Category Archives: Recyclables/Reusables

Greening Your Thanksgiving

Say what you will about the Puritans, they were pretty green. This Thanksgiving, get back to the meaning of the holiday and celebrate the harvest like they did back in olden times: with local, organic food.

If you live in a region lucky enough to have a true autumn, you’ll likely be able to stick to the classic Thanksgiving foods.  For our autumn-less brethren, take a good look at what’s in-season within one hundred miles and get creative. You will likely find produce for at least one or two classic Thanksgiving meals, and your new find will save your guests from the tedium of another one of great-grandpa’s, “When I was your age, we didn’t even have food” stories.

Try going organic and free range with your turkey or with a heritage breed ­­­- one at risk of going extinct due to the favoring of breeds better for mass production.

Once you’re in the store, apply the same kind of thinking to all of your purchases. Buy local, organic produce, and consider your real needs carefully. How many sweet potatoes do you really think any given person can eat? That said, if  you will be entertaining a big crowd, buy in bulk to reduce packaging waste. And don’t forget your reusable bags!

When setting the table, ask your friends to supplement your chinaware with their own and fully load your dishwasher to cut down on energy usage. If you must go disposable, at least make it biodegradable.

Now, what to do when it’s all done and you’ve still got an excess of food? Send it home with guests, donate to a food bank or freeze it and enjoy the fall bounty year round!

Even excess fat can be recycled into biofuel – the turkey’s, not your own.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Upcycled Home Decor

Stuff. Most of us have way too much of it. Even as we grow more eco-savvy trying to reduce, reuse, and recycle, sometimes we still are faced with the question of what to do with what we have. Used to be we would throw it away, give it away or store it. Today there’s another option: Upcycling. Upcycling is the process of converting useless things or products you no longer want – including waste materials – into new goods or objects of a higher environmental value. In other words, you get creative with the stuff you already have by fashioning it into something new! It’s all about ingenuity, and having fun, too. But if crafts aren’t your thing, you can still participate by buying upcycle merchandise, which cuts back on the consumption of raw materials for new products. And that ultimately ends up reducing energy use, air and water pollution and even greenhouse gas emissions.

The following is just a tiny peak at what some people have done with their discarded stuff to decorate their homes and at the same time efficiently upcycle their odds and ends. Keep in mind, if you are not handy with crafts and the like, there are a number of websites that offer upcycle home decorations. Buying upcycle is a great alternative to purchasing something new plus it helps keep our landfills free of needless waste.

iMac Aquarium from home-designing.comSo here’s a wild one: The Mac Aquarium. Do you still have one of the original iMacs kicking around? Remember the Apple computer that came in thirteen “flavors”? Imagine turning it into a colorful fish aquarium! Well, that’s just what some folks have done, and it’s a real showstopper.

Staying with the tech theme, how about that stack of useless old floppies? Here are several clever solutions:  assemble a small book using recycled paper for the inside and two floppies for the outside.  Punch two holes through the ‘book’ and bind with a couple of loose leaf rings. Take four floppies to construct the sides of a pencil holder with a fifth for the bottom.  Use old CDs to craft a lampshade or the face of a small clock.

Fabricate a fashion statement: Cut up the bright sides of soda cans, add earring hooks and you’ve got a unique set of earrings. Speaking of jewelry, dust off those outdated vintage brooches, remove the fittings on the back, glue on a super strong magnet and you’ve got yourself some glamorous refrigerator magnets!

Upcycled can candle holderLight up the room: Create eye-catching candles out of graphic tea tins, sardine cans, olive oil cans, etc. Break a tea saucer? Fill the cup with candle wax and add a wick for an elegant flame.  Single coffee cups, cute but never used eggcups, teapots – they all are good vessels to hold wax and can be one of a kind gifts to give.

Mirror mirror … on the table? Repurpose small wall mirrors as decorative trays. Glue on a backing of felt and dress up your dresser top!

A stitch in time could save nine or it could make a new table runner, rug for the hall or throw pillows for the window seat.  Sew together vintage napkins for the table, tea towels, napkins or soft shirts for the pillows and rag rugs for a comfy hall runner.

As you can see, the ideas are endless and the results original, distinctive and eco-friendly.  Repackage ordinary objects in your house and delight your family and guests with your surprising design and decorative solutions! Who knows, you just might inspire them to do the same.

Check out these and other great ideas at:

home-designing.com

countryliving.com/crafts

countryliving.com/homes

A Very Green Halloween

Your kids can rest assured: a sustainable Halloween doesn’t have to mean swapping candy for fruit or toothpaste (lame!). There are plenty of fun, easy, eco-friendly ways to get your family as green as a gourd this October 31st. So brush aside those mounds of candy wrappers and green Halloween!

Pairing a good spring-cleaning with autumn is the best way to rid yourself of unsustainable plastic costumes. Link your DIY mentality with the slogan, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” by reimagining what every day objects can do. That old tablecloth could make a great cape, and are you really wearing that colorful poncho you bought several decades ago when you were backpacking through South America?

Consider reusing costumes from past years or hand me downs from other kids. Some cities even run costume swaps, and never forget the power of charity shops. Many costumes share the same base elements, so that ladybug can easily become a turtle with a simple dye job.

Speaking of which, when it comes to hair dye and makeup, try making your own organic vegetable dye and make sure to purchase only natural brands.

Now, what about the candy issue? Try filling your own candy bowl with organic and fair-trade candy or chocolate, and hand out less of it to reduce both tummy aches and the amount of wrappers on the sidewalk. Or you can try getting your neighborhood involved in a reverse trick or treat, where kids hand out cards with information on how to purchase free trade candy for next year.

And hey, if you’re really committed, you can set out recycled toilet paper for teenagers. If they’re going to TP your house, it might as well have a sustainable angle, right?

We wish you a very green Halloween!

Additional References

Aluminum Foil Can Do WHAT?

When you envision a dorm room, what do you see on the walls? Posters with witty sayings? How about aluminum foil?

Well, that’s just what I saw nearly eight years ago when I walked into a friend’s room. He called it the spaceship. It was weird, but also so wonderfully warm.

Thanks to a honeycomb structure, aluminum foil is sturdy, light, fire resistant, and highly moldable. That means it’s one of the most versatile materials around, with many surprising applications. And it’s both recyclable and made from recyclable materials, too!

Sure, you know foil is great for grilling veggies, but what about cooking salmon in the dishwasher? Yep, that’s right. Your dishwasher gets hot enough to poach a fish. Just make sure to wrap it several times and leave out the soap so your guests don’t remark, “What a nice detergenty taste.”

Crave a nice grilled cheese sandwich when you’re on the road? Just wrap two slices of bread and cheese in foil and give it a good iron somewhere between that dress and those pants – which, by the way, iron more effectively with a little foil as well. Steam silk or wool, too, by wrapping them in foil and choosing the steam option. Wrinkles, be gone!

Your furniture is a big fan of foil, too. Lay it beneath the legs of a heavy couch to slide it from one carpeted room to the next. Then rap the sides to prevent cats from scratching. Birds also find the reflection of light and crinkly sound utterly distasteful so dangle strips from fruit trees to prevent nibbling.

And the best thing of all about aluminum foil? The way British people pronounce it. Seriously, just give it a try. Al-oo-MIN-ee-yum foil. What will those crazy royals think of next!

So get cooking, ironing or wrapping. Aluminum foil is your surefire way to be sustainable while you do just about anything!

Additional references

The Real Carbon Costs of Hybrid and Electric Cars

Doing right by the planet can be tough.  Electric vehicles, for instance, cut down on gas reliance at the pump but may mask hidden carbon costs at a coal-burning electricity plant down the line.  Considering these externalities, how do hybrid and electric cars really compare to gas-powered vehicles?

First, we must consider how much carbon it will take to manufacture, recharge, and dispose of a vehicle.  The efficiency of batteries sharply declines over time, and they also require a significant amount of energy to produce and transport.  Hybrids have lower carbon costs than their gas counterparts overall, but waste energy in lugging both a regular engine and a battery pack.  Additionally, once the car switches to using its gas engine, all the regular inefficiencies apply.

On the positive side, electric batteries are far more efficient at producing energy than a classic internal combustion engine and charging doesn’t add any more onto your energy bill than running your air conditioner overnight.  Several car companies have launched campaigns to develop recharging stations relying on sustainable energy sources, which cuts out the coal power station altogether.  Once your energy company starts making these kinds of switches, too, the external costs for your hybrid or electric vehicle will shrink even further.

The answer, then, to a savvy green consumer’s dilemma is that you must consider your own situation carefully. How often will you be driving your vehicle, and from where will you be sourcing your electricity?  Given the pace of innovation in this field, you may find purchasing an alternative vehicle is a better option in a year or two.  In the meantime, you can always cut out the bottom of your car and use your own two feet like Fred Flintstone!  That’s the caveman green.

Additional References

Life’s Lessons in Sustainability

How about our ability to sustain? That’s sort of what I’ve been working on for the past six months. Whew! Should I even bother telling you that it’s kept me from writing this blog? I’ve started a draft or two but life continues to intervene.

In March we welcomed two new baby lambs who – for the first time – needed hands-on help (we’re talking tube feedings every four hours throughout the night for two weeks). Especially fun at 1:00 a.m. and then again at 5:00 a.m. with the wind, rain, and coyotes howling. It was hard, but it worked. Despite the odds, we saved both little guys.

Lesson 1: Know your limits and commitment to small farming before you jump in. Saving young lambs and other farm jobs take work. A lot of it. 

Then came April, and a sudden call back to the finca (my eco guest house on Vieques island in Puerto Rico) which ended up with me running the place solo, throughout spring break and serving thirty-plus guests a day. Luckily, they were mostly families, which meant flexible, forgiving folks with wonderfully inquisitive kids. I played eco- educator to the kids, teaching them how the finca operates as simply and with as little impact on the environment as possible. I traded their help hanging the laundry with lessons in tarantula catch and release!

Lesson 2: Whenever possible surround yourself with others who want to learn as much as you do and learn from each other. We’re all learning this simple living thing together.

Four days after I returned, my 91-year-old mother had a stroke. She was the person absolutely responsible for giving me my (apparently) diehard commitment to living as environmentally conscious as possible. She “walked her talk” up until the very, very end. She gave her body to science when she passed away at the end of the month, one last expression of her deep, deep commitment to bettering the world, and minimizing our impact in it. Sad yes, I miss her more than I even knew I would. But almost 92 years on this planet surrounded by friends and family, sharing with them the fruit from the trees you’ve planted – it’s a pretty wonderful and fortunate thing. Which somehow balances out the sadness.

Lessons here? Oh, so many. Simply put, as mom would want it: learn as much as you can from your mom while you can. And when it’s real, your walk and your talk are one – and more walk than talk is always best. (That’s 2 of about 2000 lessons learned in April).

Then, a week after my mom passed away, my oldest son was seriously injured in a Jet Ski accident. He’ll be okay – but it has been, and will continue to be, a long, hard haul to recovery. As a commercial fisherman, he isn’t used to hanging around the house, certainly not in a wheelchair. So I’ve been helping out where I can. Somehow in addition to dishes and laundry and lawn mowing, my role as solid waste manager has emerged. I’m coaching him on the cost, and environmental savings of sorting the recycling, yard waste and compost out of the garbage. A sweet backyard garden has emerged. I celebrated by buying them a carton of red worms for the bin.  I may make an urban farmer out of him yet.

Lesson learned? Silver linings abound.  Even in the face of enormous issues, physical or environmental, we are better able to deal with them if we start with optimism and hope.

And then there was July. The month my daughter was supposed to get married, my fortieth high school reunion, and a large family reunion in my mom’s small hometown in Utah. Well, the first event has moved to September (stay tuned for green wedding blogs!) and the other two were perfect punctuation points. Milestones in a year’s seemingly relentless lessons. They were more good opportunities to reflect on it all: what matters, how much it all matters, and what we can do to help. I’m just left wondering – does living actually ever get simple? If so, I’m ready! I’ve somehow sustained!

Lesson here? Yep…I’ve learned it’s clear you can turn just about anything into a lesson – if you’re up for learning.

Take good care of my baby!

When my kids were babies, I wasn’t as environmentally savvy as I am now. In fact, ten years ago, the green movement was hardly a movement at all. More like a slight twitch. Now, as elementary school-ers, my kids are relatively free to explore their world and all I can do is try and make it as safe for them as possible. But when I see all the green and natural baby products we sell at TheNaturalStore.com, I worry that my kids are worse off because I didn’t know about all the toxins in home cleaners, the potential dangers of BPA and toxic flame-retardants in almost everything.

With all the warnings and dangers we face, especially on baby and children’s products, it’s a wonder a new mom can stay sane. Frantically trying to keep in mind everything she should and shouldn’t do. The products she shouldn’t use. Perhaps even worse, being undecided while the jury’s still out on several big issues.

So what’s a new mom to do?

Well, there are a few things we know for sure:

If I’d had the choice of natural disposable diapers, I would have gone that way. It doesn’t take an expert to tell me I don’t want chlorine touching my baby’s bottom. (Yes, I know I could have used cloth. But I just couldn’t get past dipping poopy diapers in the toilet.) Another “so now you tell me” concept is all-natural bath and body care.  Again, I’m sure these products existed when my children were babies. I just wasn’t cued into that lifestyle yet. When I think of all the fragrance, sulfates, parabens and toxins I smeared on their skin, I could shudder.

Worrying about your newborn’s safety and wanting the best for that little bundle is normal. But it’s up to each of us to decide what’s right for our family. Be warned, it takes more research today than it did a decade ago. A degree in science wouldn’t hurt, either.

Compost in the Kitchen – the paper towel dilemma

I’ve always felt a certain level of guilt concerning my wildly indulgent use of paper towels. Spilled soda? Grab a paper towel. Crumbs on the counter? Grab a paper towel. Wet hands? You guessed it, paper towel.

I had always felt bad about my overuse of paper towels and was annoyed by how they filled up the trash can so quickly. So, naturally, I was delighted when Seattle’s waste management program began offering curbside compost pickup. This meant I could now put all my paper towels and kitchen scraps in a small container inside the house and dump it in the big yard waste bin outside.

After I’d been composting for a while, I decided to find out if my little contribution to composting was actually  doing anything useful for the environment, or simply relieving my paper towel-induced guilt. I did a little research and discovered the average household’s compostable waste is about 25% of their total garbage output. I found that to be true after a few months of personal observation.

I’ve now been participating in kitchen composting for almost two years and am pleased to see it catching on. Right now about 90% of single-family households in the Seattle area have compost pickup, and many apartment buildings and businesses (like our parent company, drugstore.com) compost as well.

Unfortunately, these services aren’t available everywhere yet; and just like the evolution of curbside recycling, it’ll probably take years for curbside composting to become the norm nationwide. If your city doesn’t offer these services, you can consider composting in your backyard or find a local drop-off center that’ll take your compostables off your hands for free. It’s easier than you think to get started, check out these at-home compost solutions.

I feel good that I’m helping keep a quarter of my waste out of the trash stream, including all those paper towels, which I stopped using entirely when I saw how fast they were filling up the compost bin. So, this story has a happy ending: Not only am I recycling all my food scraps, I ended up going even greener than I meant to in the first place.

Water: Going without the flow

If thinking green means getting back to basics, it doesn’t get a lot more basic than water.  Here in the soggy-wet, drip-dripping Pacific Northwest, water seems more than abundant. But truth be told, even here, clean drinking water, and clean watersheds for fish and wildlife habitat is getting scarcer and more expensive to maintain.  For you in dryer climates, who live far away from your  water sources, you may already  know the cost, value;  really preciousness, of water. No matter where we live water is an important natural resource we need to be better about saving. And, like so many other steps towards living greener, it’s pretty darn easy to start saving. Here are some of my favorites.

  •  Turn off the faucet while you scrub the veggies, brush your teeth, or wash dishes.
  • Fill the dishwasher completely before running.
  • Take shorter showers; and sadly – fewer baths (which use a lot more water than showers).
  • Install a low-flow showerhead. They don’t cost much, and both  water and energy savings quickly pays back your investment.
  • Make sure you have a faucet aerator on each faucet. These too are inexpensive and save heat and water, while keeping water pressure high.
  • Plant drought-tolerant native plants that need only minimal watering; learn which works best for your climate.
  • Install a 1.6 gallon toilet, or put a brick in the tank to cut down on water use.
  • Buy a water-efficient washing machine, and always wait for large, full loads.
  • Repair leaks, indoors and out.
  • Just be conscious of it pouring, running, or being “on” without need.

And if these all seem too easy for you, right on! Want to move to the next level? Try researching the environmental cost of maintaining a lawn, and what it would do for our national water supply if we found alternatives – from putting in hardscape to drought-loving groundcovers, or vegetable gardens. I’m game. Are you?

The dirt on composting at drugstore.com & TheNaturalStore.com

Talking about a green lifestyle is easy. Living the green actually takes some effort. As long-time advocates of composting, drugstore.com, parent to TheNaturalStore.com, began a composting program in our corporate offices in 2010.

We’ve been actively reducing our carbon footprint at our home office near Seattle, Washington for many years. While we’ve always been advocates of composting, it’s something that’s been difficult to actualize here in our corporate offices. Our biggest barrier was where to locate the compost receptacle. We’re in a high rise with little extra space. But after a discussion with building management and a subsequent grant from the City of Bellevue, we instigated a building-wide composting program. Each tenant received a unique container and biobag liners in their kitchen. Each day, the containers are dumped into a main compost receptacle where they’re collected by Cedar Grove Composting. Cedar Grove transforms food waste into nutrient-rich compost that’s sold in stores all over the country as well as at their Northwest facilities. 

We introduced this program to our employees with an informational brown bag lunch meeting. Cedar Grove, building management and our sustainability team was on hand to discuss the dos and don’ts of the composting process. Together, our teams learned which items are compostable (like food scraps & coffee grounds), which are recyclable (such as, plastic containers & cups) and which go directly into the trash (like plastic utensils & straws). The program turned out to be simple for our employees to grasp, and we enjoy knowing we’re making a difference in our community.