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Kate Rockwood (33 posts)
First, the bad news: A warm winter followed by a wet spring usually means a buggy summer, as insects like mosquitoes and ticks thrive in the type of weather we've had this year. Now, the worse news: For most of us, keeping those bugs at bay means loading up on gross-smelling, cough-inducing insect repellent. Most of these contain DEET (a compound that's been linked to skin irritation and headaches, and which the EPA classifies as slightly toxic) and parabens (a preservative that can harm aquatic life if you go for a dip outdoors).
That's why we love Cold Spring Apothecary's all-natural bug spray, which uses natural oils like lavender and lemongrass to repel insects. Even better than its eco-credentials: The sweet, floral spray actually works. ($8.50, coldspringapothecary.com)
Now, there's a way to pack your grub but leave your guilt behind. The Cooler Box by Cascades is a foam-free, recyclable cooler made from 70 percent post-consumer cardboard. Fill it with ice, and the cooler's waterproof interior lining keeps burgers or beach fixins frosty for up to 36 hours—just as long as traditional options. Talk about cool! ($15, boutique.cascades.com)
A few years ago, I bought myself a sleek little desk lamp with a solar panel built into its base. I thrilled at the thought of harnessing the sun to power late nights at my desk—both lowering my electricity bill and lessening my drain on the planet. But my eco-honeymoon was short-lived: My desk isn’t positioned near the slim window in my home office, meaning to fully charge that little lamp I had to move it back and forth between the desk and windowsill each morning and night. It’s no surprise that my green dream had been abandoned within the week, that lamp left to gather dust (and induce guilt) on the desk.
So when I first heard about the Solar Monkey Adventure, I had my doubts: After thirty-plus years of plugging in, could I train myself to sometimes rely on the sun? And could solar ever feel more convenient than electricity?
It took one long weekend at the beach to convince me that the answer is yes. The Solar Monkey Adventure is two slim solar panels that charge mobile devices like cell phones and iPads. The brilliance of the new gadget isn’t that setting it on your windowsill lets you charge your phone at home—though you can do that—it’s that tucking the lightweight device into your suitcase guarantees you can get a charge on the go, whether you’re hiking mountains (a Velcro strap securely attaches it to backpacks) or, like me, lounging near the water’s edge, fully charged cell phone happily in hand.
Digging through county archives, Holt-Orsted was stunned to learn that as late as the 1980s, industrial waste had been dumped into a landfill near the Holts' well. When the state tested the well in 1988 and found the carcinogen trichloroethylene (TCE), the results were chalked up to an error. In 1991, after further tests, the Holts were told their water was safe to drink. Their well went untested for the next nine years, during which time area white families' water was tested, found to be contaminated, and the families were advised not to drink it. It wasn't until 2000 that the Holts' well was finally tested again and deemed unsafe.
"During my treatment, I thought, 'If I live through this, I'm going to hold someone responsible,'" Holt-Orsted says. While recovering, she spoke to science professors about TCE's structure, met with local officials, and organized town hall forums to galvanize her neighbors.
When my three-year-old niece is in an independent mood, even the simplest task -- pouring a bowl of cereal -- can take 20 minutes. I recently watched her struggle triumphantly to open a new box of Lucky Charms, then stop when she spotted the plastic bag nestled inside. She shot me a look with more exasperation than I thought a toddler could muster. "Why does it need both?" she asked.
Great question, especially when you consider the natural resources that go into manufacturing all those boxes and transporting them to the breakfast table. Each year, roughly 345 million pounds of paperboard are used to make 2.3 billion cereal boxes in the U.S. That's the paperboard equivalent of three great pyramids, or the weight of nearly 750,000 jumbo jets.
Buying bagged cereal isn't just a smart cost-saving strategy; it can have an eco-impact as well. Three Sisters Cereal -- including yummy takes on shredded wheat squares, marshmallow oats, and cocoa rice crisps -- use 75 percent less consumer packaging than boxed brands. Even better, the electricity used to make the resealable cereal bags is powered by wind energy. Think of that next big bowl of cereal and milk as one small way to help the planet, before you've even finished your morning coffee.
Determining if your toilet has a leak is quick and painless. “Put a few drops of food coloring in your toilet tank,” says Stephanie Thorton, a representative with the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program. “Check back after 15 minutes and if the color has seeped in, you have a leak.” (Make sure to flush afterward, to avoid staining the toilet bowl.)
Fixing a leak is almost as easy as spotting it: The usual culprit is the toilet’s rubber flapper, which can decay over time. A replacement part costs a couple of bucks at any hardware store, and takes only a few minutes to install. Your reward for putting the brakes on that one small, sneaky leak? Up to 1,000 gallons of water saved every month—and the back-pat that comes with doing your part for the planet.
DIY Movie Popcorn at Home
One way that fresh popcorn trumps the prepackaged version is the rich, buttery aroma--until now. This summer, Popcorn, Indiana is launching a new type of bag that allows you to tear a small hole to vent the bag and then warm up the popcorn in the microwave. (Traditional bags spark and may catch fire if you tried to zap them.) The popcorn is tasty eaten cold from the bag and phenomenal when warmed.
Super-Natural, Gourmet Popcorn (from the Microwave!)
When the US Environmental Protection Agency tested the steam that rises from conventional microwave popcorn bags, the agency identified nearly four dozen different chemicals. But Quinn Popcorn’s microwave bags are free of Teflon and plastic and are made from compostable paper. Even better? The flavors are awesome: Parmesan and rosemary, Vermont maple and sea salt, and lemon and sea salt. Little packets of seasoning let you customize the flavor with as much or as little intensity as you'd like.
Disposable may be a dirty word when you’re trying to ease your burden on the planet, but when’s the last time you carried two dozen cups to the park for a BBQ or had 30 glasses on hand for hosting book club? The next time you're entertaining a giant group, go green and stay sane: Swap traditional plastic cups for Repurpose’s compostable version.
Traditional throw-away plastic cups are manufactured from petroleum—meaning they won’t biodegrade and will hang around landfills hundreds of years after you’ve polished off that glass of sangria. Repurpose’s eco cups are made from plants, are biodegradable, and compost completely in 90 days. “We’ve found they’re really popular on college campuses,” says Lauren Gropper, who co-founded the company. Beer-pong with an eco-conscious? That’s a game we can get behind.
Jerry Seinfeld once said that trying Pop-Tarts for the first time as a kid “blew the back of my head off.” And though I haven’t touched Pop-Tarts for the better part of a decade, suddenly foodie versions of the foil-wrapped breakfast treats are everywhere: At a recent festival, I feasted on San Francisco-based Black Jet Bakery’s flaky, buttery pastry dough enveloping pockets of brown sugar, apricot jam or—brace yourself—jalapeno-cream-cheese, which was as scrumptious as it sounds strange. A good friend served a platter of vanilla-glazed, jam-stuffed toaster pastries from the famous Boston bakery Flour at her birthday party, in lieu of a cake. While shopping for gift ideas for my has-everything-she’ll-ever-need mother, I saw a toaster pastry press at Williams Sonoma.
So when Alana Chernila’s new book, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making, landed on my desk—with a picture of powdered sugar-dusted toaster pastries on the cover, no less!—I was ready to take the hint.
Breyers Blasts! Mrs. Fields Mint Fudge Brownie
Packed full of chewy baked bits of chocolate goodness. ($5; grocery stores)
Salt & Straw Arbequina Olive Oil
A sophisticated marriage of milky ice cream and the subtly peppery oil of the Arbequina olive. ($65 for five pints; saltandstraw.com)
Häagen-Dazs Salted Caramel Truffle
A sweet cream base with caramel-filled chocolates and swirls of sticky sugar. ($5; grocery stores)
Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Nougat Crunch
Studded with crisp, fudge-covered wafers. ($4.50; grocery stores)
Adonia Raspberry Greek Frozen Yogurt by Ciao Bella
Tart berries meet the natural tang—and irresistible thick creaminess—of Greek yogurt. ($5; ciaobellagelato.com)
Sunny lemon cake recipe
Peppermint ice cream
Mini ice cream cookie cups