Are e-Readers Really Green?

By Leah Kaminsky

On the surface, it would seem that using an e-reader would be a sure-fire way to up your green factor. After all, they’re pretty much the Superman of the tree world, saving innocent victims from the paper mill. But as an electronic device, e-readers aren’t without their footprint. There are the carbon emissions that result from powering the device, and the consumer electronics industry is infamous for using toxic materials.

So given these considerations, are e-readers actually greener than paper books?

The answer is a resounding yes. Between the paper consumption and the carbon emissions associated with production, printing, shipping and disposal of paper books, there is no doubting the environmental impact of traditional publishing. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at this powerful infographic, which explores the full impact of the two billion printed books produced every year. A few key facts:

  1. Printed books require 3 times more raw materials to produce books than e-readers and 7 times more water
  2. The 125 million trees cut down every year for the newspaper and book industries result in the emission of 44 million tons of CO2 each year versus just 7.3 million from cars.

In fact, the research this infographic cites estimates that e-readers will prevent the emission of 10 million tons of CO2 between 2009 and the end of 2012, which is the equivalent of the yearly emissions from roughly 800,000 cars. What’s more, when we leave more trees standing to absorb more CO2, our e-reading habit can help offset emissions from other high footprint technologies.

When considering the eco-credentials of e-readers, it’s important to take a look at the full supply chain as well as the raw materials. Fortunately for us book lovers, e-readers allow us to feed our book addiction while also doing something good for the environment. Though (sorry, I have to say it!) there’s nothing quite like the weight and smell of a good old-fashioned book…

DIY: Switching things up with switch plates

By Jeanne Romano

Ever look at a room and wonder what you can do to make it more fun? Paint? Wallpaper? Get all new furniture? Knock down a wall? Whoa, slow down.

All that sounds great… however you have a small budget (very small), you want to recycle, you’re renting,  and oh yeah, you’re scared to death to do it yourself. You’ve come to the right place. This idea is not only great for sprucing up a room; it’s new and unique party fun.

Let everyone decorate one and it becomes a party favor. This works for kids and adults!

Personalized plates make great gifts – especially from children to their friends and family. Think early drawings, handprints or even just abstract squiggles.

What you’ll need:

  1. Blank (plastic) switch plate. Of course you can buy a new one (they’re very inexpensive) but the idea here is to recycle, right?
  2. Sharp utility scissor http://www.drugstore.com/fiskars/qxb29286
  3. Craft knife
  4. Double sided tape http://www.drugstore.com/scotch/qxb21916
  5. A variety of papers, fabrics, glitter, pictures, trimming, stickers – etc.  As you’ll see, you can use just about anything to cover, decorate or paint a switch plate.

Like following a recipe, there are specific ingredients, or steps, to turn an average switch plate into something really unique to display in your home or to give as a personalized gift. Here are step-by-step instructions to cover a switch plate. For this example I chose my favorite wrapping paper, however you can use almost anything – a list of ideas and photos will follow.

  1. Turn the plate upside down and place on the wrong side of your paper then cut your pattern
  2. Allow at least ¾ to 1 inch all the way around the plate.
  3. Use double sided tape to line the inside edges of the back of the plate then wrap the paper around the sides.
  4. Finish folding over as if you’re wrapping a present

Turn the plate over – but wait, something’s missing.

Draw an elongated “X” as shown in step 6. Use your craft knife and cut along those lines. (Make sure you have something underneath the plate to help you avoid cutting through to the surface underneath. Place small pieces of double sided tape around the opening. Bend the triangles back until they stick to the tape.

Feel for the holes where the screws should go. Retrieve the screws and just pop them through. If you want to hide them you can paint them to blend in or in my case, I thought accent colors could be fun and painted them red. Then screw the decorated plate back on the wall

For another creative outlet – the outlet.

JUST A FEW IDEAS:


 

Wallpaper –

The plate is wrapped with the wallpaper that matches the wall

Photographs, illustrations, greeting cards (seasonal and misc…)

Hand-painted     Spray painted   

 

Decoupage collage  

or just plain goofy 

Get your kids’ involved – my neighbor’s daughter Rachel C. (11) created these:

 Original artwork  Duct tape  

Trims, beads, sequins and glitter and spray sparkles on a metal outlet plate!

Stickers, stickers, stickers….Tips:

  • If you’re putting the plate in the kitchen, bathroom or child’s room you’re going to want to use washable paper. Or you can always coat the paper with a gloss, flat or shellac type protection. Check the warnings, especially for the kids’ rooms.
  • Nail polishes (both clear and color) are great for this kind of project. It’s very shiny and usually dries quickly
  • Glue can be used instead of double side tape; however glue takes longer to dry and may not be effective with heavier papers or fabric.
  • Check copyrights on all photos, artwork and team logos.

There’s no end to the possibilities. You can make your design permanent or temporary. You can even use the same switch plate over and over again. Have fun and be creative!

 

Real Green or Just Hype?

By Leah Kaminsky

Take a stroll down any aisle in your local supermarket and you’re likely to encounter a wide range of “green” products. It’s in other places, too, from hotels boasting their “environmentally friendly” laundry policies, to energy companies claiming to be “clean.”

But surely, not all these companies could have grown an eco-conscious overnight. In fact, there’s even a term for companies that spend more time and funds on promoting their green deeds than actually working to be green: greenwashing.

So just how can you tell the real green from the fake?

1. Look at the ingredients list. Companies are quick to promote a single natural ingredient and ignore the rest. Just look at all the cleaning products that put phrases like, “Clean with natural enzyme action” on the front just because they use baking soda, forgetting to mention that they also phthalates, sodium sulphate, and so forth. Unless you’re a chemist, bring your smart phone or tablet along to the grocery store so you can look up each chemical on a database like the one provided by the Environmental Working Group.

2. Insist on specificity. While many companies feel comfortable slapping “all natural” on their product, it’s far more likely they’re telling the truth when they use a specific claim like, “Made with 100% organic oranges.” The more specific the claim, the easier it is to check its validity, the more likely the company will feel the pinch to tell the truth.

3. Research the company. What are consumers saying about it online? For that matter, what does the company website say about its products? Does it explain its claims and define its terms? Because there’s no standard definition for words like natural, eco, green, nontoxic, and even biodegradable (yes, while biodegradation is an agreed upon scientific process, add an “-able” onto the term and who knows what you’ve got), each company will have their own definition of what those terms mean. Make sure you agree.

4. Avoid flashy packaging. Product packaging has always been designed with buyer psychology in mind, and greenwashed products are no exception. Just because a spray bottle has a flower on it, doesn’t mean it’s any better for the environment than the plain bottle next to it. In fact, companies would be all the more green with plain packaging, if they invested the cost of designing and printing complicated packaging in green efforts instead.

5. Verify with seals of approval. While there are certainly green products that don’t bear seals from trusted green organizations, having one never hurts. Look for the EnergyStar logo, the USDA Organic Seal, the Green Seal or the Forest Stewardship Council logo on appliances, cosmetics, produce and paper products.

The green industry is still very new, which means it’s something like the Wild West. If history is any indication, we’ll have better guides and oversight as time wears on. Until then, these five tips should help dye your eco-efforts a true green.

Top 5 Green Resolutions for the New Year

By Leah Kaminsky

Happy Near Year! We may be well into 2013, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to add a few green resolutions to your list. (And, hey, if you’ve already broken a few of your other resolutions anyway, why not make room for a few more?). Whether you’re already a Green Queen or you consider washing out an old shampoo bottle for the recycling bin a big accomplishment, here are just a few great green resolutions for the New Year.

1. I will stop using plastic bags. All of them. Type “fashionable reusable shopping bags” into Google and you’ll find a wide range of fun and funky bags that are just as much of a fashion statement as a purse or clutch. I actually enjoy picking up new bags wherever I travel as a souvenir – certainly makes grocery shopping more fun! If you find yourself consistently forgetting to bring your bags into the store, look for ones that can fold up small and fit into your purse or pocket.

2. Forget the bottled water. If you turn to bottled water for filtration, switch instead to an on-top water purifier or a jug you can keep cold in the fridge. Most of the bottled water you buy really isn’t as pure as you might think, and there’s little you’ll find in them that you can’t achieve via a more sustainable filtration option – one that doesn’t require petroleum to make bottles, carbon emissions to ship and deliver the product, and recycling.

3. Bike or walk to work. If you’ve also resolved to get into shape in the New Year, then this is the resolution for you. Try starting small by resolving to bike, walk, run or hey, pogo stick to work at least once a week, and build the number up from there.

4. Put an end to your paper habit. Do you really need a printed version of that document? How about a printed book? Take a look at your paper habits, and propose an accomplish-able reduction. You may, for instance, resolve to go from ordering printer paper once a month to once every two months, and reuse printing mess-ups as scrap paper for notes. You could also begin using an e-reader, buying only used books, or borrowing books from friends or the library.

5. Buy local, in-season produce. In the global food market, we’ve gotten used to being able to eat whatever we like whenever we’d like to, regardless of the season. But those strawberries you purchase in the middle of winter are at the very tail end of a long carbon emissions chain. Instead, buy local and make it a creative endeavor to cook in-season.

Do you have a few green resolutions of your own? Tell us all about them in the comments below.

A Journey With Breast Cancer Part 5: Nails

By Jeanne Romano

My whole life I bit my nails. I tried everything: icky tasting gunk, miracle cure creams, gelatin vitamins and even hypnosis. Oooh. Of course nothing worked. Finally in my 30s I turned to falsies. No not those. I had plenty of that –I’m talking about acrylics. I was so captivated by my fake nails that I changed my polish every day. Having beautiful nails opened a whole new world to me, not to mention a pop-top or two.

Fast forward 15 or so years: “Jeanne, you have breast cancer.” The terrible news was followed by all the gory little details. Blah… blah… blah… then, “And you’ll need to avoid manicures, pedicures and the use of artificial nails! No, not my nails!

I know what you’re thinking. How can nails be such sore spot in the grand scheme of cancer? To me it just felt like yet another assault on my body, on my femininity. I knew that my immune system would be compromised and apparently any little nick or cut especially on my fingers could actually create a serious infection requiring antibiotics and possibly hospitalization. So not only were manicures and my glorious fake nails out, I had to stop picking at the dry skin around my cuticles – extremely dry skin because of the chemo – oh the irony of it all.

The fix: I used a pair of sterile nail clippers. Never peeled or tore off any skin. Not that I had to be told that biting my nails or picking at my cuticles was bad habit (not just a matter of aesthetics). It had to stop. It was particularly important on the hand of the arm that had lymph node dissections. Remember, your skin and your fingernails protect your hand and arm from infection.

But wait, there’s more… Nail discoloration, nail detachment, and the less than groovy grooves. The medical experts writing for DermNet NZ lists onycholysis and onchomadesis as possible side effects of chemotherapy.

Big words and science alert:

“Onycholysis is the detachment of the nail from the nail bed, or the skin below the nail. The nail begins to detach at the top of the nail and progresses back to the cuticle. This side effect occurs specifically with the group of chemotherapy drugs containing taxane. Onchomadesis is the loss of the entire fingernail.

The development of “Beau’s lines” is also on the list of chemotherapy side effects. Beau’s lines are horizontal grooves that appear on the nails. They result from an interruption in the production of keratin. Fingernails and toenails, which you most likely know, consist of keratin, which is a fibrous protein.

Now that I was forced to go au natural I minimized these effects on my nails by soaking my hands and feet in ice water. It was cold but worth the discomfort.

I also messaged my hands and fingers everyday to increase the blood flow.  Because I used natural or organic products before my cancer I looked for the same (if not more intense) ingredients to help with my hands, cuticles and nails.

My three favorite brands were and continue to be:

Burt’s Bees Lemon-Butter Cuticle Creme offers calming combinations of natural ingredients, including vitamin E – which was wonderful for the intensive care of my chemo-dry cuticles, brittle nails and chapped, cracked fingertips.

de~luxe has a fabulous line of “healing” products, many using the nut of the African Shea Tree which provides powerful nourishment and healing to severely dry skin. According to their inserts, this particular hand cream is authentic “treatment grade” that is naturally rich in anti-oxidants and vitamins A & E.

Avalon Organics Hand & Body Lotion has a triple dose of rich lipid sources, certified organic Sunflower, Flaxseed and Coconut Oils. It’s long-lasting and easily absorbed. With an important bonus for chemo patients of Beta Glucan for cellular renewal.

It may take weeks to months, once you finish treatment, for your nails to grow out of these chemo effects and resemble your old nails.  I wish I could promise all the knowledge, ice water, creams and messaging will make your nails better – but I can’t. However I will say that I was able to keep my nails as healthy as possible while they were under attack. And while we may not be able to cure cancer, this critical interruption in my bad habit, cured my nail biting.

Natural Bee Removal

By Leah Kaminsky

On a sunny Tuesday morning, I laced up my running shoes, shut the front door behind me and stepped out into the front yard to stretch. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Just the chirping of birds and the slight hum of insects in flight. Then I turned back to the house to make sure the door was locked and saw this:

A bee swarm so big, the Terminix guy wouldn’t even touch it. “They’ll kill me!” he cried when he stopped by our house the next day. “I’m calling the man with the bee suit.”

Naturally, being the green advocate I am, I logged onto Facebook and updated my status with a panicked remark about being on pins and needles while the exterminators blasted my Alfred Hitchcok-esque swarm out of existence. (We all have our limits, and mine just happens to be bees).

I expected my friends to empathize with me, but instead I received a steady stream of comments about the colony collapse disorder, along with pleas to call a beekeeper for a humane removal. If you haven’t been keeping up with the honeybee crisis, this is the widespread dying off of honeybees, attributed in part to pesticides and genetically modified crops. This is bad news for the food chain and therefore humanity.

As I soon learned, a much more humane option than extermination is bee removal, which can be performed either by a professional service or by any one of many eager beekeeping hobbyists. Many beekeepers will actually do the service for free, as they need bees to sell local honey.

Here’s how it works:

  1. When the beekeeper starts work, you lock yourself safely in your house, especially if you’re in an area with large populations of hyper-aggressive Africanized bees.
  2. The beekeeper lures the bees from their hive or swarm and into a hive box, a container in which the bees can nest.
  3. The beekeeper will then remove any honeycomb or nest from the wall and seal any entrance holes, so it doesn’t rot and attract more bees in the future.
  4. Without a home or a queen to lead them, any remaining worker bees the beekeeper can’t capture will die in three days to a week (kind of sad, I know).

Voila! Bees gone, carried away to make honey in someone else’s yard. In the end, I was happy we did it the humane way and to have done my part to safeguard the ecosystem. And I was really happy not to have a massive swarm of potentially angry bees hanging off the side of my house. Phew!

A Journey With Breast Cancer Part 4: Taking the bite out of cancer

By Jeanne Romano

You may be surprised by this but your dentist should play an important role in your cancer treatment. I happen to love my dentist, however I think it’s safe to say that having someone probe your teeth and gums with all sorts of pokey implements isn’t anyone’s idea of fun. Unfortunately it’s probably a good idea to check in with your dentist before starting your cancer treatments.

Cancer and your treatments will affect all parts of the body, including your mouth. Especially if you are on a high doses and simultaneous radiation; when the white blood cell count is lowest, oral tissues are most prone to damage which unfortunately could cause delay or even stopping treatment.

If at all possible prior to your treatments, have your teeth cleaned, have a set of X-rays taken, take care of any mouth problems and have your dentist give your mouth the once over to prevent side effects.

Just like common chemo and radiation “side effects,” mouth issues vary – a lot. You may encounter these common problems during your treatments or even for a short time after your treatment ends:

The weirdest problem during my treatment was a loss or change of taste and smell. Being from a home that started each and every Sunday dinner with a bowl of homemade ravioli (yup, mom made the pasta as well as the sauce).  Suddenly, even the smell of sauce made my lip curl. In fact I craved all sorts of unlikely food combinations like (creamy) peanut butter, avocado and hummus on white bread. I agree it does sound a lot like cliché pregnancy cravings.

Another important issue to watch for is dry mouth. It can hurt. Here are some suggestions I got from my dentist to protect my teeth and gums.  They worked!

I…

  • Drank lots of water
  • Sucked on ice chips – found this particularly helpful during my actual chemo treatment
  • Ate soft, moist food that was easy to chew and swallow; cooked cereals, mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, etc…
    • When I did eat foods that required chewing, I made sure to take small bites, chewed slowly (unheard of in my home) and sipped liquids between the bites.
    • If I still had trouble swallowing, I softened my food with gravy, sauces, broth, yogurt or other liquids.
    • Gargled with a moistening mouthwash – I still use this every night before I go to bed.
    • Used and still use a fluoride toothpaste.
    • Brushed my teeth, gums, and tongue with an extra-soft toothbrush after every meal and at bedtime.  Sometime brushing hurt, so I softened the bristles in warm water.
    • Hate not flossing my teeth. I still did it, very gently, every day. Please be extremely careful. Once in a while my gums would bleed and hurt – so it was key to avoid the areas that are ultra sensitive – however keep flossing your other teeth.
    • Did not use mouthwashes with alcohol.

Not all mouth problems can be avoided but the fewer side effects you have, the more likely you will stay on your cancer treatment schedule.

What in the World is a CSA?

By Leah Kaminsky

Whether you’re the Queen of Whole Foods or the King of the farmer’s market, there are many ways to stock your kitchen with fresh, local produce these days. Still, too often these resources are a drain on your wallet, and it’s not exactly as if you walk away from the cash register feeling like you have a better sense of the farmer. Enter the CSA: an affordable solution that’s been spreading like wildfire over the past two decades. Here, I’ll break down just what in the world a CSA is, and why it might be a good option for you.

WHAT: CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. If you sign up for a CSA, you’ll pledge your support to a local farm for a certain growing season at a pre-paid rate, generally based on how far in advanced you sign up. You’ll receive a box of the latest harvests on a set day every week throughout the subscription period. Produce is always in-season and local because it’s shipped right from the fields to your door or to the local pick-up site. Some CSA programs also sell other types of add-on options, like meat and dairy.

WHY: CSAs are great for farmers because they put some of the risk on the consumer. If, for instance, there’s a drought and certain crops don’t grow, they still have your guaranteed subscription for that growing period (though they do generally try to make up for lost produce). They’re also better able to cut down on wasted produce by planting according to subscription numbers.

This guarantee allows farmers to keep their prices relatively low, so it’s generally worth it to consumers. Other consumer benefits include (of course) eating locally and organically, as well as learning to cook in-season. In many CSAs there are added community benefits, including shared recipes and the opportunity to work on the farm in lieu of a subscription fee.

WHO:

Families and community-minded singletons who want to share with friends.

The only downside about CSAs: in good years, you’ll find yourself overwhelmed with produce. Be ready to give some of your food away, or for long days spent cooking and freezing so none of it goes to waste. That way, you’ll always have “fresh” produce no matter what the time of year.

CSAs are a fun way to get involved and stay healthy. Type your city name and “CSA” into Google and see what you find!

Gift Giving Guide for the Super Natural Relative or Friend

By Leah Kaminsky

Last week, we took a look at several eco-gift giving strategies for your decidedly non-green friends or relatives. But if you’re green-minded, you probably run in a green-minded circle, in which case you likely have a super natural friend for whom gift buying can be just as difficult.

The Profile:

The super natural friend transcends all demographics and locales. He or she could be:

  1. Your flower power father who’s been fighting for Mother Earth since the early sixties. Dad wears Birkenstocks and all-vegan clothing and is the sole reason the word “granola” is a synonym for tree hugger.
  2. Your green architect friend who lives in the Pacific Northwest and won’t hesitate to plunge her hand into the work trash can to fish out a food-stained take-away carton and transfer it to the compost. Where it belongs.

The Gifting Challenge:

If you’re environmentally conscious but not, say, the non-cartoon embodiment of Captain Planet, chances are whatever green gift you choose will be something your super natural friend has already heard of, bought and moved on from. Giving a green gift to a friend or relative who lives and breathes environmental consciousness is a bit like giving the first Harry Potter book to an avid Harry Potter fan; chances are, they’ve read that one.

The Solution:

There are only two options to giving a good green gift to the green god or goddess: buy the newest, most innovative product out there, or let the greenie choose for him or herself. Here are a few ways to go:

  1. Give the gift of giving. Does your recipient have a favorite eco-charity, like the Sierra Club or the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)? Make a donation in his or her name.
  2. Promote eco-tourism. From wild jungles to barren deserts, buy your friend or relative an eco-tourist vacation – or at least a portion thereof. He or she will visit beautiful sites along the way with minimal impact and return with a new cause to fight for.
  3. Plant seeds for tomorrow. Your super natural friend will love a membership at a community garden or a share in a Community Supported Agriculture. Or put together a gardening gift basket, complete with seeds and tools.
  4. Watch your materials. From toys made of organic cotton to soy candles and free-trade chocolate, give a gift sourced from sustainable materials…and let your super natural friend know they’re there.
  5. Empower a green lifestyle with cool technology. Sure, your super natural friend or relative probably bikes to work already. But does he or she use a solar-powered pod to listen to music? Look for new and cool green gadgets, and you’re sure to impress.
  6. Give the gift of…choice. If you’re really at your wit’s end, just buy your friend a gift certificate to his or her favorite organic store or restaurant and call it a day.

It is possible to wow your super natural friend or relative. All you need is a little thought, a little creativity, and willingness to try something new.

 

Reused and Reusable New Year’s Decorations

By Leah Kaminsky

Every year on December 31, partygoers the world round gather to celebrate the beginning of the New Year. But starting fresh doesn’t have to mean going back to square one with your decorations. It’s easy to stay green with a few creative DIY ideas…and a willingness to rethink just what those holiday decorations from earlier in the month can do.

1. Decorate Your Door With Timely Snowflakes

If you’re missing that holiday wreath, there are plenty of ways to decorate your front door. As demonstrated here, turn those holiday snowflakes into the perfect New Year’s decoration by stenciling the year onto a burlap sack and attaching it to the front of your snowflake. If you don’t have a snowflake hanging around, cut your own out of paper and use an exacto knife to cut the shape into thin white foam board. To hang it from your door, all you need is hot glue and a magnetic clip.

2. Get Festive with Wrapping Paper

Think wrapping paper is the ultimate in waste? Think again when you turn that paper into streamers or confetti. All you need is a good pair of scissors and a love for tearing things up!

3. Light Your Way to a Lucky New Year

In southern climes and beyond, black eyed peas are the traditional New Year’s good luck treat. Fill a candle holder with uncooked beans, add a nice soy candle and light your way into the New Year. Caveat: You can reuse the beans from year to year (they last a long time), but eventually you will need to replace them. And definitely don’t plan to eat them.

4. Make a New Kind of Tree Tradition

Just because the holidays are over, doesn’t mean every kind of tree must be banished from your home. These ornament trees are as festive as can be, and they’re much more sustainable than cut flowers. Even better, they’re easy to make. Just gather a few sturdy sticks, place them in a vase, and hang your ornaments. Though you can use whatever ornaments you please, try sticking to silver and white to pay tribute to the Times Square ball.

5. Keep Track of Time With Tinsel

This is one of the few times of year when your party guests will actually want to stay keenly aware of time’s passing. String yarn or ribbon across the mantel, shape and staple tinsel into the numbers for next year, and hang them from your string.

Reusable New Year’s decorations are well within your reach. And what better way to usher in the New Year than with a little bit of a green tinge?