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June 23, 2010 — Today’s Way: This one may seem overly simple, but there are a lot of folks who don’t give a second thought to this wasteful habit. Instead of relying on electricity to light a room during the day, why not open the curtains and let natural, abundant, free daylight fill your living and working areas? It just doesn’t make good environmental or budgetary sense to keep the house all closed off on a beautiful day, burning up fossil fuels (the source of most of our electrical energy) that contribute to pollution, the destruction of unique ecosystems and of course, global warming. Besides, our bodies need natural daylight; studies show that natural daylight helps to ward off depression and conditions such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). So, roll up those shades! Throw open those curtains! And let the sun shine in.
June 22, 2010 — Today’s Way: Okay, I have a very liberal attitude toward wildlife and even insects. I feel that we are all here for a reason, and that we should be able to share this planet as part of a harmonized ecosystem. I do not kill spiders in my house. Instead, I enter them into them into the Witness Relocation Program, and move them safely outdoors. I have been known to relocate many creatures and critters that most other people would think nothing of dispatching, but sometimes, a line is drawn and preemptive action must be taken.
For instance, in the case of yellow jackets building their nest in the gas tank door of my car. Usually, I’d wait until it’s cool and they’re lethargic enough to knock the nest away with a stick, but in the summer, they stay too active to mess with. Rather than using a chemical insecticide sprayer, I have discovered a totally safe and effective alternative. Dish detergent and water. Yup, that’s it. Add about 1 part ordinary liquid dish detergent (or better yet, a nice organic castile liquid soap) to about 10 parts ordinary tap water, mix well, and put into a bottle with a sprayer that can be adjusted to a fine stream. Alternatively, a squirt gun works, too. Good aim is necessary.
My technique follows thusly: Get within a safe but accurate shooting distance, take aim, and fire. Then run away.
Although dish soap is safe for us, it sticks to the insects and disrupts the permeable membranes of their respiratory systems located on the shells of their bodies, killing them quickly. I should point out that this is a very concentrated formula to ensure that dangerous stinging insects are disabled immediately, but it could burn plants if your aim is not on target.
If you want to eliminate other soft bodied pest insects, such as aphids, spider mites, white flies or mealybugs in your garden plants, you will want to use a higher dilution of about 5 tablespoons liquid soap or detergent per gallon of water, and cover the entire plant with the broad mist of the sprayer. This will kill the offending bugs and their eggs. However, once the soap solution dries out or if it is rinsed away by rain, you may need to reapply once or twice to ensure total annihilation. Be sure to rinse the entire plant after about 24 hours. This solution will keep indefinitely, and it is much cheaper and safer for both our health and the health of our planet than the chemical alternatives.
June 21, 2010 — Today’s Way: One of the best things you can do with your kids is to allow and encourage creative time and space for them. Kids love to get their craft on…imagining new purposes for ordinary objects at an early age exercises their fine young minds and helps develop an aptitude for critical thinking. And you know what else? It’s fun!
One of my favorite craft items when I was a kid was the good ol’ ordinary toilet paper tube (along with its brother, the paper towel tube). We used to paint them, bedazzle them, punch patterned holes in them, make them into kaleidoscopes, build castle turrets (on top of cardboard boxes) with them, tape them together to make binoculars, telescopes and periscopes (complete with mirrors), we poured beans into them and sealed the ends to make rattles for our imaginary rock band…you name it, we made it.
Start collecting your tubes now so that, on the next rainy day your children (or nieces or nephews, or grandchildren) are trapped inside, you’ll have a ready stash to repurpose. And get the kids involved, enlist their help to collect the tubes and make a special box for them (a box, by the way, that could also be reused and decorated just for this purpose). Believe me, when they grow up, they won’t remember their score on the video game they always played, but they will remember time well spent with you, creating fun new things out of ordinary objects that would otherwise have gone straight to a landfill or recycle bin.
To get you started, there are several websites with lots and lots of ideas for projects using toilet paper tubes, and here are just a few:
June 20, 2010 — Today’s Way: I’ve talked about lawns and their maintenance demands before in this blog, and that’s because the American Quest For The Perfect Lawn represents a huge chunk of the pollution pie. Inefficient engines on lawn mowers, leaf blowers and weed whackers, extravagant water usage, heavy chemicals in the form of fertilizer and indiscriminate pesticides are just some of the offenders contributing to greenhouse emissions, air pollution, human health problems from chemical exposure and the killing off of beneficial birds and bugs, not to mention global warming. Aside from not having a lawn at all, there are many clever and more Earth-responsible lawn-care alternatives that are every bit as effective as conventional methods.
One excellent alternative to the use of pesticides is beneficial nematodes. Nematodes are microscopic, parasitic worms which live in almost any kind of soil and climate, and feed on grubs and other larvae that live underground for at least part of the life cycle of common insect pests, such as Japanese beetles, gnats, weevils and fleas, yet are completely harmless to humans, animals and plants. There can be thousands of nematodes of many varieties in just one handful of soil, but you can fortify your yard with specific species of nematodes which are known to effectively control specific species of other insects, as well as some types of fungi.
Beneficial nematodes can be purchased in packets which can be stored in a refrigerator until you’re ready to distribute them. Then, simply moisten the nematodes with water and spread over your lawn (or garden) with a watering can or sprayer. You can purchase beneficial nematodes at your local big box home improvement store, or order them online, such as this site.
June 19, 2010 — Today’s Way: Some of us may be surprised to learn that the amount of fuel savings that can be garnered by adjusting your bad driving habits is significant–on average, anywhere from 10% to a whopping 40%–depending on how much of a lead foot you have, that is. If you’re an aggressive driver (come on, you know who you are…punching the gas pedal off the line, accelerating until the very last moment, then using the brakes heavily to slow down, weaving in and out of traffic like you’re Mario Andretti), you’ll see the biggest savings by easing off on acceleration and coasting your way to a gradual stop. For the average driver, simply being more mindful of your pedal pushing can still bring notable fuel and monetary savings over time, as well as less wear and tear on your car. And fuel savings means less use of petroleum, which means less emissions, which means less green house gases, which means less pollution, which means healthier air and a better future for everyone.
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.
June 17, 2010 — Today’s Way: This one is sooooooo easy, you’ll love it. Get out a tire pressure gauge, check your tires, inflate them to the proper level. This simple bit of maintenance can save you an average of around 10% on your gas budget, and of course, saving fuel helps to save the planet, too.
June 16, 2010–Today’s Way: Have you ever noticed how many roofs are black or a dark shade of brown or gray? The color of one’s roof is something we often might only consider only as a matter of aesthetic concern, yet there are environmental and energy implications that should not be overlooked. When you have a dark colored roof, whether made from shingles or even roof tar on a commercial building, that roof absorbs heat energy from the sun. Think of wearing a black turtleneck in the sultry, August sun…there’s a reason that we tend to wear light colors in the summertime because it helps to deflect heat and keep us cool. If you live in a climate where there is a considerable amount of hot weather, even if for part of the year, it just makes better sense to install a lighter colored roofing material to help deflect some of the sun’s fire, which will result in lower cooling costs and also helps to defend against our planet’s rising temperature. Now, I realize that a roof is something we hope to only have to install or replace a couple of times in a home’s lifetime, but it’s something to consider next time you’re in the market for a roof re-do. It’s really such a small step, and rarely costs much more than an ordinary dark roofing material, but the energy savings make it well worth considering.
June 15, 2010 — Today’s Way: How often do you go to your favorite restaurant, knowing full well that, as usual, you won’t be able to down that triple seafood enchilada, and, not wanting to be wasteful of good food, ask for a box to take the rest home? More often than not, even in this age, that take out box or doggie bag is going to be made of polystyrene foam or plastic, which is still not recyclable in most municipalities, and has a rather unclean production origin. Even if the carton is made of a much more Earth-friendly biodegradable paper fiber (which is better), it’s still going to be likely thrown away or recycled after only one use.
I’d like to propose a better idea. What if you brought your own clean, reusable storage containers with you to the restaurant? Okay, maybe it sounds a little odd to lug your Tupperware to a restaurant, but hey, people used to think that cloth shopping bags were a weird idea, too, and just look at how popular, practical and convenient they are now. What I’ve been doing is popping a couple of my clean reusable containers into a cloth tote and keeping it in the car. That way, next time I find my eyes are bigger than my stomach, I’m able to hand over the containers to my waitperson and, even if they look at me a little sideways, most of the time, they comment on what a good idea it is.
If you really want to do take out in style, you could use these cool stainless steel travel containers, which come in handy for your daily lunches and picnics, too. Best of all, they’re BPA-free and endlessly reusable, then recyclable.
June 14, 2009–Today’s Way: As you enjoyed your cup of coffee this morning, did you pause to wonder where it came from? Well, don’t feel badly…few of us do. Yet that ordinary little cup of coffee that ordinary Americans consume every ordinary day represents an extraordinarily high environmental cost. Am I asking you to stop drinking your coffee? Egads, no! I’m sipping a nice cup of joe as I write this, but I am suggesting you may want to reconsider your coffee buying habits.
Conventional coffee farming has an enormous impact on the environment because of the way in which it is grown. Far away, large tracts of virgin rain forests are cleared and replaced with coffee plantations, which are heavily doused in pesticides and chemical fertilizers, putting a strain on water resources and surrounding wildlife. Indigenous people are often exploited to work on the coffee plantations for pennies a day, and bear the brunt of exposure to the chemicals used to grow the coffee, which is then usually shipped halfway across the planet to a roaster and then in turn shipped to a distributor somewhere else, where it eventually winds up shipped to the States and brewed and poured into a polystyrene or paper cup with a designer name and sold to you for the bargain price of $4.00 or more.
Luckily, you can still enjoy that cup of coffee (preferably in a reusable cup), but you’ll probably enjoy it more if you make your next informed purchasing choice on a Shade-Grown, Fair-Trade, Certified Organic bag of beans. This means that the coffee berries were grown without forest removal; instead, they are carefully tended to in the shade from old growth trees, thereby leaving that valuable carbon-eating tree cover intact. And the animals and bugs will really appreciate that. Also, if your coffee is Fair Trade Certified, it means that your grower was paid fairly for the time and effort they put into growing those delicious coffee beans, and that they are able to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads and maybe even send their kids to school. Lastly, if your new favorite coffee brand bears Organic Certification, it means that those beans were grown using sustainable farming methods without the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. And thanks to growing awareness about these issues, there are now more and more sustainable growers, artisan roasters and local gourmet cafes who are elevating the coffee experience to new grounds (sorry…couldn’t help it). In fact, one of my favorites is Higher Grounds.
June 13, 2009–Today’s Way: As we all know, the concrete jungle creates many problems for our environment, and all those paved parking lots, streets, highways and driveways are some of the star offenders. One major issue with all of that pavement is, when it rains, rain water is diverted into gutters and mixing into sewage systems. When it rains a lot, all of that extra water overwhelms arcane municipal water management systems which then dump raw sewage and rain water into overflows, also known as the nearest lake, river or ocean — totally untreated. Another problem is that these ribbons of black asphalt criss-crossing our great lands tend to absorb energy from the sun during the day, gathering up thermal mass, then slowly releasing the heat when the sun sets and raising environmental temperatures in the form of global warming. Other side effects of our love affair with asphalt is the constant leaching of toxic chemicals into the areas along roadways, including wetlands and vast agricultural landscapes which happen to be located nearby.
Permeable Driveways/Parking Areas are one excellent way to provide clean, beautiful and low maintenance parking and driving surfaces while allowing all of that rain water to naturally trickle down through the ground and back into the water table, where it belongs. Permeable surfaces come in a dizzying array of options, but the most basic are porous paver bricks which fit together with patterned open holes, which are set into and filled in with pea gravel (as in the photo, above right). This attractive solution keeps your car protected from mud and dirt, keeps vegetation at bay and at the same time, because of the many lighter color options, does not have to absorb and release heat energy in the same way as asphalt. Permeable driving surfaces are a beautiful solution for businesses, cities, developers and individuals committed to a greener future.
June 12, 2009–Today’s way: Hey, it’s warm outside. Drop your socks and grab your sandals! Or flip flops. Or Earth Shoes. Or Uggs. It may seem trivial, but just as most of the little things we do add up to make an impact over time, going socks-less more often can really make a dent in your energy consumption when you add it all up. Think about it: a few less loads of laundry, requiring a few gallons less water, which won’t need to be heated first (thereby most likely requiring the burning of fossil fuels to generate the energy to heat the water), and less detergent produced to wash the socks, and fewer fossil fuels burned in order to ship the detergent to your local store…you get the idea. So remember the little things, and do what you can, when you can. And show us those naked toes.