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June 18, 2010 — Today’s Way: Picnic season is upon us!  It’s time to haul out mom’s famous potato salad recipe, and to take pleasure in the flavors of summer with strawberry shortcake, fresh squeezed lemonade and delicious fruit salads.  Usually, we pack all of these things up and haul them to the park or the beach or the campground, along with plastic forks, spoons and knives as well as other “disposable” dishes, to be used once and then tossed away and forgotten.  The problem with this is, those plastic utensils are going to be sitting in the bowels of some landfill far after memories of that lovely summer meal, and probably even you, are long gone.  Another concern is exposure to BPA and other chemicals by eating on or with plastic.  The most eco-responsible thing to do is just take your regular utensils with you (or, buying an affordable set from a yard sale or Goodwill store especially for picnics and travel), and take them home and wash them for reuse, but if you’re worried about losing pieces or having to do extra cleaning after the hauling, there is another great alternative.  Biodegradable utensils, cups, plates and bowls are made from plant starches and other natural ingredients, and when you’re finished using them, they can either be thrown away and will eventually break down in a landfill, or better yet, some brands are compostable, and completely disappear into organic matter within a matter of months.  Most of these plant-based utensils are heat tolerant and microwaveable.  Furthermore, there is no worry of chemical exposure to plastics in your food.  So, you’ll be able to fully enjoy mom’s potato salad without the guilt of using disposables.

May 15, 2009–Today’s Way: A big part of living Earth Day everyday is looking at ordinary things differently.  Take your daily used coffee grounds, for instance.  Most households still just throw them in the trash (cringe).  But when you start seeing the world through green colored glasses, you begin to think of all the useful things you can do with used coffee grounds before ultimately sending them to the compost bin.  Here are a few ideas:

  • For softer fur, rub used grounds into your dog’s coat.  Rinse well.  Sounds weird, but it works.
  • Used coffee grounds make a great tan dye for paper or natural fiber fabrics.
  • Coffee grounds are said to repel ants and slugs.
  • Adding used coffee grounds to the soil of your houseplants makes a great fertilizer.
  • Mix fine coffee grounds with a little warmed cocoa butter and/or olive oil, then use as a very effective body scrub.

May 2, 2009–Today’s Way: It really amazes me when I see people—intelligent people—throwing food waste into a plastic bag of garbage, and then those same, intelligent, wonderful people go to the gardening store and purchase compost by the bag for their flowers or gardens.  I think that composting is still a mystery or seems too complicated or messy to a lot of folks, even though the basic principles are very, very simple:  put food waste into a pile (or bin) and it will break down into compost—that rich, nutrient-filled humus that fertilizes and enriches the soil that new plants grow in.  That’s it, really.  There are many overly-engineered composting products and gimmicky tricks to “turbo boost” the composting process, and a lot of convoluted composting “rules”  and “recipes” that are, in my opinion, unnecessary.  Yes, there are certain things to watch out for, but for the most part, stuff will break down eventually, regardless of your mix of “dry” to “wet” ingredients, or the order in which you put them.  Now, I admit that composting is decidedly easier when you have a large yard like ours, but that’s no excuse.  There are some very clever compact composters designed specifically for small or urban spaces which are good at containing any smells (a properly operating compost pile usually does not stink excessively, or barely at all) and which turn your banana peels, onion skins, grass clippings, leaves, celery trimmings, tea bags, coffee grinds and yes, even that moldy tomato soup you forgot in the back of the fridge, into glorious, nutritious compost for your yard, garden, trees, shrubs or house plants.  Some models are upright, some models have a cool spinning handle so you can pretend you’re running bingo night at the local church, some models are even self-turning and fit beneath a cabinet right in your kitchen (though I find the need for electricity to heat and turn your compost sort of an ironic case of defeating the purpose).  The point is, where’s there’s food waste, there’s a way to compost it.

Which, when you think about it, is infinitely better than throwing all of that valuable food and plant matter into a landfill, where there is no air for even biodegradable, organic substances to break down (or at least, not nearly as quickly or in the same way as it would, were it in a compost heap), and where it is mixed in with all manner of other waste which renders it useless and only contributes to the growing mountains of trash rising up on the perimeter of your local urban center.  The other problem is that, as that food waste breaks down anaerobically in a landfill, it releases methane gas which is highly explosive and contributes to greenhouse gases, which are resulting in global warming.  When food waste and plant matter is composted, however, it is an oxygen-rich, aerobic process which does not create methane gas, and leaves behind only black gold for your shrubs.  Or plants.  Or whatever other green things you’d like to enrich.

Here’s a great site devoted entirely to selling composting products and with a lot of helpful information on composting, large and small.

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