You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2009.

April 30, 2009–Today’s Way: Along with the return of warm weather here in Michigan came the return of something less welcome: Mosquitoes.  We had a lot of much needed snow and rainfall this last year, which is good for our water table, but it also created a lot of vernal ponds from which mosquitoes have already begun to emerge.  With a large yard such as ours, it’s impossible to totally eradicate them, and using pesticide chemicals is simply not a solution considering the environmental and health risks.  Aside from the typical preventive measures such as eliminating standing water and keeping the grass trimmed, the best ally we have against mosquitoes is our bats.  Bats have gotten a bad rap over the years, but the truth is that they rarely come into direct contact with humans (they absolutely are NOT attracted to long hair), and they are amazing little insect eaters.  The average bat consumes about 3,000 insects in just one night—typically, the equivalent of their own body weight.  These unique flying mammals (by the way, they are not rodents) eat not only mosquitoes, but leaf hoppers, flies, ants and many other nuisance insects.  Furthermore, bats are actually quite clean animals, leaving only a small pile of highly valuable natural fertilizer in the form of guano (yes, bat droppings) that will fortify your flowers, shrubs and vegetable gardens.  This is why installing a couple or few bat houses in your yard and around your organic garden is such a great idea.

You can purchase bat houses, or you can build your own for free by following instructions found here.

By the way, bats serve a lot of other useful purposes and they are threatened.  To learn more, you can begin here.

April 29, 2009–Today’s Way: Let’s talk plastics.  With the growing prevalence of curbside recycling, I have heard a lot of folks expressing confusion about what is and what is not recyclable, especially among plastics.  And that’s Chasing Arrowspretty understandable due to the common misconceptions formed from the “chasing arrows” symbols stamped on the bottoms of bottles, jars and tubs.  Most people have come to identify or associate the chasing arrows with recycling, but not all plastics are recyclable, despite the chasing arrows stamp.  It is actually the number surrounded by the arrows which tells us the relevant information, and which we need to consider when making purchasing and recycling decisions:

  • (1)  Number One identifies Polyethylene Terephthalate plastic (PET or PETE), generally a hard, clear plastic used for water bottles and ketchup and salad dressings.  This is a highly recyclable plastic, but it should not be reused and foods should not be reheated in containers made from PET plastic, as it is suspected to leach chemicals such as Bisphenol A (BPA).
  • (2)  Number Two signifies plastics made from High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), and is most commonly used for milk jugs but is also used for making grocery or garbage bags.  HDPE is among only a few plastics which do not leach chemicals into foods or beverages.  Another highly recyclable plastic.
  • (3)  Number Three designates PVC plastic, which is of course what PVC piping is made from, as well as shampoo and detergent bottles, due to its ability to stand up to chemicals.  PVC is rarely recycled, and most municipal recycling programs do not accept PVC.  PVC should be avoided wherever possible, due to its non-recyclability, as well as containing chemicals, such as lead, which can be leached out of the plastic as it degrades over time.
  • (4)  Number Four plastic is Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE), and is generally used for squeezable bottles and very commonly used to make sandwich and food bags, as well as grocery bags.  LDPE is recyclable and is generally accepted wherever HDPE and PET plastics are taken.
  • (5)  Number Five represents Polypropylene (PP), and is typically used for plastic caps, cosmetic jars and medicine bottles, as well as straws.  PP plastic is recyclable but not all recycling facilities accept it—though, it is becoming more widely accepted.
  • (6)  Number Six is Polystyrene (PS), also commonly known as Styrofoam, though this is actually a brand name for the expanded insulated product.  PS plastic can also be clear and brittle, and is most commonly used in the ubiquitous take-home food containers used by restaurants and food joints.  Only some municipalities accept PS plastic, so you’ll need to check with your local recycling authority.
  • (7)  Number Seven is the sort of miscellaneous and mysterious category of “Other”, often used for water cooler bottles, cd and dvd packaging, and for blister packaging of various products.  Number 7 plastics are NOT recyclable, and should be avoided if possible.

It’s also important to note that, despite their high recyclability, most plastics that we are recycling at our curbs is NOT being reused to make more containers; instead, most of these plastics are made into non-recyclable products such as woodless lumber, children’s playsets, fabrics and textiles, which are a good idea but they’re not contributing to the closing of the recycling loop.  Nearly all plastic containers are made from virgin materials.  It is up to us citizens to encourage plastics manufacturers to recycle plastics into containers and packaging that can used and recycled again and again before being made into end products which can no longer be recycled.  You can learn more from the Ecology Center website.

April 28, 2009–Today’s Way: One of the easiest things you can do that makes a meaningful environmental impact over time is to switch to cloth shopping bags.  Invest in several, and keep some hanging by the door, keep some in your car, get some of those clever lightweight Chico Bags to keep in your purse—and get into the habit of using them.  Not only do cloth bags come in handy for lots of occasions and applications, they hold more groceries because they’re stronger, and some grocery stores still give a per-bag credit on your receipt.  If you’re crafty, you can sew your own (I made my first bags years ago from a hotel restaurant tablecloth) that reflect your personal sense of style.  When you consider that the average American uses approximately 450 plastic bags per year (and the majority of which wind up in a landfill), over the course of a few years, you can imagine how many disposable bags we could eliminate if we all just use cloth bags instead.

April 27, 2009–Today’s Way: In the WoodSprite office, we’re able to cut our paper costs by about half simply by printing documents on both sides of the page.  We also set aside single-sided sheets for re-use, then print on the blank side or cut them up for use as scratch pads before finally sending them along to the recycle bin.  Of course, we also use 100% Post-Consumer recycled paper (that’s the paper you and I recycle at our curbsides) that is processed without chlorine.  Just by instituting this simple policy, we’re not only keeping our office supply budget in the black, but helping to save a lot of unnecessary pollution, energy and cutting and processing of trees to make new paper.

You can make transitioning to this system easier for your own office or home by posting a sign on the copier or printer, reminding others to use the two-sided printing options, and then placing a paper sorter for single-sided sheets only next to the printer or copier where they will be handy.  Encourage your family or co-workers to turn over a new leaf of paper—it may take a bit of time to implement, but once everyone gets the hang of it, you’ll be saving your company or office money and saving trees at the same time.

April 26, 2009–Today’s Way: One of my favorite tricks for turning my long, stick-straight hair into lusciously curly locks also happens to cost absolutely no electricity or energy to do.  When I was little, my mom used to cut thin strips from a clean rag and then roll sections of my ever-so-slightly-damp hair around them and tie them up, until all of my hair was rolled up, then send me off to bed (a la “Little House on the Prairie”).  In the morning, I would wake up and untie the rags and uncoil my hair to reveal bouncy curls worthy of a Breck commercial.  I had forgotten about this good old fashioned beauty tip until I had to travel by air a few years ago and couldn’t fit my ancient (okay, and humongous, yet still quite effective) hair curlers into my luggage.  So, I just cut up an old t-shirt into strips, rolled my hair up, and awoke the next day with ringlets to rival Shirley Temple (I did eventually brush them out after amusing myself for a while).  Not only did I save myself the hassle of having to pack extra accessories, but my curls don’t require a stitch of energy.  I realize this trick doesn’t work for last-minute outings, but if you’re vegging out on a Sunday night enjoying your favorite TV shows, you can try it out and see what glamour emerges the next morning.  There are, of course, different kinds of twisty or spongey cold curlers available in the beauty section of most stores, but rags don’t cost a thing, are a way to repurpose a retired piece of clothing, and I actually find them to be much more comfortable than the bulky store-bought doo-dads.  It’s easier on your hair than hot curlers, too, with less heat damage.  Depending on which way you coil the hair, you can achieve different styles of curls…all just while you sleep.

Update:  A few of you requested a tutorial on how to do rag curls, and so I found a very helpful video detailing the steps here.

April 25, 2009–Today’s Way: The weather here in Michigan has turned unseasonably balmy this weekend, with a warm Chinook wind blowing in from the South.  Not only has it inspired the songbirds, coaxed the tight little lilac buds into unfurling and awakened the frogs and toads in our creek and gardens, but it’s also ushered in the hanging of our clothes line.  Through the frozen winter, we are forced to use our electric clothes dryer (for a great heat and humidity saving tip, see my post from April 7) for most of our laundry, but as soon as the rising springtime sun starts beaming its warmth down upon us, we switch to the clothes line full time.  It makes so much good sense, and saves us a great deal of electricity, not to mention reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released into our atmosphere.  A clothes line costs absolutely nothing to operate once it’s installed, and it takes only a little more time than an indoor dryer.  Besides, hanging out our linens usually gets me outside to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine, and there’s absolutely no perfumed laundry product made that smells sweeter than that of clothes hung out on a line.

Whether you have a big yard like ours or just an apartment balcony, there are options for just about every living situation.  You can find compact indoor line dryers which collapse away if you’ve got a tight space, clever rotary-style dyers that turn while you stay stationary, and handy retractable lines so you don’t have to install a permanent pair of poles in your lawn.  We simply installed a single line in the span between our house and garage using heavy-duty eyelet screws and a nautical knot for easy removal.  Whatever your living space, there’s a solution for you, and you’ll be enjoying the energy savings as well as that just-off-the-line fresh laundry smell.

April 24, 2009–Arbor Day–Today’s Way: In honor of Arbor Day, plant a tree this weekend!   Trees not only beautify our neighborhoods, but they clean our air, save us energy by cooling our yards and homes beneath the shade they provide, and in winter, save energy by letting the light in while sheltering us from the cold wind.  Trees filter and purify our water.  Trees create vital habitat for our songbirds and animals.  Trees give us brilliantly colored leaves to rake up into piles and jump into.  Trees give children a place to climb, a place to swing, a place to dream.  Trees give us flowers, fruits, nuts, pinecones and sweet syrups.  Trees fight the effects of global warming, all for very little asked in return.  You can obtain native saplings from your local County Conservation District for a very low price, or you can donate to the Arbor Day Foundation and receive saplings for your area, along with tips on when to plant and how to care for them.

April 23, 2009–Today’s Way: With Mother’s Day coming up, most likely a good percentage of folks will be looking to send mom some flowers.  But those flowers could be shipped in from as far away as China requiring more energy to travel such a long way, and are very likely to have been grown with a heavy amount of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, which in turn exposes workers to high levels of poisons as well as causing ground and water pollution.  This Mother’s Day, show your favorite mom how much you love her by ordering organic flowers instead, and locally grown if at all possible.  Here are two great sites with beautiful arrangement options: Local Harvest and OrganicBouquet.com.

…and for another idea, give her flowers that heal as well as pamper in our Bloom Organic Skincare Gift Tote from WoodSprite Organic Body!

April 22, 2009–Earth Day–Today’s Way: Perhaps the single most important thing that we can do to help the Earth today is to reduce the amount of meat we consume.  For some people, this idea seems outright impossible, but everyone can benefit from doing so.  Most of us grow up with the image of a happy little farm with rolling, green pastures where chickens, pigs and cows peck, roam and laze away their days, but that pastoral ideal is far from the reality of factory farming where the majority of animals are raised and slaughtered for meat.  It’s something that many of us would rather not think about, but not thinking about it doesn’t make it go away.

In the United States, at least one billion animals are put through the industrial livestock farming system every single year.  It takes approximately 7 pounds of grain and 7,000 (yes, that’s seven-thousand) gallons of water to produce just one pound of beef.  How does this work?  For every pound of grain produced, it takes about 1,000 gallons of water.  And for America alone, 157 million metric tons of high-quality cereal, legumes and vegetable protein suitable for human use is instead fed to livestock to produce 28 million metric tons of animal protein for human consumption annually.   To put it simply, if we humans were to simply eat more of those grains and vegetables rather than diverting it to animals whom we then eat, we’d be able to feed the world.

Evironmentally speaking, industrial farms produce more than meat–anyone who lives within a couple of miles of a factory farm can attest to the air pollution by the constant release of methane gas due to massive heaps of animal waste.  But the problem is much more than just a stinky one.  All that animal waste creates rampant ground and water pollution.  Such large areas where thousands of animals are confined in small spaces creates a breeding ground for disease, which is treated by administering antibiotics and growth hormones that in turn contaminates our water supply as well as resides in the meat that people eat.

Aside from the overwhelming environmental implications and matters of animal cruelty, a high meat diet simply is not good for humans.  Study after study proves that cultures who eat higher amounts of fresh vegetables and fruits and obtain a wider spectrum of proteins from nuts and legumes live longer, live better and have fewer health problems.  If you’re a meat lover, you don’t have to give it up completely, but reducing the amount of meat you eat every day will most likely reduce your risk of heart disease, obesity and even cancer.

If you’d like to read more, there’s a terrific new book by Mark Bittman, a food writer and columnist for the New York Times, titled Food Matters.  He is a food lover, and a meat lover, who happened to discover a whole new perspective as well as a higher standard of health just by reducing the amount of meat in his diet, and replacing it with more fruits and vegetables.  In the meantime, the most meaningful thing you can do for Earth Day is to veg out.  Even if just for today.

April 21, 2009–Today’s Way: In terms of environmental impact, aluminum foil beats sandwich bags because of its ability to be recycled over and over again.  In our house, we actually re-use our aluminum foil by washing it, until it becomes torn or too small to be of further use.  And then, it goes right into the recycling bin with the tin cans.  Even so, the initial implications of bauxite mining (a major component of making aluminum) can be extremely taxing to the environment, and so it is only when we re-use aluminum that its impact is reduced.  The greener thing to do is to purchase recycled aluminum foil in the first place, which, according to If You Care (a manufacturer of 100% recycled aluminum foil), saves 95% of the energy required to make virgin aluminum foil.  Besides, aluminum foil is more diverse than plastic wrap or bags; you can use it to cook with and then it also protects foods in the fridge or in your lunch box. Best of all, then it can be recycled again and again, thereby closing that important recycling loop.  Though I’ve found it to be slightly less thick, the If You Care brand holds its own against the leading national brand, while costing only slightly more depending on where you live.  And its environmental benefits more than make up for it.  You can find recycled aluminum foil at most natural foods grocers as well as online.

One other little tip about aluminum foil before you recycle it; it works really well to sharpen household scissors!  Just fold the foil over into a few layers, make several cuts into the foil with the scissors, and that’s it!  Your scissors will be sharpened.  Then, roll up the foil and put it in your recycling bin.

April 20, 2009–Today’s Way: We spent part of Saturday at our park’s annual Earth Day Cleanup and poked about the woods, picking up trash that has escaped the humans who created it.  Now, this is something we do every day we’re at the park, picking up litter as we go along on our daily hikes and throwing our finds into the garbage or recycle bin when we get home.  There wasn’t really anything much different about Saturday, other than that there were other people there for once, cleaning up the litter, too.  At our particularly favorite trail, which is an unpaved series of hike and mountain bike paths up and down hills and in the middle of the woods, I am struck by how much trash I see there, every single week.  And the majority of the junk I pick up is left there by supposed outdoors types who frequent those same trails…athletic types, mostly, from the looks of the stuff they drop on the trail for others to deal with.  I know the biking people by the “Go Juice” packets we find glittering in the creek, and the family types by the “On the Go” cracker and snack containers fluttering in the breeze.  Sandwich bags, empty bottles and cans (which, in Michigan have a 10-cent bottle refund), candy wrappers, cigarette butts, chip bags, all scattered like leaves among the trees.  Unfortunately, our “On-the-Go” packaging culture has created more trash than ever, which is too often ending up on the ground.  From the amount of carelessly abandoned trash I see, it seems there’s an entire generation who missed the message from the old “Don’t be a Litterbug” public service campaigns.  I wonder if those litterbugs who are trashing our woods, parks and meadows think that their junk just miraculously disappears, or that it’s somehow not their problem.   Except, it has become a problem for others, and the miracle disappearing trick is performed by folks like me who are trying to clean up after them so that we all can enjoy the beauty of our natural surroundings.

But there is hope.  I’ve noticed that, when strangers see me pick up a piece of litter, even though it is not my own, then they often start to do it, too.  It’s as if they are just waiting to be reminded that we all can make a difference, and then they are inspired to be part of it.  We can’t wait for another public service message to change the world–it begins with us, and just one simple step.  You just start taking small actions, and then others will follow.

If you’re out and On-the-Go, don’t wait for Earth Day to pick up the litter that you encounter.  It takes only a moment to bend down and toss it in the nearest trash can.  Teach your kids to do the same—teach them that trash doesn’t simply evaporate into the ether, and to be responsible and make less of it and dispose properly of the trash they do create—and then take it a step further and show them that other people’s litter is every person’s problem.  Conscientious citizens are not born, they are made.  Just make it a habit, and sure enough, little by little, you will motivate others by your example, and our world will be cleaner and more beautiful, one little piece of candy wrapper at a time.

April 19, 2009–Today’s Way: You might have used cream of tartar to make a lemon meringue pie but I’ll bet you never thought of using it to clean rust stains from your tub.  A natural by-product of the wine industry, tartaric acid forms as a crystal coating on the inside of the barrels in which wine is aged, which are scraped and then the acid is purified and ground into a valuable powder.  If you have well water like I do, you know the inevitable rust stains that result in sinks, tubs and toilets can be an ongoing battle to remove.  Years ago, I discovered this wonderful little trick to effectively remove the stains without having to resort to the horrendously toxic chemical cleansers that seemed to be the only option.  To remove rust stains naturally, just spritz or wet the spot with hydrogen peroxide, then sprinkle cream of tartar powder onto the stain and allow to sit for an hour or so (I like to set a wet rag or sponge over the powder to help keep it moist).  You might need to use a little bit of elbow grease for tougher stains, but the cream of tartar powder works incredibly well to scour away the stains without harming the enamel finish. When the stain is removed, just rinse with water and let your enamel sparkle.

Cream of tartar can be expensive when purchased prepackaged from the grocery store, but it can be found much cheaper in bulk from places like Frontier Natural Foods Co-op, or from your local bulk food store.

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