26,000 miles? in just one year’s time! And while I do drive a relatively fuel-efficient VW Jetta, keep its tires properly inflated and get the oil changed regularly, I drove more than double the national average. According to the EPA’s Household Emissions Calculator, my driving habits in 2008 produced a whooping 8.3 tons of CO2 last year – 3.7 tons more than the average driver!
Since the beginning of 2009, I have made an effort to reduce how much I drive, and so far I’ve stuck to the plan. While I still have the same commute, I work at home 2-3 times each month, and I visit my far-flung friends less often during the week. I’ve also been taking fewer trips to visit my family (who live about 50 miles from my house), and am staying longer (often overnight) when I do visit. In making these minor changes, I’ve shaved off 500 miles a month from my total – and am producing 1.92 fewer tons of CO2 annually.
2. Next on my list was my lack of recycling at work. Because my workplace does not participate in mandatory recycling (on any level), I would often toss my plastic bottles and paper into the garbage bin beneath my desk. Since June, we’ve not yet implemented an across-the-board recycling program in our offices, but I have started recycling more and more on my own. And having cut down on purchasing beverages packaged in plastic bottles, I’ve reduced the overall volume of what I consume. In terms of work, I also essentially stopped printing anything, started turning off my computer more often, and do more lunch-time carpooling with co-workers.
3. My next sin was the fact that I threw away all kinds of food. This one killed me. I would buy beautiful fruits and vegetables with the highest intentions, only to let them rot in the fridge while I ate with friends, in restaurants or not at all. Since June I’ve gotten a lot more careful about not wasting food. I’ve started buying smaller amounts of food, cooking at home, and making sure that my veggies are chopped up and ready to eat when I load them into the fridge.
4. When I would go out on the weekends, I used to leave NHPR playing on the radio (for the plants perhaps?). Now I simply don’t!
5. Another of my previous guilt-inducing actions was that I didn’t always being a reusable mug when filling up at the local coffee shop. I am proud to say that, since June, I’ve probably filled up with reusable mugs 95% of the times I’ve enjoyed java from my local coffee shops! If I leave the house without a mug I go back and get it! And in an effort to further reduce my waste, I try to reuse the paper bags that come with the scones that I so love (thanks Popovers!).
6. OK, so I do sometimes (though not as often) buy coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. When I do however (and it’s really only 2-3 times a month that I do), I have started going into the stores (instead of using the drive-through), and filling up with my reusable mugs.
7. Number 7 on my list was the fact that I liked to drive around with the windows open and the air conditioning on when it was hot outside. Honestly, it’s been cold for so long now that this seems like a moot point! And while I honestly can’t remember if I was still doing this at the end of the summer – I’m pretty sure I wasn’t. Most of my driving is on the highway, and it’s nearly impossible to be comfortable while doing 70 with the windows open.
8. The next item on my list dealt with my purchasing less-than-green clothes. In addition to the fact that I bought clothes made from synthetic fabrics, I would also buy goods manufactured by companies with sub-par eco-policies and processes. I’ve made some improvements in this area of my life, but my actions still aren’t as green as they could be.
My winter coat, ski hat and ski-pants are made by ecologically-conscious companies (The North Face, and Obermeyer), and about 50% of the clothes I’ve purchased since June have been second-hand. I will admit that I’ve bought a few Van Heusen shirts however, and their messaging on Corporate Responsibility includes one sentence on the preservation and improvement of the environment. I doubt the adorable Marc Fisher heels I bought last week are eco-friendly either!
9. Purchasing pre-packaged organic meals was another eco-sin on my list. And while I have reduced the amount of pre-packaged meals I’m buying (in large part because I’m cooking more), I still love Amy’s Kitchen organic meals – especially the Mattar Paneer! All I can say is, at least it’s organic!
10. Last but not least on my list was my love of Polar Seltzer and the countless plastic bottles produced through my freakish seltzer consumption. And while I am enjoying a bottle of the Black Cherry Seltzer as I type this, I have gone from drinking 2 bottles a day to about 2 bottles a month. The build-up of plastic bottle induced guilt was just too much, so I did what was right and put the bottles down.
While I can’t say I’ve changed all my bad habits and rid fully rid myself of green guilt, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of making changes that make a difference. I’m driving less, recycling more, reusing whenever possible, and remaining consciously aware of what I buy and how those products are sourced. My recycling bins have fewer plastic bottles kicking around, my closet is filling up with more second-hand treasures, and my plants seem perfectly content even though they no longer listen to NHPR when I leave the house.
Hope you’re having luck changing your habits too, and I would love to hear about the changes you’ve made for the planet!
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Jessica pointed out that we all have Green Guilt. What she really brought to light was that even people who hold green issues near and dear to their hearts can not do everything possible to live a greener lifestyle. But just doing some things will help make the world a better place. One way to know what you can do better is to look at what you are doing now and list your sins.
My list of green sins include:
1) I own a van. This in and of itself is not really a green sin if I was using it for what it was designed for. Carrying more than 4 people a good distance and reducing everyone’s carbon footprint. However, I usually am the only person in the van at any time and I only do short trips around the city. This could easily be accomplished with a smaller car or even by moped. In fact, the van was bought with the idea that a much larger family would be using it but life throws you a curve ball sometimes. I know I should get something smaller, I know it is too big for my needs, and I know the price to fill the take is pushing $70 now and will be well close to $100 by the end of the year. But people have odd attachments to vehicles. I love driving the van and the extra space has come in handy for multi-state moves and hauling big things. I should part with it but I can’t bring myself to do it.
2) I eat out way too much. When you think about all the things that go into eating out and how much energy is wasted just to provide me a “cheap” and quick meal it really doesn’t play into the idea of being green. From the gas emissions, to the electricity, to the packaging, to the huge waste generated, our fast food restaurants need to do more in terms of helping the planet and not destroying it. One good example of this is our local McDonalds this week switched back to styrofoam cups because they are cheaper for the owner. The plastic cups were actually a greener choice because while they use more oil based products, they were completely recyclable. But on the whole, I am encouraging this bad behavior by giving them more money so I don’t have to cook.
3) Big Box Stores get my money more than local farmers. Vermont has a very high number of local farmers who produce milk, corn, beef, and other products that are better for me and i know it. But convenience has me going to the local supermarket and buying processed food from who knows where over local produce. Several people have started eating only local products and have termed themselves as “Localvores“. While I can’t say I am totally comfortable with that I know I should be buying my meat from the local butcher and getting corn and other products from the produce stand. Cost and extra chores is the only thing stopping me.
4) Some things I am not willing to deal with in the name of conservation. For example, I hate being hot and I use air conditioning. Even tho this is one of the more northern states and I should be able to deal with just using fans I still click on the AC in the house. I also have no problem with filling up the van with a tank of gas and going for a drive. It is wasteful and increases my dependency on oil.
There are some good things to go with the bad. I telecommute so I have eliminated the 1.5 hours I used to spend in the van going back and forth to work. I recycle constantly because our community massively supports it. When I bought a washer and dryer, we went to Recycle North and CraigsList to buy used appliances.
The idea here is even if you do something small like turning off the lights when you leave a room, it will have a much larger impact than you realize. Also, not everyone will be Super Green and do everything. Just do your part and change the things you can. Every little bit helps.
With so much attention focused on environmental issues lately, it seems as if we are constantly barraged with stories about the environmental impact of our actions and the damages done to the planet Earth. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by this kind of ever-present data, so I have broken a few choice facts down into digestible chunks of information for easy reference.
The facts aren’t great, and this isn’t a “look how good we’re doing” piece, rather, it’s the black and white of our impact on our planet. Each fact is backed up with the source I used to find it, so feel free to do a little digging of your own if you’re skeptical or if you’d like to learn more about these issues.
According to Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist, a typical online ‘Search’ generates about 7 grams of carbon dioxide. (Measuring Your Google Search’s Carbon Footprint by CNET.com). Overall, the IT industry produces 2% of global carbon emissions, or the same amount as the airline industry!
Each year over one hundred million trees are harvested and turned into junk mail. (Just the Facts: Junk Mail Facts and Figures from New American Dream and Conservatree). The production and disposal of all of this junk mail ends up using as much energy as do 3 million passenger cars!
Even though phone books are recyclable, people throw 660,000 tons of them into landfills annually (The Story of Phone Books from Earth 911). For every 500 phone books that end up in landfills, we needlessly waste 7000 gallons of water, 463 gallons of oil, 17-31 trees, and 3.06 cubic yards of landfill space.
In 2005, almost two million tons of e-waste were disposed of in landfills. Comprised of old cell phones, computers, television sets and batteries, this e-waste contains hazardous materials including lead and mercury that were never meant to be disposed of in landfills, and pose significant risk to people and the planet. (E-Waste: Harmful Materials from Earth 911).
Of the 215 billion plastic, glass and aluminum beverage bottles and cans sold in the US during 2006, a full 66% (2 out of 3, or 143 billion) were thrown out instead of being recycled. (Beverage Market Data Analysis from The Container Recycling Institute).
There are over 87,000 flights (commercial, cargo, private & military) in the US every single day of the year. (Air Traffic Control: By the Numbers from the National Air Traffic Controllors Association). And according to Boeing’s 2008 Environmental Report, aviation accounts for a full 2% of global man-made carbon dioxide emissions. (Boeing 2008 Environmental Report – page 3).
I’d like to give thanks to Brendan for constantly reminding me of the little things that make for huge environmental problems, and that also probably make Al Gore cry!
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If you’re looking for a way to reduce your carbon footprint, consider unplugging, recycling or simply not buying any number of electronic and battery-operated gadgets. Since so many gadgets are already fully integrated into our lives, (think Blackberries, iPod docking stations and speakers, and wireless mice), manufacturers are starting to develop eco-friendly gadgets that can help us all stay connected while lowering our global and individual carbon footprints.
Some eco-friendly gadgets are solar powered, wind powered, or powered using kinetic energy. Gadgets are also being developed with more efficient processors, longer battery lives (which reduces the time needed to plug in and power up), and increased durability (for longer lives). When making your purchasing decisions however, keep in mind that the greenest route is also the one that doesn’t involve your actually buying anything! While green gadgets are an excellent step towards lower carbon emissions, you make the most impact when you choose not to make that purchase at all.
There will always be a need for certain gadgets, so make sure you choose wisely when you’re ready to make your purchase. Try to stay clear of totally useless or unnecessary consumer goods. Do you really need a Canine Treadmill? Will your life be that much more complete with a Cooper Cooler to chill your beverages on the spot, or are there other appliances in your life that can take care of that job? And honestly, how many crimping irons, curling irons, hair dryers and other power-hungry hair gadgets does one really need? The same holds true for the number of televisions, cable boxes, video game consoles, DVD/Blu-ray players, cell phones, MP3 players, blenders, and bread ovens in a given house – do you really need all that you have?
Next time you’re thinking about buying a new gadget, first consider whether you really need it or if you simply want it before making your purchase. If it turns out to be one of those gadgets you just can’t live without, make sure you buy green when you can, unplug it when it’s not in use, and use recycle the packaging materials if possible. To learn more about the impact your gadgets have on the environment, check out these recent articles:
Today’s New Gadget Gift Could be Tomorrow’s eWaste by Jordana Huber in Canada.com.
Finally, check out green-focused media outlets, blogs and consumer goods companies before buying any new green gadgets. Companies like Popular Mechanics are good sources of information when you’re looking to buy any kind of electronics equipment. Their recent article, Top 4 Eco-Friendly Gadgets Coming This Year by Seth Porges profiles the best green gadget’s from this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.? TerraPass sells eco-friendly gadgets and chargers in their online store, and sites like EnviroGadget always have the latest news on eco-gadgets for people interested in cutting-edge consumer goods.
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Even though I have been recycling since I was a little girl, I am sometimes still amazed by the amount of time and energy that goes into processing my own household waste. When I was little, recycling was a family activity – we would sort glass and aluminum, crush cans and bundle newspapers on Saturday mornings, than load everything into our Datsun 510 and deliver it to the University of Maryland’s recycling center. Taking care of the recycling was just a part of life – something I didn’t think much about, but instead simply did.
Today, recycling seems much more complicated than back in the early 80’s. I live in a small apartment that has a living room/dining room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. There are trash recepticals in each room, and when I actually take the time to empty them and sort through my trash, I’m always shocked by how long it takes me to finish the task. Now, I will admit that I could process my waste more frequently, (thereby cutting down on the sheer volume of garbage I ever need to process at once), but that’s just not how I do things. Instead of taking out the trash once a week, I wait until the stack of paper behind my desk is overflowing, and the plastic bottles are overflowing their bins in my living room.
When I do finally process my trash, it takes time to sort through my desk garbage and separate the sensitive documents that need to be shred from the used envelopes, offers for gym memberships and well-read magazines. Once everything is sorted, I typically have a large paper shopping bag (today’s bag probably weighs 10 pounds) full of newspapers, magazines, advertisements and other recyclables. My shredder gets a small stack of sensitive documents, and there’s usually a plastic shopping bag worth of pure garbage left over.
Once that’s done, I pull out the paper recycling from the bathroom and bedroom trash containers, find any shampoo bottles that have made their way into the garbage can, and than set to work on sorting the other recyclables. My city recycles paper, cardboard, several types of plastic, glass and aluminum. I take this kind of recycling out every few weeks (as compared to the paper which I sort through every few months), and will normally dispose of 30-40 plastic bottles, 5 or 6 glass containers, and a milk crate full of cardboard.
The kitchen garbage tends to be straightforward, mostly because I don’t throw recyclables into that bin, and I don’t compost my food waste. I thought about composting, but I live in the city, have no yard, cook little, and don’t know what I would do with the waste in a full kitchen compost crock. The kitchen garbage goes out every two weeks or so, and is most difficult to deal with when I’ve cleaned out the fridge and had to toss out rotten food.
It would be easier to simply stick all of my solid waste into large black plastic bags and dump it in the garbage, but sorting through my garbage is helpful. By being forced to look through the remnants of my consumption, I am forced to acknowledge how much I use, and to think about the impact my purchases have on my community, my country and my planet. In her book, Garbage Land, Elizabeth Royte writes about sorting through her trash for a year, and recording all she threw away as part of an experiment she took on to track her consumption. While I don’t go nearly as far as Royte, I do try to look at what I throw away and ask myself if I could be doing a better job at reducing my own consumption.
Like almost everyone out there, I certainly could do better – and I’m trying. There are fewer plastic water bottles in my recycling bin than there have been in the past, I am making an effort to eat all of the groceries I purchase before they rot, and I’m taking steps to cut down on the number of bills that arrive in my mailbox. Changing your lifestyle to reduce what you purchase, reuse what you can, and recycle everything possible is a process that takes time and energy, and isn’t always fun. There are certainly things I might have enjoyed doing more today, but the paper behind my desk overwhelmed all else, so today became the day I had to take out the trash. It’s still just a part of life, but now I understand much more clearly how my actions (or inactions) impact the world around me.
One last note – if you’re interested in what happens to your garbage after you leave it on the curb, check out Garbage Land. It’s an interesting read and Royte does a great job picking apart the complex after life of our garbage.
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This past week I decided that I have Green Guilt. There are aspects of my life that could be a little more environmentally responsible (not the least of which is the fact that I drive 500+ miles a week – mostly because my job is a 70 mile-a-day commute). In thinking about all of the large and small things I do that aren’t very environmentally friendly, I thought it might help me break my bad habits if I write up a list and post it for the world to read. This way, my sins will be on display for all, and that might make me more likely to act responsibly, if only to point to the fact that I’m changing my way.
So here it is, my list of green sins:
1. I drive upwards of 500 miles a week. And while I try to limit my driving to commuting, necessary errands and visits to friends/ for my personal life, I sometimes make unnecessary trips. There’s a bus from downtown Portsmouth out to Newington (about 5 miles). I like to go to the bookstore out that way on occasion, but I have to admit that I never take the bus. Likewise, I visit my doctor in Boston every couple of months, but rarely ride the MBTA Commuter Rail to do so.
2. I don’t recycle at work. My workplace does not have a recycling program in place, and I’ve not made any inroads into establishing one. My best friend has been working on a hardcore recycling program for her workplace (and she works in the biotech industry, which makes it particularly difficult to do this kind of thing because of all of the biohazard requirements they have to follow), and I can’t even find out if we can get paper recycling bins for underneath our desks. And while I do try and bring my recyclable bottles home with me and toss them in the recycling bin here, I don’t always succeed in my efforts.
3. I throw away food. This one kills me. What tends to happen is that I go to the grocery store with high ideals and purchase enough produce to last me two weeks. Upon arriving home, I cut up the veggies and store everything in my fridge for easy consumption later. Over the course of the week however, I just won’t eat the food that’s in my fridge. Sometimes I eat out, sometimes I eat with friends, and sometimes I simply don’t eat. At the end of the two weeks, I’ll go to clean out my fridge and make room for new food, and end up throwing what had been perfectly good green peppers and broccoli into the garbage.
4. On the weekends I go out and leave the radio on in my apartment. Don’t ask me why – because I seriously don’t know why I do this, I just do.
5. I occasionally forget my mug when I get coffee at the local coffee joint. When I do forget my mug, I don’t always recycle the plastic cups that hold my iced Java – though I will say that I do make a good effort to recycle these, except of course when I’m at work. The fact that I buy my coffee pre-made from the local coffee joint isn’t so great either, though I almost always grab my morning elixir from locally owned and operated shops – Breaking New Grounds and Popovers on the Square, both in downtown Portsmouth.
6. Sometimes I get my coffee at Dunkin Donuts.
7. When it’s hot outside (really hot), I love to drive around with my windows open and the air conditioning on!
8. I still purchase synthetic clothing that’s made in countries like China, Malaysia, and Thailand. It’s not that I want to purchase these kinds of clothing, it just so happens that I can’t really afford organic cotton and hemp clothes that are hand-made in the USA. In my favor, I never throw out any clothes, I recycle and reuse them or donate my old outfits to charity.
9. Although I do buy a great deal of organic and locally produced foods, sometimes I can’t afford to do so. Some of the organic food that I do buy comes in individual servings (Amy’s Kitchen is my biggest sin on this front), and some of the organic food is mass-produced in California, than shipped to New Hampshire for my consumption (again with Amy’s Organics).
10. My favorite drink is Polar Seltzer Water – which comes in 1 liter plastic bottles and which I can drink 2 of each day when given the chance. I also buy Vitamin Water, Tazo Tea and Poland Spring Sparkling Water every once in a while. I do however, recycle all of the bottles.
With the publication of this list, I am going to try and make some real changes in my life and start acting more responsibly. Green guilt isn’t a good thing to carry around, though it can be used as a motivating factor. Let me know about your green guilt – what kinds of environmentally-distressing things are you still doing? What holds you back when you think about all of the good things you’re doing to make this planet a greener place?
I promise that I’ll report back soon and let you all know what kinds of changes I’ve made and what I can cross off this list of green guilt!
Do people who use disposable cups hate Mother Earth? And can we feel justified in stealing their lunch from the company fridge?
My company kitchen has dozens of mugs and glasses, and the higher-ups issued every employee a stainless-steel travel mug. We have both paper and styrofoam cups available, also. We are a busy office; we use a lot of paper cups.
Naturally I look down on the enemies of Mother Earth: those employees or visitors who use the disposable options because they are more convenient. I occasionally plot nefarious punishments for them.
The mugs and glasses around the office, however, are carefully washed with hot, soapy water after almost every use. And some part of me has always known that my ceramic Superman mug collection took a lot more energy to produce than a paper cup, and will one day contribute to a landfill somewhere. So should I really be hating on the styrofoam and frowning deeply at my paper cup-slurping colleagues?
Is there a chance that disposable cups are actually greener in certain circumstances?
I read several articles that explore this problem, and I learned that the energy consumed, water used, and pollution produced in manufacturing a “permanent” cup, followed by the typical ways it is packaged and shipped, housed in a warehouse, displayed in a well-lit store, wrapped in a plastic bag, purchased and driven home, and then washed and rinsed using more water and soap… well, it can all add up to a far greater burden than a paper cup, especially a reusable paper cup that comes in a light box of one thousand units shipped directly from the distributer.
if you use a ceramic mug 46 times, you start to pass the magic point where it becomes more environmentally friendly than a styrofoam cup.
For a stainless-steel mug, it takes 369 uses! Not a single one of the stainless steel mugs at my company have been used a hundred times, let alone 369… and some of them will be lost or thrown out before they even reach equilibrium with a paper cup, let alone surpass it.
Was that blogger crazy? Are there other studies? Another, less optimistic article talks about a study where they performed a total-life measurement of a ceramic cup’s impact versus paper or styrofoam. They use a process called Life Cycle Assessment and conclude:
“With energy you’d have to use the ceramic cup 640 times before it would equal a polystyrene cup and 294 times to equal a paper/cardboard one. With air pollution it takes 1,800 uses to beat the polystyrene and 48 to thrash the paper/cardboard. Likewise you would have to drink 126 and 99 cups respectively for the ceramic to compete with polystyrene and paper/cardboard on the waste issue. And water? Sorry, just the use of a ceramic cup totals more than the entire life cycle water consumption of the other two.”
Don’t get me wrong… when reused effectively, a permanent cup (from a green-minded manufacturer) is still the better option. But the lesson from these articles, for me? Disposable cups are not the devil.
The other fun-yet-ambiguous fact I learned is that paper cups are not necessarily more moral than styrofoam cups. Styrofoam (polystyrene) cups have been outlawed in Seattle, largely based on the fact that they take “forever” to degrade. But paper cups require more energy and produce a lot of waste in production. And to be practical about it, when buried in a typical U.S. landfill, which is deliberately anaerobic, neither one of them is going to break down. The polystyrene cups will compress better and end up taking less room in that landfill.
The overall lesson for me: I will not criticize other people’s habits when it comes to cups and glasses. There are too many lifestyle variables that effect the outcome. The best solution, of course, is to own exactly as many permanent drinking receptacles as you and your household need, reuse them as long as you can, and try to wash them in a sensible way.
Of course, that’s the best solution for clothes, furniture, and everything else, too. We need to buy green goods, buy fewer of them, reuse them, and use and maintain them responsibly. That’s why I still wear t-shirts that I’ve had since high school. (Really, that’s why. Uh-huh. Laziness and nostalgia have nothing to do with it.)
And my cubicle mate who drinks from a paper cup? I forgive him. For now.
…so long as he reuses it until the bottom falls out.
For most people, the act of recycling probably includes sorting plastic, glass, and aluminum containers into brightly colored bins and leaving them curbside for removal. And while the growth of curbside recycling programs is to be applauded, it’s important to remember that other household items can and should be recycled.
Our homes are all full of recyclable goods – like old television sets, cell phones and ink cartridges – but if your community lacks an organized effort to recycle such things, it can be difficult to know what can be recycled and where. To help, I’ve compiled a list of alternative recycling programs.
When you visit the gcycle website, you’re greeted with chirping birds and the gcycle robot who eats old electronics and emits flowers, birds, and pink smoke – it’s pretty funny actually. gcycle is an electronics waste recycling program that educates users on the dangers of electronic waste (e-waste) in the environment and matches people with e-waste recycling centers. By entering your zip code, you can find out where to recycle batteries, print cartridges, video tapes, video games & accessories, cell phones & accessories, computers and other household electronics. I thought it was cool that my local Staples, Best Buy and Tweeter all participate in electronics recycling – and also that gcycle provides maps to show me how to get to each recycling location. In addition to this information, the gcycle site also provides factoids about the hazards of not recycling electronics, and paints a disturbing picture of exactly how much electronic waste is floating around.
Earth 911 is the force behind gcycle, but offers more than just electronic waste recycling information. Based in Scotsdale, Arizona, Earth 911 is a division of Global Alerts, a cause media company. The Earth 911 website offers information and tips on how to (and where to) recycle electronics, automobiles and household goods, and also provides information on green shopping, product stewardship and composting. While Earth 911’s site is more informational than practical, it’s a great place to start if you want to learn more about the benefits of recycling all kinds of commonly tossed aside items.
The Freecycle Network
The idea behind The Freecycle Network is that by keeping perfectly useful and usable items out of landfills you are contributing to a greener planet. Instead of promoting the traditional concept of recycling, The Freecycle Network promotes the reuse of items, and has a network that people can access when they want to either donate or find other people’s castoffs. The Freecycle Network is a nonprofit organization that allows anyone to post items they wish to give away or to connect with people with items to give. To join you have to sign up with a local group (determined by the zip code you enter) and check out what’s offered by other group members. Anyone can join, and everything offered is free.
Similar to The Freecycle Network is Craigslist – the now ubiquitous online bulletin board that has a “free” section where users can post items they are willing to give away for free. Visit CraigsList to find your local branch and start browsing!
To learn more about recycling in general, check out the links below: