There’s no reason not to “go green” when picking up a game for a young loved one. Despite the abundance of “Made in China” plastic toys and games that line the aisles, some companies have made it their business to create amazingly fun toys and games for children in ways that protect, preserve or restore the planet. When attending the Chicago Toy & Game Show the weekend before Thanksgiving, I had a chance to check out a few.
The award-winning PlanToys, a Thailand-based company, is creating a more sustainable world through play through their delightful toys for babies, toddlers and young children. Depending on the toys, they may use organic rubberwood, an “e-zero” non-formaldehyde glue, water-based, non-toxic dyes for coloring their toys or soy or water-based inks. Since 2010, PlayToys has been using a high-density fiber composite wood made from reclaimed wood particles left from the manufacturing process of toys in the factory. They call it PlanWood. The process allows the toys to be made safe, stronger and more durable while earning the company the distinction as the first wooden toys company in the world using this method.
“Most toy companies are using materials that are, first and foremost, cheap,” explains Jay Chanthalangsy, PlanToys’ Marketing Director who was at the Chicago Toy and Game Show. “The way certain companies make plastic toys is to take a vinyl plastic, that very inexpensive, and add materials like antimony, arsenic, or mercury. This in turn makes the plastic more malleable as they are heated and molded into shapes. As safety insurance for heating and melting the plastic, they often add Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs), which makes the plastic flame retardant. Needless to say none of these materials are something a child should be around, much less a part of the toy that will eventually end up in their mouth.”
For PlanToys, however, going green doesn’t stop with the toys. It reaches many other facets of their operations, in part, powered by a photovoltaic system on site. Day-lighting is used to illuminate their factory workspace and a solar drying kiln is used for their wood products. With the goal to use every possible part of the tree in toys’ production and reduce waste to zero, a biomass power plant is built on site where leftover woodchips, sawdust from PlanToys factory and agricultural waste from the surrounding communities are used as raw material in gasification process to produce electricity sold to the Provincial Electricity Authority of Thailand that supplies it to local communities.
“The inspiration for being sustainable stems from our founder, Vitool Viraponsavan,” says Chanthalangsy. “The village he grew up in, in southern Thailand called Trang, was covered with wild rubberwood trees. Growing up among the rubberwood trees he developed a great sense of appreciation for nature, the environment and what man can create with nature’s resources, in this case the rubberwood trees. After finishing architecture school, Viraponsavan, along with seven others, was compelled to contribute and build a more sustainable world. Thus creating PlanToys and giving life to the ideal of sustainable play, hoping to build the foundation of how our toys can cultivate creative minds and bring children who come into contact with our toys closer to nature.”
This same concern for the environment is shared by txTylz founder, Joan Severance, a movie actress turned toy inventor with a passion for helping people cultivate their creative intelligence. The object of the txTylz is to use square-ish game wordplay pieces to express words or “whatever makes sense” before time runs out while other players try to gain points off your demise. The txTylz pieces may be used phonetically (as they sound), literally (as they are spelled) and symbolically (as they look) to say whatever makes sense in 2 minutes.
“Playing with and touching natural materials, in all types of products, benefits the soul, learning experience and the planet,” shares Severance. “As we are connected with nature it makes sense that the vibrations would recognize each other and therefore compliment every aspect of our lives including learning and creativity.”
The wooden, hand-crafted pieces are made in the USA (imagine that?). The Playing Pouch is also the container for the game pieces. Each piece is hand stamped with low VOC ink. “This game will last a lifetime and was created in wood because I remember playing with wood games when I was young and we still have them in our family,” writes Severance.
I also discovered a few other games worth considering. The Swiss-made Cuboro marble track game features beech wooden tracks and blocks made from 100-percent Forest Stewardship Council-certified (FSC) wood. For block-builders, The Un-block , an interlocking block building set, is made in the USA from ash trees which -- if things keep going the way they are with the devastating Emerald Ash Borer -- put these hardwood trees to great use before the insects do away with them.All these toys and games kinda make me want to be a kid all over again.
Photos: Courtesy of PlanToys and txTylz.
Every year, thousands of volunteers identify and count birds during Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC). The annual count – which is in its 114th year – helps researchers, conservation biologists and others study North American bird populations over time. What have they learned?
Viewer Tip: Learn more and find a count near you. Anyone can participate in the Christmas Bird Count, which takes place from December 14, 2013 to January 5, 2014. The CBC takes place in “count circles” that focus on specific geographic areas. Every circle has a leader, so even if you are a beginner birdwatcher, you’ll be able to count birds with an experienced birder and contribute data to the longest-running wildlife census. If your home happens to be within the boundaries of a count circle, you can count the birds that visit your backyard feeder.
Read regional highlights from last year’s count.
More CBC photos from the National Audubon Society Press Room.
Photo: Jerry Acton, courtesy of National Audubon Society.
(Sources: National Audubon Society. “Christmas Bird Count.” http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count; “Birds and Climate Change.” http://birdsandclimate.audubon.org/cbcanalysis.html; “Dynamic Dove Expansions Citizen Science illustrates the spectacular range expansions taking place throughout North America,” http://birds.audubon.org/dynamic-dove-expansions-citizen-science-illustrates-spectacular-range-expansions-taking-place-throug; “Demise of the Eastern Bewick’s Wren,” http://birds.audubon.org/demise-eastern-bewicks-wren)
WTAJ has partnered with the National Environmental Education Foundation and Project Noah to help show wildlife and the impacts of weather on living things here in Central Pennsylvania. And you can help! Snap photos of wildlife you spot in our area - plants, animals, insects and more - and share them here. Along the way, we'll highlight some of your photo observations on-air and on this web page, sharing cool facts about how weather and climate impact plants and animals in here in Central Pennsylvania.
Joining the Eyes on Central PA Mission is Easy!
You don’t have to be a wildlife expert to participate. Simply create a free profile on the Project
Noah website, join our mission, and begin sharing your photo “spottings.” Not sure exactly what plant or animal species you photographed? Don’t worry - Project Noah’s global community can help identify your spottings, which in turn help scientists uncover and track wildlife populations.
How To Sign-Up
Visit ProjectNoah.org, or Eyes on Central PA and click on “Join Project Noah Today” to sign in with your existing Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Windows Live ID or AOL account.
Create your profile and join the Eyes on Central PA mission to upload and share your spottings. · Want to spot on-the-go? Download the Project Noah app for iPhone or Android.
Image courtesy of the National Park Service.
This holiday season, consider making a global impact with The Pulsera Project.
In 2009, a group of friends traveling in Nicaragua discovered a shelter for ex-street kids in Managua. The young adults made beautiful woven pulseras (Spanish for bracelets), but had no market to sell their artwork in Nicaragua. Some of the friends went home, spread the word about the bracelets, sold them at two US schools, and soon The Pulsera Project was born.
Since that fateful trip, US college students are helping to brighten the future of Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, without leaving campus. Students are selling pulseras made by young adults in Nicaragua to support The Pulsera Project’s community empowerment programs.
The Pulsera Project is now a registered 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization that educates, empowers, and connects Nicaraguan and US youth. To date, volunteers at more than 450 US schools have sold colorful, hand-woven bracelets made by community members in Nicaragua.
These Pulsera Project volunteers have raised over $700,000 to help create a ‘more just and colorful world’ by supporting programs in the fields of education, micro-loans, shelter support, fair trade, workers rights, and environment.
As a 20-something environmentalist, I was blown away by The Pulsera Project’s incredible mission and history, but was particularly interested in their partnership with environmental programs.
The Pulsera Project financially supports The Solar Women of Totogalpa, a cooperative of 19 women and two men that work to bring renewable energy to Nicaraguan communities.
The group seeks to develop their community sustainably, so that they can “generate dignified employment that promotes renewable energy and protects the environment.”
They “strengthen the self-esteem of female members and create professional development opportunities to encourage leadership and community participation, as well as to raise awareness of the benefits of renewable energy and sustainable life within national and international communities.”
The Solar Women of Totogalpa is a small “off-the-grid” mountain community that is powered entirely by solar energy. Sources, such as theser solar cookers, are the heart and soul of a small restaurant managed by the women in the community. To learn more about this project, click here.
I had the privilege of speaking with Colin Crane, Co-Founder of The Pulsera Project, about what continues to motivate him and inspire him four years after deciding to ‘color the world’ for a living.
Mr. Crane said, “It’s been extremely rewarding for us to see not only the impact that pulsera sales have on people in Nicaragua, but on people here in the U.S. as well. The Pulsera Project has shared with tens of thousands of students the idea that people with less money than us can have incredible spiritual and cultural riches to share—things that we don’t normally take into account when using the word “poverty” in a purely economic sense.
“Through the uplifting stories and art of this project, we’ve been able to open students’ eyes to a new way of thinking about poverty and service, one that recognizes that we have just as much to learn from people in other areas of the world as we have to offer them.
“Seeing that idea spread over the last four years has really been one of the most important things for us, and really keeps us motivated to keep working on coloring the world both in Nicaragua and here at home.”
Please consider The Pulsera Project when making your year-end gifts.
Help them Color The World.
To learn how to get involved with The Pulsera Project, click here. Follow The Pulsera Project on social media. Connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest.
Photos by The Pulsera Project.
Colorful neighborhood lighting displays and glowing trees are a sign of the season. But all those twinkling lights can drive up energy demand and result in big home energy bills.
Viewer Tip: What's a decorator to do? Show your holiday spirit with LEDs (light-emitting diodes)! LEDs consume at least 75 percent less energy than traditional light bulbs and provide these great benefits:
Safe: LEDs emit less heat than traditional bulbs, reducing the risk of fire and burns.
Sturdy: LEDs are less likely to break because they are not made with glass.
Long-lasting: LEDs last up to 25 times longer than traditional bulbs - you could still be using the same LED string 40 years from now!
And of course, LEDs save money. They may cost a bit more at the time of purchase, but you won't have to replace them as often and you'll definitely see an impact on your energy bill. Check out these estimated cost comparisons from the U.S. Department of Energy:
Estimated cost of buying and operating lights over 10 holiday seasons (Lighting a six-foot tree, 12 hours per day for 40 days each season)
Add a timer to your holiday lighting display to save even more energy and money. Set the timer to turn lights on at nightfall and off during the day.
See more Earth-friendly tips at Earth Gauge.
(Source: U.S. Department of Energy. “Energy Savers: LED Lighting.” http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/led-lighting)
I recently attended a workshop funded by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment which caused a jump shift for me. It was held just south of Lawrence, Kansas, and hosted by the Douglas County Conservation District. The title-”Unlock the Secrets in the Soil” might have tipped me off, but I’ve been to lots of conferences with catchy titles and underwhelming information. This one was very different.
From the start the presenters and content were cutting edge and imprecise. Imprecise is the right word here because unlike a lot of farm workshops the information was not given in formulas. Our main presenter, farmer Gail Fuller of Emporia, gave us reasons why no-till, cover crops, and mob grazing were working for him.
He was making a case for biological or even ecological farming, but he didn’t and couldn’t tell the 150 farmers assembled how to do it on their farms. He simply told his story of evolution from growing commodity grains for a feedlot to growing nutritious food products and adding value to them.
As a baseline Fuller quoted the NRCS’s Ray Archuleta’s Four Keys to Healthy Soil, 1. Minimize disturbance 2. Maximize diversity 3. Maintain growing roots all year 4. Keep the soil covered. No-till farming and cover cropping green crops flow naturally as production techniques from the 4 rules. Fuller gave us lots of details about his short and bumpy five year road from one cover crop per year to green plants growing before, during and after every crop he grows. As an educator on the benefits of compost, I was thrilled to hear the need for a wide variety of plants which produce a wide variety of root exudates (underground sugary juices). We were told that the more plants types, the broader the variety of underground biota and the healthier the soil.
Gail showed us pictures of water quality tests that failed to collect runoff from his fields for three years. The researchers eventually quit coming out to check their run off collectors because they became convinced that water does run off of his fields! Fuller mentioned growing bumper crops of corn with 30 pounds of nitrogen per acre. (a very small amount) He’s now finding that his yields are similar when he uses no fertilizer at all. He’s not trying to be an organic farmer, he just doesn’t need fertilizer any more!
With the variety of cover crops he’s growing, it seems natural that Fuller has diversified the crops he grows for sale. He mentioned that he’s getting a premium for his grains from feedlots that are now doing nutritional testing and paying more for nutrient-dense feed. The ultimate value-added move in his farming is returning animals to the land. Beef, lamb and chicken raised on nutritious forage and moved quickly from paddock to paddock greatly increase the productivity of the land and lets the animals do the fertilizing themselves.
The second half of the workshop was a field tour of various cover crop plots. Keith Berns of Green Cover Seed.com reviewed each of the plots and discussed the advantages of the many varieties growing there. The most exciting part of this workshop was the support of mainstream agriculture for these once-radical ideas. I got the feeling that the genie was out of the bottle and that a rapid shift was occurring. While driving in Iowa recently I heard a story that claimed that in 2012 there were 5,000 acres of cover crops in the state and that in 2013 there were 300,000 acres. The mainline commercial farmer/renter of my father’s land has gone from no-till only (and lots of erosion) to planting winter rye as a cover crop the past two years. Farmers may not talk a lot but they’re watching closely. I believe there’s big change in the wind and it’s all good for our soil, water and health.
Full workshop report on Stan’s website.
Article on Gail Fuller in Midwest Producer magazine.
Keith Berns of Green Cover Seed.
Happy Thanksgiving! Whether you're traveling away from home or hosting the feast at your place, these tips will help you have a happy, healthy and environmentally-friendly holiday gathering.
AAA estimates that more than 43 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday. Ninety percent - nearly 39 million - will travel by car. Whether your destination is near or far, use these tips to travel safely, save gas and save money.
- Build an emergency kit. Increased traveling distance and unpredictable weather can result in hazardous driving conditions at this time of year. Make sure you car is equipped with a scraper, flashlight, blankets, cell phone, booster cables and emergency flares or cones. Have water and non-perishable food like energy or granola bars on hand, too. Click on the image to download.
- Check your tires.The right tire pressure can improve mileage by over three percent, saving 60-90 dollars per year for the average driver. Check the owner's manual for your vehicle to find the right pressure settings.
- Carpool. The average distance traveled over the Thanksgiving is about 600 miles. If nearby friends and family are going to the same place, travel together to save gas and reduce the number of cars on the road.
- Don't idle. If you stop to eat or stretch your legs, turn the car off. Idling for just two minutes uses the same amount of gas used to drive one mile!
- Pack lightly. Extra weight in the car or trunk decreases fuel efficiency.
The holiday season is a time for joyful gatherings of family and friends. But a house full of guests can also result in higher energy bills, increased water use and stressed septic systems. Use these tips to save energy, save water and save money.
- Resist the urge to peek. Opening the oven door to check on a culinary masterpiece can drop the oven temperature by up to 25 degrees, making your oven work harder and use more energy to stay warm. Use the light to check on food, instead.
- Give your furnace a break. Drop the temperature on the thermostat when heat isn't needed as much, such as when you are sleeping. Make is easy with a programmable thermostat.
- Save H2O. Prepping and cleaning up after a holiday meal can use a lot of water. Save a few gallons by thawing frozen foods in the refrigerator instead of using running tap water. Scrape dirty dishes before you put them in the dishwasher rather than rinsing to save even more.
- Don't overwhelm the system. For the 20 percent of Americans who use septic tanks for wastewater treatment, extra guests can overwhelm the system. Remind house guests not to use the drains and toilets as trash cans. And make sure your system is properly maintained to avoid backups and overflows - not only are theses costly for homeowners, but they can also contaminate well water and community drinking water supplies.
Sources: AAA. “Thanksgiving Travel Forecast: 43.4 Million Americans to Travel for Thanksgiving, A Slight Decline from Last Year.” http://newsroom.aaa.com; Ready.gov, “Build a Kit.” http://www.ready.gov/kit-storage-locations; FuelEconomy.gov, “Gas Mileage Tips,” http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/drive.shtml; Green Your. “Avoid Car Idling.” http://www.greenyour.com/transportation/car/car-driving/tips/avoid-car-idling) U.S Department of Energy. “Energy-Efficient Cooking for Winter.” http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/energy-efficient-cooking-winter; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Winter Tips.” http://www.epa.gov/epahome/hi-winter.htm; Keehner, Denise M., U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Wetlands Oceans and Watersheds. “Holidays can pose challenges for those with septic systems: Easy ways to keep your holidays smelling sweet.”)