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Saving Your Planet (41 posts)
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.
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.
Paper towels. You can reuse and wash Bambooee towels up to 20 times in the washing machine. It'll take you as long to use up one roll ($12.99) as it would go to through 60 rolls of regular paper towels. You can use them for everything from drying fruits and vegetables to mopping up spills.
Leftover food storage. If you're uncertain about microwaving your lunch in a plastic container, switch to Fridgex Silicone, which is free of PVC and BPA (a recent study found plastic food packaging is a major source of these potentially harmful chemicals). Fridgex's products are heat-resistant up to 430 degrees, and the 8-piece mini storage set ($24.99) is so eye-catching, it'll make yesterday's dinner look even better than it did last night.
Eben Bayer grew up on a maple syrup farm in Vermont, helping his parents chop wood and bathing in water warmed by a homemade solar heater. But it wasn't until he went away to college near Albany, New York, that he heard the word green applied to his family's way of life—and saw how his bucolic past might shape his future. While devising an eco-friendly glue for a class on invention, Bayer remembered the sticky white substance—mycelium, the "root" of a mushroom—he'd occasionally seen growing on the wood chips his family used as fuel. "And I was struck by this wild idea," he says. "Why not use mushroom roots as glue?"
Bayer's professor encouraged him to pursue the idea, and soon Bayer and a classmate, Gavin McIntyre, were growing the wet, rubbery fungus in McIntyre's apartment. They discovered it was strong enough to bind together cornhusks, rice hulls, and other inedible by-products of farming. When baked with these materials, it produced an uncannily Styrofoam-like substance. Bayer and McIntyre knew they were onto something.
After graduating in 2007, the pair cofounded Ecovative Design, a company that sells biodegradable alternatives to materials like Styrofoam, which can remain in landfills for hundreds of years. Soon they were "growing" packaging for the office furniture company Steelcase and the computer giant Dell; they also recently inked a deal with Crate & Barrel. In a 10,000-square-foot facility in upstate New York, assembly-line robots now combine mushrooms with cornhusks and other food by-products from local farms; the fungi are then left in the dark to grow and digest parts of the husks before being baked (which kills the live organisms). Bayer hopes the mushrooms will eventually be used for everything from automobile parts (to replace the foam used in bumpers, for example) to flip-flops. "Our goal is to rid the planet of harmful disposable plastics," he says. "When that bag from the supermarket finds its way into a field, I want it to be nutrients for the field."
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Find your green-collar dream job
5 simple things you can do to save the environment
Men! What are they thinking? We can't always answer that, but we'll be posting our favorite glimpses into their world in this space every Thursday.
* Meet the Slumdog Millionaire of Tasmania. (The Mercury)
* F. Sherwood Roland, savior of the ozone layer (ok, he had a little help), passed away this week at 84. (NYTimes)
* "I didn’t have the courage to get started, because I knew it would be an endless struggle."—Artist Christian Marclay on his film The Clock, a montage of clips containing all of the hours of the day. If you have a a big idea, but you're intimidated about putting it into motion, please read this profile of him. (The New Yorker)
For $20 a month, LifeSoap delivers a fresh Box of Joy to your door every four weeks, along with an update on their humanitarian projects. The company's 25-year-old founders, Juwon Melvin and Aaron Madonna, are passionate about solving the clean water crisis—and making great soap. Their bars combine organic oils with soothing ingredients like oatmeal and shea butter (and skip synthetic fragrances, colors, and preservatives). LifeSoap's first project, rehabilitating wells and building latrines at a school in Nicaragua, is already under way.
Free your mane: Gentle products for dehydrated hair
Tata Harper: The rising star of organic beauty
Val answers your top 20 skincare questions
This device hooks directly into your home's breaker panel and immediately starts tracking energy use on up to five appliances. Set a budget goal and see, for example, that running the dishwasher after dinner, when rates are often higher, will set you back more than waiting until bedtime. ($239; lowes.com)To automate your home: Control4
Program closet lights to turn off after five minutes; set all your lighting to run at 80 percent. In addition to tracking energy consumption, this sleek system allows you to control virtually all your household electronics and lighting. (Packages start at $1,500; control4.com)
A step-by-step guide to curbing your energy costs
Follow-up questions were rebuffed, but I think the idea was that we needed quarters to make the ducks go, or maybe to get food to feed the ducks, a la the petting zoo. We laughed it off as yet another city kid moment (like when my daughter responded with great curiosity at the strange term "driveway").
But according to this story from the BBC News, more and more kids—and adults—are living lives divorced from nature, and the results can be bad for your health. As we all spend more of our time plugged into various screens than we do outside, we may be suffering from what author Richard Louv calls "nature-deficit disorder." Part of the concern is that kids growing up disconnected from nature will care less about the environment and the world around them. Another concern is that we are all missing out on the health benefits of fresh air, getting dirty, and connecting with nature. A life lived indoors generally means less exercise and of course less sunlight. The article quotes a study that visitors to a green space in Yorkshire felt a greater sense of well-being. All we have to do to go outside and play. (And you don't even need to bring any quarters.)
Read the article for more on "forest schools" for children, the Japanese concept of "forest bathing," and other ways we can get more outside time in our inside lives.
The Nature Principle
Oprah's Favorite Place