Category Archives: Personal Responsibility

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.

Gift Giving Guide for the Non-Green Relative or Friend

By Leah Kaminsky

For the green consumer, holiday gift shopping can be a stimulating opportunity to flex their green problem-solving skills. Sick of wasteful wrapping paper? Use newspaper. Tired of cheap, throwaway clothing? Give organic.

That’s well and good when giving gifts to friends and family who have a bit of an eco-bent, but what’s a greenie to do when giving gifts to someone who’s staunchly non-green? Let’s do some strategizing.

The Profile:

  1. Your relative who grew up during WWII, when canned goods were practically a patriotic duty. “We ate beans from a can and we liked ‘em that way!” Warning: This person may not be a big consumer, but they’re likely clinging to chemical-laden housewares.
  2. Your shop-a-holic friend who cares only about more, more, MORE, regardless of where “more” comes from. Warning: May be a fan of saying, “That sounds delightful, darling. Just delightful!”

The Gifting Challenge:

The Non-Green Relative or Friend either pays no attention to green trends or actively despises anything that disrupts their regular patterns of consumerism. The green movement may make them feel guilty, which can spark a visceral reaction against anything interpreted as being eco-friendly.

The Solution:

There’s only one way to give green to the non-green friend: don’t let them know you’re doing it. Such gifts could include:

  1. A cookbook…that just happens to slip in tips on buying local produce.
  2. Jewelry…that’s sustainably made and purchased from a small, local vendor. Who needs to know?
  3. A bicycle…with an electric boost. This will be especially good if your gift recipient is into gadgets.
  4. Everyday goods made from BPA-free materials…that distract the recipient from their inherently green nature. For instance, this reusable coffee mug, which features a major youtube meme, will have any pop culture fan in hysterics before they realize you’ve tricked them out of using paper coffee cups.
  5. Products they’ve asked for…but with a green spin. If, for instance, you find “books” on your recipient’s holiday list, swap a new book with something secondhand, or buy them an e-reader.
  6. Products you present as being cool new trends in generaland not just to the cool green movement.

Voila! With a little creativity, you’ll turn this time of consumption into a time of sustainability. And your decidedly non-eco conscious friend will be none the wiser.

Are Fruit and Veggie Washes Really Better?

By Leah Kaminsky

It seems like every grocery store I go to these days is touting their “green” veggie and fruit washes. “Get rid of pesticides!” they proclaim. “Eat healthier!” Naturally, the allure of such products is tempting, but the last thing I want to do is remove pesticides by spraying my produce with more chemicals. So, what’s the truth? Are fruit and veggie washes really a good idea?

First, as this study of one fruit and vegetable wash shows, there’s really no way to get rid of all pesticides if they’ve been applied systemically. However, pesticides, bacteria and dirt that appear on the surface of produce is much more easily removed. While water will do the trick for water-soluble pesticides, you need something with a little more acidity for those that aren’t (and good luck figuring out on your own which one is on your apple). That makes sense if you look at the ingredients for one produce cleaner called Fit, which operates primarily through its many acids:

Ingredients in Fit: Purified water, oleic acid (from Vegetable Sources), Glycerol (from Vegetable Sources), Ethyl Alcohol (from Corn), Potassium Hydrate (from Basic Minerals), Baking Soda (from Basic Minerals), Citric Acid (from Cornstarch and Molasses), and Distilled Grapefruit Oil.

None of these ingredients are particularly harmful or unnatural. This renders that fear of replacing chemicals with chemicals largely unfounded, making the question less, “Is it safe?” than, “Is it necessary?”

According to another study completed by Jack Bishop of Cook’s Illustrated, the answer is a solid no. As Bishop suggests, all you really need is a bottle of vinegar slightly diluted with water to have the same effect.

In the end, it seems distilled water, vinegar, or one of these simple home remedies (here and here) will do the trick just fine. What you wash produce with is far less important than simply washing it. So wash away, and eat up!

Purchasing Green Dishwashers, Washers & Dryers

By Leah Kaminsky

I’m kind of a, “Yeah, that one looks good” kind of shopper, so I was surprised at how interesting my recent dishwasher buying experience was. Apparently, there’s been a lot of innovation going on in the dishwashing world, and it’s worth taking a closer look at just what’s changed, and what the savvy green shopper should look for:

Energy Star

First and foremost, look for the Energy Star seal of approval, no matter what the appliance. While the EPA could certainly be stricter in its guidelines, it still provides a good basic minimum. Why is it important to go for an energy-efficient dishwasher? Because they use less water, meaning you’ll be using not just less water but less electricity, too.

Wash Cycles

Each load of dishes has unique requirements. Search for a dishwasher with multiple wash cycles so you can choose only the most relevant and efficient wash type. One day you might need a high intensity, scalding hot rinse for pots and pans, the next you might only need a gentle wash to clean those sandwich plates of crumbs.

Sizing

You might think buying a more compact dishwasher will significantly up your dishwashing green. If you’re living on your own and find yourself only running your current dishwasher once a week or so, yes, you’re correct. But if you’ve got a household of six and already have to run your dishwasher nightly, a compact will only increase your number of loads and your inefficiency, not to mention your aggravation.

Cool New Features
The highest end dishwashers are so chock full of features, I would be surprised if the next models don’t have a “Blast off into space” option. Many of these brands eliminate the need for electric heating by recycling the heat generated by the wash cycle. They can also sense the overall dirtiness of the dishes and automatically choose the correct water temperature and wash style.

Pretty neat, right? Stay tuned next week for more eco-conscious appliance-buying guides.

Green Honeymoons

By Leah Kaminsky

For those of us who love the earth and romantic getaways, thoughts of our carbon footprint can turn those daydreams of exotic destinations into guilt. This is especially true with honeymoons, a time when eco-conscious couples want to live life to the fullest without feeling eco-guilt. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to be green while honeymooning. We’ve compiled just a few below.

Couples that seek a green honeymoon have a world of options

Stay Close to Home

That far-off destination doesn’t actually have to be so far off. Couples that live in big cities can find a whole new world in a vibrant neighborhood on the other side of town, or head out into the countryside or regional hot spots. This will keep the travel footprint low and the bill low, too.

Honeyteering

For the idealistic couple a volunteer honeymoon is a great way to go. Get to know the locals by helping build rain barrels. Or, explore the world’s best organic farms when you volunteer with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). You’ll eat great food, learn about a foreign culture, and help promote sustainability all at once.

Eco-Retreats and Eco-Hotels

As eco-retreats increase in popularity, so, too, do the variety available. Explore the Honduran rainforest or spend the night in a treehouse in the Norwegian woods. Or simply look for hotels that promote sustainable practices, like not washing sheets every day and recycling toiletries.

National Parks

For outdoorsy couples, national parks make a great option. Spend your honeymoon exploring all the natural wonders these parks have to offer and learning about the Earth’s many beauties.

Couples that seek a green honeymoon have a world of options and a little research a romantic green honeymoon is well within reach.

How to Recycle e-Waste

By Leah Kaminsky

As technology advances at lightning speed, we’ve become used to upgrading our devices on a regular basis. But we don’t often think about where our old electronics go and whom they’re harming when they’re there. The common though is “once it’s in the trash, it’s out of our minds.”

So where do our unwanted devices go? The answer is simple: nowhere good. Too often companies claiming to be recyclers send our e-waste abroad to third world countries where they take a massive toll on the environment as well as on human health.

What to do?

First, think of ways you can get more life out of your devices. That means (dare I say it?) holding on to them for a little longer or giving them to a younger member of the family. You can also look for companies that will refurbish devices, saving salvageable parts and using them to make something new. Or sell your old products online and see a return on some of your investment. You can find a number of companies who will resell devices for you, taking the hassle of shipping and customer management out of the equation.

Another great option is to donate those old devices to schools or charities, especially in countries where resources and capital are scarce. For example, just having a cell phone to arrange meetings can radically improve the lot of a small businesswoman in a foreign country. Before donating, make sure to check out a charity’s credentials and follow any guidelines they might have. For example, don’t just drop off an old computer at a school, as they might not even have the need for old technology.

Sure, it takes a little more thought to reduce the impact of your e-waste, but we’ve got to do something to counter the negative effects of our technology addiction. Being proactive about what you do with old technology is the first step.

Kid-Friendly Green Activities

By Leah Kaminsky

There are two questions that drive parents up the wall: “What’s for dinner?” and “What should I do?” There are a variety of eco-friendly answers to this second one, and they’re likely to be just as interesting to you as they will be to your kids. That’s because going green, at its best, involves getting a little creative.

Having your kids help with yard work on a sunny day is a great way to keep them entertained.

If you’ve got a crafty kid on your hand, have your child scour the house for old, unused materials you can repurpose into something new. Egg cartons can be turned into mobiles and that old tin of beans can become a great place to grow a small plant. Run out of space on the fridge for proudly displaying your child’s artwork? Make room by turning that old artwork into a fun bookmark that will get them crafting and reading. With an inventive mind, you can even build a robot from recycled materials.

Another great idea is to coach your child on growing his or her very first garden. This can be something as simple as planting a seed in a cup and watching it grow on the windowsill to building a raised bed for your deck or even planning for lots of vegetables you can use all year round. Or foster a sense of community by volunteering at your local community garden or at your CSA ­- local, subscription-based farm organizations that encourage eager members to help with the farming..

Learning green cooking principles can be another great way to both entertain your child and teach them important life lessons. Discuss why it’s important to eat in-season before brainstorming tasty recipes and checking out your local farmer’s market. You’ll be killing both the dinner and the entertainment question with one stone.

There are many more ways to have fun in classic green style, just as long as everyone involved gets a little bit inventive. And if all else fails, there’s nothing quite so green as, “Go outside and entertain yourself.” Right?

Say “I Do” to Planning a “Green” Wedding

By Leah Kaminsky

Weddings don’t just have a big impact on your wallet, they affect the environment, too. If you’re an eco-minded fiancée, here are a few ideas to keep the waste and emissions of your nuptials to a minimum.

Pick a central location.

If you’re like me, you’ve got family and friends spread out all over the world. Think strategically about where you have your wedding, choosing a location that’s central for as many people as possible.

Use local resources.

Wherever you go, draw from local resources. Find in-town caterers who support local, organic farmers. Or, if you grow your own food or flowers, source them right from your garden, leaving meat off the menu. Cut out the global labor and resource chain by finding a seamstress in town to make your dress. Hire in-town staff to reduce the carbon cost of travel emissions.

Embrace the backyard with DYI.

For a hyper-local wedding, hold it right in your backyard. Decorate tables with colorful fruit, or knit your own flowers for a cute, green gift your guests can take home. Another great idea: pick a wedding date when the flowers are sure to be in bloom and forget the florist altogether.

Recycle and repurpose.

From the invitations and thank you cards to the placards on each table, work only with recycled paper. Wear a friend or family member’s old wedding dress, or have a seamstress turn your plain white dress into something spectacular you can wear time and time again. You can even decorate the venue with crafts and sculptures made from recycled materials.

And of course, make sure that the venue is set up for recycling the day of, too.

With these tips in hand, you’re sure to have a fun, green wedding. Congrats!

 

 

Superfoods For The Savvy Shopper

By Juli Goetz Morser

Doesn’t it seem like every six months a new super food hits the headlines as the be-all-and-end-all cure for some common or chronic health ailment? Think acai berry, pomegranate, coconut water, goji berries for some of the latest trends or salmon, blueberries, oats and walnuts for the old timers. If food is what we consume to provide nutritional support for our bodies, then super foods are touted to go beyond basic nutrition with claims to lower cholesterol, control diabetes, fight heart disease, strengthen the immune system, and generally help us live longer.

Since we all want to live healthy lengthy lives, these new and old ‘discoveries’ and their so-called healing properties can be pretty alluring. Kind of like the silver bullets for health. But you’ve got to wonder if these claims amount to, well, a hill of beans. Unfortunately, this is where things get a little murky. For instance, last year the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the health claim that omega-3 fatty acids found in cold water fish have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. But when used on a label, the claim has to say that the research is not conclusive. Kind of confusing, huh?

So what is a savvy shopper to do? Well one approach is to simply not worry about eating specific foods for specific ailments until the FDA gives the final word. Another option is to go ahead and add a variety of these calorie sparse and nutritionally dense super foods to an overall healthy diet. Why not? It may not be the quick fix you are looking for or even the magic answer, but it just might be something worth eating for.

Here are some everyday super foods to put on your grocery list:

Beans – the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend three cups weekly of these fiber-filled nuggets. They are also a good low fat source of protein, carbohydrates, magnesium and potassium. Edamame (whole soybeans) also contain omega-3 fatty acids for an added bonus.

Blueberries – the darker the better. These small berries are packed with antioxidants, phytoflavinoids, vitamin C and potassium. Berries in general are low in calories, high in water and fiber, and can satisfy sweets cravings with a lot fewer calories than typical baked goods. Frozen berries are said to be just as good, nutritionally, as fresh ones.

Broccoli – this may be one of America’s favorite veggies. It appeals to all ages and is available year round. It is a rich source of Vitamin A, C and K and has plenty of fiber.

Dark orange vegetables – sweet potatoes, carrots, orange bell peppers, butternut squash and pumpkin are all super high in vitamin A. Sweet potatoes, unlike white potatoes, also are loaded with vitamin C, calcium, and potassium.

Eggs – the incredible edible egg contains 12 vitamins and minerals, including choline, while also providing quality protein.

Low fat or fat-free yogurt – believe it or not, low or fat-free yogurt is actually higher in calcium than some other dairy products. It is a top quality source of protein and potassium and can contain probiotics, which help maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the intestines.

Nuts – the key to nuts is how much you eat. They rate well due to their protein, antioxidant, high fiber and heart-healthy fat content, but watch the quantity. Go for small portions, about 100 calories a day.

Oats – naturally! Rolled oats or even food that contains a lot of oat bran are the rare super foods with an FDA approved label that they may reduce the risk of heart disease when combined with a low fat diet.

Quinoa – this ancient grain is high in protein and is a good source of iron, zinc, vitamin E, selenium and fiber. In addition to quinoa, try these whole grains: barley, buckwheat, millet, wild rice, and whole wheat.

Salmon – the American Heart Association recommends eating cold water fatty fish like salmon twice a week because they are chock full of the omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon is low in calories and saturated fats, high in protein and is a good source of iron. Choose wild over farmed salmon when possible as farmed salmon may contain elevated levels of contaminants and artificial coloring.

Dark Chocolate – a super food? Really? Yes, really. Dark chocolate with 60% or higher cocoa content is a potent antioxidant. And the darker it is, the lower the fat and sugar content. Oh, and did we say it’s yummy?

Growing Your Own Food in an Urban Environment: Part II

By Leah Kaminsky

In Part I of this series, we learned how to use recycled or re-purposed containers and a windowsill to grow an urban garden. Today we’ll look at two other great routes—raised beds and grow bags.

For those with a little more space (or the willingness to give up the whole patio), raised beds are a great way to grow a full and vibrant garden that can feed the entire family. Raised beds are freestanding structures made with wood, stone, concrete or any easy-to-use building material. They’re filled with soil and compost and customized to fit the dimensions of the available space. The beds need to be at least eight inches to three feet in height according to the needs of the produce you’ll be growing there.

Raised beds are an easy way to make spaces arable that normally aren’t. If you live in an apartment building and have access to both a balcony and rooftop, you can grow produce with high sunlight demands on the roof and those with lower demands on the balcony. In that way, raised beds increase the versatility of the food you grow.

If building your own bed (or hiring someone to do so) sounds too complicated, you might want to buy a grow bag at your local gardening center. These relatively inexpensive bags are durable yet flexible, accommodating a range of spaces even when filled with soil. Try enlisting other tenants in your apartment building to purchase several dozen for the building rooftop. You can plant just one crop or several and have your own rooftop farm. Once harvest time rolls around, celebrate community work with a big cooking party or barbeque.

No matter what route you take, urban gardening is a wonderful way to create a self-sustaining garden and have a little fun while you’re at it.