…and Away Go Troubles Down the Drain!!

OK – this is NOT the most glamorous post I am ever going to write. But, it may be one of the most helpful, because sooner or later most of us will face this common household challenge. On this blog, I  have talked about fixing your drips, conserving water, taking shorter showers and even cleaning the bath and kitchen with environmentally friendly products. But what about that other green challenge? The dreaded CLOG. Of course, it would be easy to grab that liquid drain cleaner. You know, the one filled with lye, and other harsh chemicals? And, there go all of  your best green intentions, right down the drain.  I have been tempted to take this quick fix recently, when my bathtub drained verrrry slowly. It was really gross to be taking a shower and standing in, well, old water. But, I resisted, and I am glad I did, because my grandmother-in-law’s tried and true solution worked like a charm.

There are some great, environmentally friendly ways to handle a clog, promise. To get started, try using a good old-fashioned plunger. Many clogs will dislodge this way, and you get a great upper-body workout in the process (in other words, this method requires some muscle power.)

My favorite way to get rid of clogs comes from an old recipe my grandmother-in-law swore by. It uses 3 very common household items; baking soda, vinegar and boiling water. If these sound familiar, you may have made a volcano with these things as a science experiment when you were in school. Pour approximately 1 part baking soda to 4 parts vinegar over the clog. Then, pour a pot of boiling water over that. Let stand 15 minutes, and then run the water to see if the drain is clear. If it isn’t, use the plunger again – the vinegar solution may have loosened the clog. You can repeat this a couple of times.

Still stuck? You can always take off the elbow joint below the sink, check the trap, or use a router. If the clog is still stuck, call a green plumber.  Yes, these eco-angels DO exist. While they are at it, they can suggest ways for you to have a more sustainable home,  water-wise.

Good luck…patience and perseverance will do the trick. And, best of all? You didn’t have to use any of those horrible chemicals.


Everybody knows there is a life cycle for goods and products. There are many ways to responsibly  get rid of these things when they have outlived their usefulness for us. We recycle, upcycle, downcycle, freecycle to name a few. But, I have to admit, I just heard of another type of cycling – PRECYCLING.

This idea came to me from the folks at Earth 911, where they urge us to waste less and save more by precycling. They go on to say:

“According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans generated over 250 million tons of waste in 2010. Though recycling trends are on the upswing, there is something to be said for avoiding waste to begin with. While recycling is a crucial piece of the sustainability puzzle, it also requires time, energy and resources. By precycling, you are finding ways to avoid unnecessary waste so that you will be contributing less material that gets recycled or tossed out. The precycling perk? It also saves money!”

For those of you who hadn’t heard of it either, precycling is basically being proactive about our choices so we will create less waste to be tossed in the landfill and to recycle. The fact is, many of us are already doing this. We carry a reusable water bottle with us, get our coffee in a reusable travel mug, take our own bags when we shop. Let’s take it up a notch. We can do easy things that will make a big difference. For example, why not bring your own container to the grocery store or local deli to put items in instead of the disposable ones provided? Here are ten quick tips to get you (and me) started:

  1. Bring reusable bags for produce and your own containers for take-out food.
  2. Buy in bulk – it saves packaging, and trips to the store.
  3. Buy things, such as laundry detergent in concentrated form (things you can add water to, why carry the big containers home?)
  4. Use products that can be refilled. Refills save packaging, and can save money.
  5. Spend a little more up front – buy quality things that will last longer.
  6. Don’t print receipts at the ATM or gas station, or other places where you have a choice, such as Starbucks. Request cashiers not to print your receipt.
  7. Print items sparingly. No, you do not need to print every email sent to you for backup, and YES, sadly I do know of people who do this!
  8. Make your trips in the car count, and if you can walk or ride your bike do it.
  9. Turn off the lights, power, etc. You don’t need the computer to be chugging along all night, and the TV on for noise, trust.
  10. Think before you buy – do you really need that bright, shiny object that will be gathering dust for a while, only to be recycled or – gasp! – thrown away later?
  11. Bonus one – read books and magazines electronically.

Precycling now gives us a framework and additional motivation for doing good for the environment. What ways can YOU think of to precycle? Please share your ideas, we’d love to hear …

Turn Off the Lights for Earth Hour!

What do I have in common with the Eiffel Tower, the International Space Station and the Las Vegas strip? We all will be celebrating the 6th annual EARTH HOUR on Saturday, March 31, 2012 at 8:30 PM Local time.  I hope you will be celebrating, too!! Called “The world’s largest voluntary action for the environment,” it is a stunning testimonial of how much we can achieve if we are focused, caring and good stewards of the planet. Bonus, we can have a great time, while we are at it!

What exactly is Earth Hour? Once a year, at 8:30 PM local time, hundreds of millions of people turn off the lights for an hour. They may do this at home, or may participate in local events celebrating the environment. Of course, that saves a whole lot of energy, and everyone has the chance to practice sustainability for one hour. But, it is so much more that just the hour. In fact, the hour is just the beginning. The object is to raise awareness, and go way beyond the hour by making lasting changes in our lifestyles that will support a more sustainable environment.

According to the official WWF Earth Hour site, “UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has confirmed that the headquarters of the United Nations will be switching off as he urged the rest of the world to take part,“Turning off our lights is a symbol of our commitment to sustainable energy for all, we need to fuel our future with clean, efficient and affordable energy.”

Andy Ridley, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Earth Hour, addressed the many landmarks going dark in honor of Earth Hour: “In 2012, Earth Hour is reaching further and wider than ever before and these landmarks will provide a visually spectacular reminder of what can be done when individuals, organisations and governments act together.”

Powerful stuff. Turn off the lights…the party is just beginning!!

World Water Day 2012 – let’s get going!

Today is World Water Day. What better day than today to become aware of how much water we use, waste, and how to fix that? According to The Water Footprint Network, each of us may drink 8 or so glasses of water daily, but the average American uses  32,911 glasses per day. Yes, you read that correctly. 96% of our water use is “hidden” which means it is used to make and grow the things we eat, wear and use, and for energy.  And, the EPA estimates that the average family uses about 400 gallons of water daily. Even PETA weighs in, telling us that it takes over 2,400 gallons of water for each pound of meat produced. And 2,900 gallons for a single pair of blue jeans, 37 gallons of water to make a cup of coffee, 49 gallons of water to make a bag of chips! It is easy to see how this all adds up very quickly.

Of course, we have all heard about the dire conditions around the globe and the importance of clean drinking water. Well over 885 million people lack access to clean drinking water. And, in California, some residents have begun to truck in water to bathe their kids. While the problem may seem insurmountable, at this point we actually are on our way to meet 2015 goals for turning this crisis around that were set by the United Nations. So there  IS hope. And it is up to each one of us to make a difference.

What I would like to focus on today is what each of us can do, right now, to make a difference. Hey, if everybody saves even a few glasses daily, it will all add up. Here are a few ideas to get us started:

  1. Donate money. A couple of good places are Matt Damon’s charity, water.org and The Nature Conservancy.
  2. Fix leaks – Earth 911 tells us how. They also mention that according to the  “U.S. EPA, the average American home leaks more than 10,000 gallons of water per year – enough water to wash 280 loads of laundry, take more than 600 showers or meet the average family’s water needs for a month.”
  3. Recycle paper. Savings – 3.5 gallons of water for every pound.
  4. Stop junk mail.
  5. Use your own water bottles, It takes 3 times as much water to make a plastic bottle than will fit inside.
  6. Think meatless – cattle are the number one water-users. (So think leather-free as well)
  7. Eat sustainable fish.
  8. Basically, eat healthy.
  9. Turn off the faucet when not needed while you are brushing your teeth, shaving, even washing dishes.
  10. Cut shower time by 5 minutes and save 20 gallons of water.
  11. Plant your garden with plants that need less water.
  12. “If it’s yellow, let it mellow.” Don’t flush every time.
  13. Find a car wash that recycles water.
  14. Get creative…

If you are interested in finding out more about World Water Day, here’s a  bit of background from the official United Nations site:International World Water Day is held annually on 22 March as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.

An international day to celebrate freshwater was recommended at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The United Nations General Assembly responded by designating 22 March 1993 as the first World Water Day. Each year, World Water Day highlights a specific aspect of freshwater.” This year the theme is WATER AND FOOD SECURITY.

It is up to all of us to make a difference, starting today. What ideas do YOU have? We’re all in this together!

St. Patrick’s Day…how Green is GREEN?

On March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, going green has a whole different meaning than it does the rest of the year. It’s been said that there is a little Irish in all of us, and whether or not that is true, it’s still a fun way to celebrate  – as evidenced by all of the parades, and parties. And what do we see a lot of? Green, of course!

Green is everywhere, even in food and drink that is usually another color. Green beer, anyone? Back when my daughter was little, we even made green milk (with vegetable dye) which made a big hit with the kids on March 17th (but got a bit bizarre over cereal , in pancake batter, or in coffee in the days following.)

So, here’s the quick lowdown on green food dyes – The Center for Science in the Public Interest tells us that “Industrial artificial food coloring, known as FD&C Green No. 3 and Fast Green FCF, is derived from petroleum, a limited resource, and contains coal tar. It’s also associated with an increased risk of certain cancers and hyperactivity in children.”

If you still want your food to be green, you can use a great dye from Chefmaster made of red cabbage and beta carotene, or even make your own dye.  Natural Resources Defense Council‘s Simple Steps shows you how to make natural dyes (not just green) In a pinch, you can even use the vegetable food coloring found in your grocery store.

One thing that always comes to my mind is the Chicago River, which the city has dyed green St. Patrick’s Day since 1962. Well, actually, not the entire river, just several blocks right in the middle of river activity. And, the dye is just on the surface. But, still! How do they do it? Back in 1062, they used 100 pounds of a compound of fluorescence dye that had been used by the military in rescue operations at sea, and the river was green for a week!

Enter the environmentalists in 1966, and when they accused the parade committee of polluting the river with oil based dye that was harmful to the environment, the river committee listened! They experimented with a number of vegetable dyes. After a bit of trial and error, the current 40 lbs of new dye was hit upon. It produces a carpet of green for four or five hours, and I am told it is so lush, it almost looks like you could walk on it. The Friends of the Chicago River have conducted studies and say it is not harmful at all (at this time) to the river. Check out: GreenChicagoRiver.com  for all the details, and a fun video that shows how it’s done! Erin Go Bragh!!

The Humble Houseplant

Think about how many hours a day we spend indoors. And, while we are inside, we are breathing air that has been found to be up to ten times a polluted as outdoor air. Amazing, right?  While spring is right around the corner and we will be opening windows, consider the many buildings that do not have windows that open, such as offices, and high-rise apartments, hotels, to name just a few. In fact, the likelihood of bringing outdoor air inside is not realistic for many of us, much of the time. According to NaturalNews.com, “Indoor air pollution is associated with allergies and other chronic illnesses. The EPA currently ranks indoor air pollution as one of the top five threats to public health. People today spend as much as 90% of their lives indoors where they are bombarded with chemical emissions from building materials, glues and dyes used in furniture, carpets, household products, and personal care products. If you have a relatively new house or one that has been recently renovated, your pollution index is probably quite high.”

Enter the humble houseplant. Indoor plants can do many things for the inside environment. Plants can help reduce noise pollution indoors, especially high sound frequencies, which are the most irritating to humans. On hot days, plants cool the air by a process known as transpiration, which transfers water from plants into the atmosphere (think nature’s air conditioners.) Plants bring a living energy that can increase creativity, reduce stress, eyestrain, headaches and we can work with less eye irritation and not feel sleepy. How?

NASA has discovered the following: “common houseplants could improve air quality by removing pollutants. In fact, the study reported that houseplants were able to remove up to 87 percent of airborne toxins in 24 hours. The Plants for Clean Air Council recommends one potted plant for each 100 square feet of living space. For a 2000 square foot house, it would take about 18 to 20 average size plants such as those requiring 6 to 8 inch diameter pots. If plants are larger, requiring a 12 inch container or more, about 12 to 15 plants would be needed.

Plants can remove a variety if toxic air emissions, including ammonia, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, benzene, xylele and trichloroethylene. Some plants that do a particularly good job of cleaning the air are:

* Ficus benjamina, weeping fig
* Philodendron, sweetheart plant
*Green spider plant or variegated spider plant
*Dracaena marginata, dragon tree
* Dracaena fragrans ‘Massangeana’, corn plant
*Golden pathos
*Chinese evergreen                                                                                                      *Philodendron selloum                                                                                               *Sansevieria, snake plant                                                                                                                 * Spathiphyllum, peace lilly”

Not so humble, after all. Bring in the green!

There Must be 50 Ways to Love Your Lemons…

Get busy! There are many reasons to love this versitile fruit. As Green Living tips tells us, “Lemons are high in vitamin C, have an anti-bacterial effect and are thought to possess antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties. The juice consists of about 5% acid, which  also makes them useful for a variety of household purposes. Lemons and/or lemon juice are a popular addition in environmentally friendly cleaning applications.”

 So, here we go, a list (in no particular order) of some of the many, many uses of this noble fruit. I will admit, some I have tried, and others not, but they all sound intriguing, and who knows? Using lemons instead of harsh chemicals, synthetic fragrances, bleach or other unnatural ingredients is good for you, and good for the planet. And of course, when life gives you lemons? Well, you can:
  1. Put sun-kissed highlights in your hair (leave juice from 1 lemon plus salt to your hair for a couple of hours while you are outside in the sun)
  2. Fight a cold (mix lemon juice with honey and hot water)
  3. Exfoliate your feet (mix with brown sugar and scrub away)
  4. Clean and sanitize your pierced earrings in the juice
  5. Brighten your fingernails (soak for 2 min – may add olive oil to strengthen nails)
  6. Use as a hair rinse – after shampooing to get rid of soapy residue
  7. Gargle juice to freshen breath
  8. Rub directly on your underarms for a deodorant
  9. Soothe insect stings – they are less painful if you bathe them in lemon juice and water.
  10. Soothe sore throats – gargle with lemon juice
  11. Lighten freckles or age spots (not sure how effective it is – it takes a months)
  12. Make an astringent for your face
  13. Create a facial scrub – mix with salt until you form a paste
  14. Get hangover relief – lemon juice added to warm water or tea
  15. Relieve itchy skin
  16. Boost your metabolism – maybe
  17. Remove dandruff flakes
  18. Soften elbows – add baking soda to cut lemon, use on elbows
  19. Clean mirrors and windows
  20. Clean, disinfect and freshen your garbage disposal
  21. Brighten laundry – add 1 cup juice in rinse. It’s even more effective if the laundry dries naturally in the sun.
  22. Keep cut fruits and veggies from browning
  23. Deter insects. Put juice where insects come in the home
  24. Perk up droopy lettuce (soak for an hour in cold water and lemon juice)
  25. Remove rust stains from cotton and polyester fabric (make paste with juice and cream of tartar, let sit for a half hour, wash)
  26. Remove grease stains from clothes – rub juice into stain, leave overnight, wash)
  27. Remove ink stains from clothes – put juice on stain directly, wash in cold water
  28. Clean mineral buildup from tea and coffeepots – boil lemon slices and let sit for an hour or two
  29. Clean cutting boards – get rid of stains and germs
  30. Clean and bleach tile grout – use a toothbrush
  31. Freshen toilet bowl – add one-half cup lemon juice to bowl and use brush to clean
  32. Deodorize stinky rooms – add a few slices to water near stinky areas
  33. Add to cooking water of stinky veggies
  34. Clean microwave – bring lemon water to boil, and don’t open door for 10 minutes
  35. Unclogs drains. Use baking  soda followed by lemon juice
  36. Clean hard water stains on shower doors
  37. Degrease hand-washed dishes
  38. Freshen your dishwasher – use half of cut lemon, and shove it onto a rod in the upper basket
  39. Remove limescale from stainless steel taps, countertops, sinks
  40. Clean discolored copper of brass (be careful with antiques)
  41. Clean counter tops – make your own spray solution, rinse and dry
  42. Scrub barbeque grills and grates
  43. Remove stains and odors from plastic food storage containers – soak, then add baking soda and scrub
  44. Clean hands from food smells
  45. Remove odors from your refrigerator with half a cut lemon. Change
  46.  Keep rice from sticking to the pot by adding a few drops of juice to the cooking water
  47. Ease heartburn – depending on the type you have
  48. Fix clothing and underarm stains – use equsl parts lemon juice and white vinegar
  49. Freshen the air – mix water and juice in a spray bottle, spray when you want instant freshness
  50. And or course, MAKE LEMONADE!!

What About Your Wine Cork?

You’ve enjoyed that bottle of organic wine, and tossed the empty bottle into the recycling bin. But what about the cork? Forget the plastic corks or metal twist tops, I am talking real cork. According to ReCORK;

“Natural cork is made up of billions of cells. This gives cork its buoyant, elastic quality as well as the ability to absorb and retain nearly 9 grams of CO2 throughout the life of a wine cork. And with 13 billion corks sold each year worldwide, cork is an important source of CO2 retention.

When you take the time to compare the features of natural cork against petroleum-based plastic plugs and aluminum screwcaps the difference is significant. In a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study of the life cycle analysis of wine closures, CO2 emissions in aluminum screwcaps were 24 times higher than those from a natural cork closure, while plastic stoppers were 10 times greater than cork.”

What makes cork so sustainable? Cork is considered to be very green for a number of reasons, among them the ability to recycle into a wide array of products, from shoe soles to floor coverings. Even  acorns and leaves from the cork trees can be used for animal fodder and oil, and the wood of old trees can be firewood. A bit of background: cork as we know it is the outer bark of the cork tree, grown primarily in the Mediterranean basin. Trees live to be 200 years old, and after 25 years the cork can be carefully harvested, at the rate of about once every ten years. With over 6 million acres of cork forests, protecting this resource is vital to local economies and ecosystems, not to mention being a key to slowing  global warming. Cork is known to be a natural CO2 “sink” which means it takes CO2 from the atmosphere. So, it makes sense that the more cork grown, the better for the environment.

Back to the wine cork. ReCORK alone has collected over 31 MILLION corks so far, from individuals, restaurants, wine tasting rooms, airlines, etc. There are collection sites all over the United States. Other countries have similar organizations. And, let’s not forget the DIY crafters. I have seen corks used for walls, candle holders, bath mats, jewelry, picture frames and you-name-it. If you are so inclined, let your imagination run wild. Or, just take your corks to a recycling center for them. No place near you? You can just mail them to: Amorim Cork America
2557 Napa Valley Corp. Dr. #A
Napa CA 94558

One more innovation –  Inhabitat  brings us a very creative use of recycled cork  for furniture:  “This gorgeous Cortica cork lounge by DMFD seamlessly blends luxury living with sustainable design. Each lounge is made from 100% recycled cork that originates as the waste material from the bottle stopper industry. This piece bends beautifully in two directions, and it can be rocked from side to side or on its back while still fully supporting you as you stretch out.”

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Raise a Glass to Organic Wines

This week I drove from Sacramento to Los Angeles through California’s Central Valley, which is gaining popularity as a wine-growing region. Along the highway, miles and miles of land is devoted to growing grapes. All that land, all those vines (this is not the growing season yet) and soon, all those grapes. Which had me wonder about pesticides, organic farming, and organic wines in particular.

We all know that when crops are grown with pesticides, they can get into groundwater, the soil, and the air – as well as the crop that is being grown. So, organic farming is big win for everybody. When an organic crop is made into something else, say wine, the grapes are organic, and the process itself can also be organic.

Just what is organic wine? According to the folks at LoveToKnow Organic, here is the scoop:

“During the growing process, grapes are subjected to chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. These are usually not washed off before processing, which means that the chemicals still present on the skins of the grapes will now be present in the wine itself. During the winemaking process, a variety of chemicals and sulfites are added to the fermenting wine to adjust and preserve the flavor.

Organic wine must be made from certified 100% organic grapes. Organic growers use natural predators, mulching, and other methods to control pests and enrich the soil. During the winemaking process, no chemicals or sulfites can be added to the wine. Instead, winemakers use a combination of grape varieties to achieve the flavor profile they are looking for. In order to increase acidity, they may use grapes in various stages of development. Sulfites cannot be added to preserve the wine, although it is normal for a small amount of sulfites to be in the wine as a normal result of the fermentation process. 100% certified organic wine is not very shelf stable due to the lack of added sulfites and this can mean that the quality will vary from batch to batch.”

Another great thing, especially if you are a red-wine lover, is that you won’t ingest the sulfites, which can lead to headaches, flushed face, allergic reactions, or other allergic reactions.

Let’s toast to that!

2012 Super Bowl – Go, Big GREEN!!

One of the best kept secrets about the Super Bowl is that, for the past 18 years, the NFL Environmental Program has been working tirelessly to make a difference in sustainability and carbon offsetting. The good news? EVERYBODY wins! Each year the program gets stronger and more successful, so who knows the great things that can happen next year? The NFLEP works with the community to keep the offsets and benefits local. This year their efforts included:

  • 1st & Green issued a challenge to track carbon offsetting. So far, the Super Bowl activities have offset 1,402,421 pounds of carbon! This includes everything for the month leading up to, during and after the event. Once the game is over, the real work begins with the clean-up efforts.
  • 15,000 megawatt-hours of renewable energy certificates will be supplied by Green Mountain Energy Company to offset Super Bowl greenhouse gas emissions.
  • 1st & Green  is also tracking water usage, and over 2.5 millions gallons of water have been saved!
  • Donations will be made to the Urban Forestry Project and trees will be planted.
  • All the office supplies  will be donated to local schools.
  • Pepsico donated and placed recycling bins through the venue on game day.
  • With the help of food recovery group  Second Helpings, Tens of thousands of pounds of food will be collected and distributed to those in need.
  • Jackets, winter wear, shirts, etc. that weren’t used or were gently used will be donated to local Indianapolis charities.
  • Steel construction stuff, etc. will be saved to use in the future.
  • What about all those signs, shelters, etc made of mesh and fabric that were  all around town? Estimates were that several MILES of fabrics were used. They are being collected and will be repurposed into bags, wallets, and other inventive creations.
  • And, much, much more…

Take a fun look at the Green Mountain infographic:

Super Bowl XLVI Goes Green | Green Mountain Energy Company