Category Archives: Recyclables/Reusables

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?

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.

Green Your Holiday Celebrations

By Leah Kaminsky

There are few times of year quite as homey as the holidays. From the smell of ham roasting in the oven, to the sound of latkes crackling in oil, to the warmth of kindling roaring away in the fireplace (or at least on the TV), it’s not hard to look forward to all the holidays have to offer. Yet, take a look at any post-holiday trash bin (or, more likely, bins plural) and it’s easy to see this isn’t the greenest time of year – despite how that Christmas tree or wreath might make it appear.

But not to worry. There are plenty of ways to keep your eco-conscious clear so you can enjoy those holidays and still keep your eco-friendly morals high.

Buy local and organic. Look to your neighborhood organic food supplier for delicious holiday produce, using classic holiday spices to give non-traditional holiday produce the right feel. More good news: turkeys are native to just about every climate, so you’re sure to find a sustainable turkey farm near you. The same goes for sustainable pig farms. Find your farm first, research its philosophy, and order early, as they tend to have a limited supply.

Forget the wrapping paper. Newspaper, fabric and magazines have much more personality than traditional wrapping paper. Even old paper calendars will do the trick.

Buy energy-saving holiday lights. Many stores now offer LED holiday lighting, which offer substantial energy savings over traditional lights. Good for the earth, good for the wallet!

Make your tree just a little greener. Buy from an organic, pesticide-free tree farm as near to your home as possible. And when the holidays are over, search for a tree recycling program rather than dragging the tree to the curb. Many cities will gladly turn your tree into mulch or wood chips.

Rethink holiday cards. Holiday cards are a great way to show your friends, family and colleagues that you care, but let’s be honest here: how long does anyone keep all but the most important cards before chucking them into the trash can? Rethink your strategy by reducing the number of cards you send, opting for a paperless e-card, or buying cards made from materials you know can be recycled…even if that means saying no to glitter.

With a little forethought, having a green holiday is entirely within your reach. So green your traditions and enjoy all the season has to offer!

Fall Activities for Kids

By Leah Kaminsky

Of all the seasons, few are as kid-friendly as fall. This is particularly true if, unlike me, you live in a region where fall means more than shifting from soul crushingly hot to pleasantly warm. Here are my top activities for making fall as fun for kids as possible.

Visit a Farm

Nothing says fall quite like loading the kids into the car and heading out to a pumpkin farm or apple orchard. Kids will love the whole adventure, from finding the biggest/strangest/most perfect pumpkin in the patch to standing on tippy toes to grab the reddest apple. And, while you’re there, many enterprising farmers also have added hayrides and corn mazes into the mix. This is an opportune moment to sneak in a lesson about sustainable produce while you’re in and amongst it

Baking

Of course, once you get the pumpkins home, the kids will want to start carving them, but there are great baking opportunities for your produce as well. Roasted pumpkin seeds are always a hit, and if you bring home extra pumpkins from the patch, you should have more than enough for your favorite pie, muffin, cake and bread recipes. Apples are also great for similar recipes, as well as apple crisps, crumbles, applesauce, apple butter, jam – you name it! Other fall produce like squash can also be fun to play with and will give kids a better appreciation for the multi-faceted food they’re putting into their bodies.

Crafts

Image via: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mommyknows/

Fall is pretty much craft time galore. After spending an afternoon jumping in the leaves, have kids pick out their favorite few and turn them into a placemat. Make acorn necklaces, Thanksgiving cards – the list goes on. While there are a number of approaches to take, it’s often most fun and informative to incorporate elements from the natural environment when you can, given how vibrant and giving it is at this time of year.

There are far more fall activities than just this. Do a quick internet search for more, and enjoy the season in all of its cinnamon-y glory!

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.

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.

Get Your Back to School Green On

By Leah Kaminsky

As the bliss of summer fades – goodbye sweet barbecues, goodbye lovely visits to the lake – September returns along with all the exciting and overwhelming hassles inextricably tied to your children’s return to school. And while the biggest concern for your kids is likely choosing the right lunch table or doing better in their weakest subject, keeping things eco-friendly in a school setting is a major concern on your mind. How can you maintain your child’s summer green throughout the school year? Here are our top tips.

Get excited for back-to-school season by swapping old habits for greener traditions.

  1. The power of your own two legs. If you live relatively near your school, have your child bike, walk, rollerblade, skateboard, whatever to school, saving carpooling for travel to extracurricular events. This will get blood pumping to your child’s brain in the morning, putting them in the right mood for learning. And it will save on gas, too.
  1. Forget the packaged lunches. Bring your eco-friendly mentality to the lunchbox by packing your child a locally sourced, organic lunch. Be careful to include only as much food as you know they’ll eat – no unnecessary food scraps. Pack with reusable sleeves and containers, whether that’s stainless steel, washable bags, cloth napkins, or BPA-free plastic-ware.
  2. Be strategic with new purchases. So you’ve got your school supply list and your kid is foaming at the mouth with anticipation of your trip to the office supply store. Do your best to keep new purchases low, recycling backpacks and notebooks when you can, and purchasing recycled and refillable pencils and pens. Make old materials like backpacks new by sewing on fun patches. Try to keep your child’s use of paper low, saving old paper for scrap, using both sides, and switching whenever you can over to an e-reader.
  1. Clothe with care. For the perfect back to school outfit, look for clothing made from organic cotton. Buying second-hand clothes is also a great way to go, especially when you’ve given old clothes yourself for store credit. For even more fun, arrange a clothing swap amongst your child’s friends.

Going back to school doesn’t have to mean losing your child’s well-honed green. With a little forethought, your whole family can stay eco-friendly without dampening the excitement of the back to school shop.

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?

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.

The Real Price of Cut Flowers

By Leah Kaminsky

Though Mother’s Day has come and gone, it’s taken nearly a month for me to clear all of those “50% off Mother’s Day Flowers” emails from my inbox. Flowers are, after all, the go-to gift for Mom, and I feel just a little bit less guilty about living far away when I know I can brighten my mom’s day with the click of a button.

But have you ever wondered where these flowers come from and how they find their way to their destinations? Stephen J. Dubner at Freakonomics did, and what he found may dull your enthusiasm.

Turns out, 80% of all cut flowers sold in the United States come from places like Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica. These flowers must be refrigerated immediately and shipped, first by air and then by truck.

That adds a lot more carbon to the atmosphere than going out to the garden and snipping a rose. And as Dubner points out, it’s a little strange that we care so much about high “food miles” when cut flowers are crossing the nation, causing extra pollution as they go.

So what’s an eco-minded mommy-lover to do the next time Mother’s Day rolls around? If you live far away, you have a couple options:

1. Send money to your mother’s partner, sibling or friend along with a nice card asking them to make the flower purchase from a local grower.

2. Try one of the new plastic flowers, which, according to Dartmouth geographer Susan Freidberg, are lightweight, great looking, made relatively near you and will last indefinitely. The same goes for Christmas trees, but we’ll save that for another post.

Or, you could think of other gifts altogether, like a new painting from that local artist you know she loves.

Reducing the carbon the cut flowers business produces is well within our reach. We just have to be honest about the environmental impact and get creative.