Friday, November 26, 2010

Jon Stewart's bit on Energy Independence

Funny bit looks back over eight administrations and the lip service paid to reducing US dependency on foreign oil.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Many municipalities are trying to cut costs by reducing trash pick-up from twice a week to once a week. This helps reduce tipping costs, the price paid per ton that towns pay to dump their trash. Instead of worrying about where to store trash for that once-a-week pickup, try precycling.

Precycling involves some mindfulness regarding if you really need “it” or not. If you don’t really need it, then don’t buy it so you don’t have to toss it. Even if you can recycle an item, recycling uses enormous amounts of energy to transform trash into something useful.

According to the EPA, Americans throw out 25% of the food they buy. Sticking to a meal plan and shopping list will reduce the amount of food that either never makes it to the table or ends up on the hips. Anyone can compost, even apartment dwellers. One tenant I know uses an igloo ice chest with a charcoal filter attached to the underside of the lid. He chops up his food scraps, coffee and filters and brings his igloo to the town recycling center each week. He has cut down on the use of paper products to save him the trouble of shredding paper towels, etc. for composting.

Eat whole foods and buy in bulk. Packaged foods usually include preservatives, sugars, and other ingredients that are not health-supportive. Instead of sandwiches, try whole grain pilafs as a base for vegetables, tofu or meat. Most “whole grain” commercially prepared breads contain ingredients we don’t need and very little grain. Whole grain amaranth, millet, and quinoa are easy to prepare, are full of nutrients and fiber, do not contain gluten, and portions can be cooked, frozen in muffin cups and steamed later on, which makes meal preparation quick on a busy weeknight.

Instead of lunch meats, buy whole chickens or turkeys, poach them and use the broth for other dishes. Simmer the bones in stock to up the nutrient content in chicken soup. Slice the meat for sandwiches, salads and soup. Buy tofu in bulk and freeze it.

Orange juice has been marketed as a health food and it is not. It is pasteurized, usually contains synthetic calcium and other fortifiers, and is basically sugar. Opt for seasonal fruit over a commercially prepared juice. If the kids don’t like water, make “fruity water” by floating various kinds of fruit in water. Let the kids make their own yogurt combinations as well. Buy in bulk and portion out what they need and let them add their own fruit, preserves, and nuts.

There are so many eco-friendly, kid-friendly containers available now, as well as reusable sandwich wrappers that open up to make a placemat. If you sew, consider stitching one up yourself.

In addition to food scraps, more than 30% of our trash consists of paper. Clean with brushes, sponges, squeegees and rags. There are many recipes online for homemade cleaners using distilled vinegar, borax or baking soda that work very well without harsh chemicals. Using a squeegee on shower walls, bathroom mirrors, and windows eliminates the need for paper towels.

I still have several decades-old pieces of furniture that have been painted, stripped, stained, varnished, and painted again. Some pieces I picked up off the curb. They are much more interesting than the items in today’s furniture stores, and are very well made. Be creative in ways to use odd items – a chair as a nightstand, a birdcage to hold stationary.

How are you precycling? Post your ideas, recipes for potions, lotions, cleaners and other ways you’ve lightened your trash load.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Water-Wise Landscaping Tips for Fall

With autumn in the air, consider taking the following steps in your yard and garden to prepare for a more water-efficient winter, spring, and summer:

  • Compost. Soil that is enhanced with compost holds moisture better and reduces runoff, which can help you save on irrigation next summer. Add a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost to the top of the soil and dig it into the top 6 to 12 inches of the planting bed. Or simply layer it on top of the bed, a technique called “topdressing,” and let the earthworms do the heavy lifting for you.
  • Mulch. Mulches such as shredded bark spread evenly over the surface of the soil reduce the amount of moisture that soil loses through evaporation and plant transpiration. Mulching also helps keep down the weeds. Spread a 2- to 4-inch layer on all open soil, but keep mulch away from the trunk or stem of plants.
  • Adjust. Remember to readjust your irrigation system schedule to reflect the changing seasons and precipitation, or turn it off when it is no longer needed.
  • Winterize. Having your pipes freeze and burst not only wastes water, but it can cause a lot of damage. Before the first frost, remember to unscrew hoses, drain outdoor spigots, and either turn off their water supply or use an insulating cover to protect them from freezing.
  • Consider your plant palette during the cold winter months. When you start planning your garden for spring, try to incorporate locally adapted or native plants that are already accustomed to the soil and weather patterns in your area.
  • For more ideas on environmentally friendly landscaping, see EPA’s GreenScapes page or the WaterSense outdoor page.