What step(s) are you most proud of that your family has taken to reduce your environmental footprint? Perhaps you have made your own greywater system, for example, built a super-convenient recycling setup, or even switched to a cargo bicycle or a more fuel-efficient car. We are collecting short greener living reports for an article that will run in our upcoming April/May 2014 Earth Day issue.
Please send your ideas — and don’t forget the photos — to Letters@MotherEarthNews.com by Monday, Dec. 16. You can also leave your reports in the comments section at the bottom of this article. If published, you will be compensated $25, plus $25 for a photo.
America Recycles Day is November 15! When you hear the word recycle, you probably think of things like paper, plastic, aluminum and glass. But did you know that motor oil, electronics, batteries and tires can be recycled, too? Recycling common household materials reduces the amount of waste that ends up in our landfills. It also saves energy, protects natural resources, and provides materials for new products.
- Recycling two gallons of used oil can generate enough electricity to run the average household for almost 24 hours.
- Recycling one aluminum can saves the amount of energy needed to power a laptop computer for five hours or run a 60-watt CFL light bulb for 20 hours.
- Recycling one ton of paper saves up to 7,000 gallons of water. Recycled paper can be used to make masking tape, hospital gowns, coffee filters, lamp shades, eggs cartons and more.
- Many different metals are recovered during the cell phone recycling process – gold, silver, platinum, palladium, copper, tin and zinc – that can be used by jewelry, plating, electronics, automotive and other industries.
Viewer Tip: Before you toss a household item in the trash can, find out if it can be recycled. You may be surprised by some of the items that can be recycled – auto fluids, corks, computers, light bulbs and much more. Visit search.earth911.com to find out what you can recycle, how and where. Provide your city or zip code and the item that needs to be recycled to find a nearby recycling solution.
(Sources: Earth911, http://earth911.com/; America Recycles Day, www.americarecyclesday.org; EPA, “Basic Information About Used Oil,” http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/usedoil/oil.htm; EPA. “Environmental Benefits of Recycle on the Go,” http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/osw/conserve/onthego/benefits/index.htm; EPA, “Wastes – Resource Conservation – Common Wastes & Materials – Paper Recycling,” http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/paper/faqs.htm; EPA, ” Wastes – Resource Conservation – Common Wastes & Materials – eCycling,” http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/ecycling/faq.htm)
When I was in grade school, I wanted nothing more than to have a cat. I begged and begged my parents. I watched all kinds of cat shows on Animal Planet to learn as much as I could about being a pet owner. Finally, my dad took me to get a cat. I was so happy I wore my ‘Cool Cat’ shirt and gladly hopped in the car as my dad drove us to his friend’s house.
After what seemed like forever, we arrived. There were several black and white kittens running around this man’s home and I couldn’t believe one of them was going to be mine! All of the kittens were very playful and friendly, but there was one that stayed with my dad and I even when all of her brothers and sisters went in the other room to play. That kitten was the one for me. I loved her immediately and we took her home to meet the rest of my family.
My parents named her ‘Trixy,’ after one of the characters in The Honeymooners. Over the course of time, she got used to her new home and found lots of ways to make all of us smile. She sat on the ledge of the bathtub whenever my sister took a bath and drank water from a yellow smiley face bucket. My sister got into a lot of sticky situations when she was a toddler and Trixy was her partner in crime.
Trixy loved Christmas time and enjoyed sleeping underneath the tree and playing with ornaments until they fell down. She would always come down to the kitchen when my mom was making turkey or roasted chicken…or when we shook the bag of her treats and asked if she wanted a ‘yummy.’
After a new arrival to our family, Luke the dog, moved in, Trixy was not too thrilled, but she still cuddled with us every night and purred when you rubbed her whiskers or pet under her chin. She was a happy cat who enjoyed making all of our nice furniture furry.
When I moved out on my own to my apartment, I was a little lonely at first. My parents suggested Trixy move in with me. Trixy became a beach kitty almost a year ago, in late December of 2012, at the age of 14.
Over the course of the last several months, Trixy and I became closer than we had ever been. We grew up together. She was one of my first hellos when I came home from college. I judged all of my boyfriends based on whether she liked them or not. That’s what happens when you have a pet since you were eight years old. I can’t imagine how different my life would’ve been growing up without her.
A lot of folks have strong opinions about cats, like them or dislike them, but I will always think of Trixy as one of my best friends. She was there for me when I was upset and would put her paw on my hand to show me that she knew I was sad. She would greet me at the door when I would come home from work. Trixy loved to cuddle and would often bite my laptop if it was on my lap instead of her. She begged for food like a dog and was particularly fond of my Sunday morning omelets. She was a constant source of support, always listening and never judging. She was someone to come home to and someone to take care of, which is important for a single girl living alone, especially when she helped me try to kill bugs.
I grew accustomed to having her around. I didn’t shut my bathroom door all the way at night so she could use her litter box if she needed, and I pulled my bed sheets down in the morning before work so she couldn’t sleep under them and get everything (even more) furry.
My friend passed away last week at the age of 15. I have thought a lot about our friendship since then, and through all of the tears and the heartbreak, I have found that having a pet makes us more human.
They challenge us to be as selfless and loyal as they are. They teach us responsibility when we are younger and the importance of trust. Our animals rely on us to feed them and take care of them and in return, they ask for a simple belly rub or to cuddle up on the couch. I think our connection to animals is strengthened by the fact that we don’t speak the same language. It makes us to get know one another on a deeper level and really understand their feelings. They do become part of your family, but in most cases, they are better than family because they tend to be more likeable. Our animals are a constant source of love and joy and make us laugh at any chance they get. I think if everyone acted a little bit more like their pets; the world would be a better place.
At night, I still don’t close my bathroom door all the way and I still pull my bed sheets down before work in the morning. I don’t think I will ever stop. It reminds me that although Trixy is not here, she will always be with me and she will always be a part of my life. I will always think of her as I strive to be a good person and to make a positive impact on the world. I hope anyone who has lost an animal – a cat, dog, horse, hamster, rabbit, fish or lizard – cherishes the time that was spent in their presence and tries to be a little more human every day.
Most of us can agree that taking care of the planet and becoming energy efficient are important practices, but when it comes to supporting green businesses, we tend to be led on by greenwashing marketing materials and our own biases. As consumers we tend to automatically assume large businesses are greedy and not environmentally friendly, but think every small brand with a green label is. The reality is that many companies that claim to be green really aren’t, and that some large businesses are actually on the forefront when it comes to sustainability practices.
If you think about it, it is actually the large businesses that can make the biggest difference when it comes to helping the environment, as they are huge consumers of energy and can have a much bigger impact than a small business owner could.
Google, for example, has committed to reducing its environmental impact by purchasing carbon offsets and investing in alternative energy, such as a $200 million wind farm in Texas. Unilever, owner of brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Dove, has set sustainability goals in everything from water and waste, to health and nutrition. Vivint has made strides in the solar industry by reducing energy expenditures. And Sprint combats one of the fastest growing forms of waste in America with its mobile phone buyback program by accepting any phone regardless of its condition or the provider it originally came from.
So how can we ensure that we are supporting companies that actually have green practices, so we aren’t tricked by marketing ploys or our own prejudices?
First, review the company’s policy as it is stated on the web site. Most businesses will post whatever green initiatives they have in order to get press and attention for their efforts. Look critically at the information that is posted. The more detailed the information, the more likely the initiative is real and not just a ploy. Look for specifics, such as measured reductions in energy consumption or contributions made to alternative energy.
Next, look at third party sources to confirm what the company is saying about itself. Check to see if the company has received any awards or recognitions for their green efforts from the media or sustainability organizations. Affiliations or certifications from green organizations are another good indicator to look for.
For a recommendation off of the company’s website, check a rating site, such as Climate Counts, which creates a scorecard on companies’ sustainability practices. One final thing you can do to research a company is to look into specific criteria for an environmentally-friendly company, such as using an efficient warehouse line with automatic labeling systems, or disposing of waste in a safe manner.
By taking the time to do your research, you will gain a better idea of which companies are actually working to preserve the planet and which are using the green movement for their own marketing efforts. Hopefully, as you gain a better understanding you will be able to support green companies in their efforts to make our world a clean and safe place to live.
Photo by Fotolia/Playstuff
Two years ago this week, a magnitude 5.7 earthquake struck near Prague, Okla., destroying fourteen houses and shaking the ground as far away as Wisconsin. The November 5, 2011, quake was the biggest ever recorded in a state where tornadoes rather than seismic disasters are the familiar hazard; therefore, it naturally drew the attention of researchers. And now federal and state geologists are warning Oklahomans that the risk of new quakes has risen significantly.
This new state of affairs is apparently connected to the activities of natural gas companies. Five months ago, a paper appeared in the journal Geology showing how injection of wastewater from oil and gas mining operations into the earth had led to the disaster. Wastewater injection has been practiced near Prague since 1993, but in the report, scientists at the University of Oklahoma, Columbia University, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) noted that the volume of waste being injected into deep holes had increased dramatically with the increasing use of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” to free natural gas from tight formations. Waste injection, they found, had caused subterranean fluid pressure to built up to the point at which it set off a cascade of small quakes that eventually triggered the record quake.
Fracking itself was not the direct cause. But the controversial gas-mining process uses vast quantities of fluids, the bulk of which return to the surface as a salty, toxic stew that requires safe disposal. Therefore, the scale-up of fracking has brought a dramatic escalation in the quantity of wastes being reinjected into old wells. (The conventional oil and gas operations that have long been a familiar feature of the Oklahoma landscape also inject wastewater, but in much smaller quantities.)
Officials at the Oklahoma Geological Survey argued at the time of the quake that it was probably "the result of natural causes." But USGS says wastewater disposal has contributed to a sudden increase in frequency of magnitude 3.0 and greater earthquakes in central Oklahoma. Numbers have gone from about two per year before 2009 to forty per year since. Last month, USGS and Oklahoma Geological Survey officials warned residents of the Oklahoma City area that they are at much higher risk of being hit by a serious quake than they were four years ago. A USGS scientist said that the patterns of tremors he's seeing “don't look like normal earthquake sequences" that would occur in the absence of injection.
Oklahoma's not the only new earthquake-hazard zone to have emerged since 2009. Quakes in the 3.0+ range occurred at a rate of twenty-one per year across the continental United States between 1967 and 2000. But since 2009 they have been hitting at an average of more than a hundred per year, according to USGS scientist William Ellsworth. The increase has been concentrated in Arkansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia. While acknowledging that it is often difficult to attribute an individual event to injection, Ellsworth has examined quakes around the country and world that, he concludes, were very likely to have been human-caused. Regarding all those other, less well-understood new quakes, his advice bears faint echoes of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's musings at the height of the war in Iraq: “Ignorance of the things that we understand we should know but do not leaves us vulnerable to unintended consequences of our actions.”
We've been warned.
Photo by Fotolia/Calin Tatu
Stan Cox is a senior scientist at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, and author most recently of Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing (The New Press, 2013).
The average household in the United States spends over 2000 dollars per year on energy for heating and cooling, lighting, running appliances and other activities. Swapping traditional light bulbs for energy-efficient bulbs is one of the easiest ways to start saving energy at home and at work, especially during fall and winter, when fewer daylight hours and cooler temperatures keep people inside. Energy-efficient light bulbs typically cost a bit more at the time of purchase, but in the long run, they’ll save you money because they last longer and use less energy.
Viewer Tip: Replacing 15 traditional incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs can save you up to 50 dollars per year in energy costs. There are plenty of options when it comes to choosing an energy-efficient bulb: energy-saving incandescent light bulbs, compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) or light emitting diodes (LEDs). Check out these facts on how energy-efficient light bulbs stack up against traditional bulbs:
Uses about 25 percent less energy.
Lasts up to three times longer.
Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL)
Uses about 75 percent less energy.
Lasts up to 10 times longer.
Emits less heat.
Light Emitting Diode (LED)
Uses about 75-80 percent less energy.
Last up to 25 times longer.
Emits less heat.
For high-quality products with the best energy savings, look for light bulbs that have earned the Energy Star.
Burned out bulb? Contact your county solid waste division or check their website to find out how to properly dispose of old light bulbs.
Labels on light bulb packages are switching from watts to lumens. What are lumens? Learn more from energy.gov.
(Sources: Department of Energy, “How Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs Compare with Traditional Incandescents,” http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/how-energy-efficient-light-bulbs-compare-traditional-incandescents; Department of Energy, “Lighting Choices to Save you Money,” http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/lighting-choices-save-you-money; Energy Star, http://www.energystar.gov/)
Don’t you sometimes wish you could live in a more progressive place than the one you live in right now? I know I do. It would be so much easier to live in a place where everyone gardens organically, bikes to work, has clean energy and recycles everything. We all know of places that seem way more advanced in sustainability when we read about them, but often I get discouraged when I think of all the work it would take to get my little corner of the world up to those standards. Places like Cambridge, Massachusetts require all new construction to be LEED certified and has a compost program that picks up organic waste from local residents, restaurants, bars and hotels. Oakland, California has the nation’s cleanest tap water, hydrogen-powered public transit and the country’s oldest wildlife refuge. Portland, Oregon is probably at the top of most lists when people think of green cities. All the good press these places get can sometimes make you feel like all you need to do is just move there and relax; because there, all things are good and green. But even the most progressive of places still need a lot of work.
Just outside of Portland in the suburb of Hillsboro, local company Eid Passport Inc. has been growing. They recently relocated to a new office building to cover the expanding needs of a company that has become the leading commercial provider of U.S. Department of Defense recognized vendor credentials. Of all the new changes this company was making, they had forgotten some of the most important ones. This is where my brother-in-law Stuart Laudert and coworker JoAnn Mueller stepped in. They formed a green team at Eid Passport and streamlined the company’s recycling program, which was basically non-existent. In April they celebrated Earth day with a paper shredding event, where information on water, energy conservation and recycling was distributed.
Stuart and the new green team didn’t stop there. They went through the whole company and made as many little, yet important, changes as they could; giving attention to items most people take for granted. The staff kitchen now uses durable dishware instead of disposable ones. They work hard to reuse as many office supplies, bubble wrap and wrapping paper as possible in order to lessen the waste produced. They replaced older lighting with CFL’s and LED’s, as well as out of date products such as thermostats and the buildings HVAC system being replaced with more efficient versions. They buy cardboard boxes from local sources to limit the shipping distance. Employee’s receive a subsidy for riding public transportation and are encouraged to ride bikes to work. The company even planned for a bike room when remodeling before they moved in the new building in 2011. All the work this team did earned them the 2013 Washington County Recycle at Work Award (You can link to the full article below).
Stuart and his fellow employees were not the owners of the company. They could have easily just carried on through their work day caring as little as the next employee; no bonuses or promotions incentivized them into motivation. They just took the time to put in a little effort because they knew it needed to be done. It’s a good reminder that these communities are not working more sustainable just because that’s how they are, they are working more sustainable because of the people who live there and the choices they make. Little changes that can start with questions like “What kind of light bulbs are we using?” “Can we buy these products from a local vendor and decrease our carbon footprint?” or “Are there any safer cleaning products that are less toxic to people and the environment?” Most of us are creatures of habit who ride the momentum of daily routine. All it takes is a few influential ones making little pushes in the right direction that eventually gets us all moving to a better rhythm.
I don’t worry anymore about going somewhere better because I know even the most progressive cities need people like Eid’s green team to get that way and lucky for them, those cities already have some. So I might as well start now and improve my own community instead of dreaming of greener pastures. Taking Stuarts example, all it takes is a few good questions and little steps every day to make my place a more sustainable, happy place.
Aaron Miller lives in Olympia Washington where he grows organic vegetables and herbs. He and his wife make natural products at home in pursuit of a simpler life. They share their products and ideas at www.themillercollection.org
Photo by courtesy of Efua Osam-Cue