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2012-happy-new-year

It’s that time again – New Years Resolution time! Many of the classic promises to yourself (losing weight, saving money, learning a new skill) make everyone’s list, but this year we challenge you to make some green resolutions! Not only will you benefit from some sustainable choices – the planet will too!

1. Start being more mindful of leaving lights on and appliances and chargers plugged in. This is energy waste, and by getting the whole family involved (make it a home challenge, for example – someone leaves a light on? they have to do the dishes that night!) you can make lifelong habits happen. Those appliances and cell phone chargers that aren’t currently charging anything are using a lot of power of the course of the year – so unplug ’em!

2. Re-do the insulation and duct work in your home. A lot of heat and energy escape from aging homes, and now you can get eco-friendly insulation to replace fiberglass insulation that most homes use.

3. Try to eat more locally! This can be done by sourcing out what food grows within 100 miles of your home. Try and get to 75% of your total groceries locally, and you will improve the economy, the environment and your family’s health and well-being.

4. Consider eating vegetarian one day a week. A new movement called Meatless Mondays suggest using the first day of the week to prepare non-meat meals for your household. If everyone in the US had one meat-free day each week, it would reduce carbon emissions equal to taking 8 million cars off the road.

5. Christmas has just past, but for next year, switch to energy-efficient lights and a real Christmas tree garnered from a sustainable tree grower. Check out our post on having an eco-friendly Holiday season!

6. Commit to not buying bottled water. This cannot be overstated. Plastic water bottles are a huge dirge on our planet, and even though millions of people have stopped buying them, millions continue to do so. Plus, bottled water isn’t better than tap water.

7. Stock up on some good, reusable canvas grocery bags. Make 2012 the year you stop using plastic bags completely. Those plastic grocery bags, even if you use them again, are way too prevalent, and they are choking our planet with their sheer numbers.

8. Make the environment something that is considered and discussed regularly in your home, especially if you have kids. Teach them about the importance of recycling, and the facts about carbon emissions and clean water. Kids should be aware of just how precious and rare having clean water is. Our kids are the next in charge of this planet, and we want to make sure they have incredible respect for the fragile planet we call home.

Christmas+tree+farm

For many years, people thought that an artificial Christmas tree was the better choice for the environment. After all, you can re-use the fake tree year after year, and you don’t have to take a tree out of the forest.

In the past decade, there has been a growing resurgence of the Christmas tree farm, which are farms that grow trees specifically for use in people’s homes. These farm are at the forefront of conservation agriculture. The trees emit clean oxygen during their 10-15 year growth period and they don’t need a lot of extra irrigation. An acre of growing Douglas fir trees can absorb 11,308.7 lbs of carbon dioxide every year. Add to that the fact that these trees will grow in ground that is otherwise not suitable for any other kind of crop.

In regards to artificial trees, they are generally made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which is a petroleum product, and so therefore can never be recycled. The average lifetime for these plastic trees (before they are replaced) is around 7-9 years, and then they are thrown away. It’s also worth mentioning, that the longer the PVC tree is in your home, the more toxic it becomes, emitting of a number of carcinogens, such as dioxin, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride. According to the Environmental Protection Agency:

“Artificial Christmas trees made of PVC degrade under normal conditions. About 50 million U.S. households have artificial Christmas trees, of which about 20 million are at least nine years old, the point at which dangerous lead exposures can occur.”

The Children’s Health Environmental Coalition warns that artificial trees “may shed lead-laced dust, which may cover branches or shower gifts and the floor below the tree.” Lastly, 85% of the artificial Christmas trees sold in North America are made in China, so you can also add a long carbon-heavy journey across the planet as another point against these fake trees.

So if the decision isn’t an obvious one by now, then take it from us. A real Christmas tree is the more beautiful, more eco-friendly choice.

Eco-Friendly Gift Wrapping

Tis the season of waste! Every year millions of people buy non-recycled virgin wrapping paper to wrap their gifts up. Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you are looking to change this seemingly harmless habit.

If you’ve had a chance to read my post on Eco-Friendy Christmas gift giving then you’re already on track to lowering your holiday carbon footprint. Next, to wrap those crafty home made or battery-less gifts, here are a few ideas to ensure you are being as sustainable as possible.

Reuse, Recycle, Re-purpose

Sure, buying recycled gift wrap is a step in the right direction but don’t forget that anything that is commercially recycled still has to be collected, processed, re-printed, packed and then shipped, most likely in a gas guzzling truck, to your local store. Why not do that recycling locally in your own home and reuse existing paper and packaging supplies. Here are some quick recycled wrapping ideas:

• Reuse packaging from previous gifts you’ve received. It’s not re-gifting if it’s just the box, tin or canister it came in!
• Old magazines are great as wrapping paper. Use old music or fashion magazines that your teenagers have given approval for reuse and I guarantee they will love them more than little elves or Rudolph.
• The relatives will love wrapping paper made from the kid’s coloring books or daily drawings brought home from school. Of course be sure to clear this with the kid’s so they don’t feel like you don’t appreciate all their hard work! Once you explain the benefits of green gift giving I’m sure they will be more than happy to help out.

Reusable Tote Bags

We all can agree wrapping paper looks beautiful under your brightly lite (with energy saving LED lights) Christmas Tree (sustainably harvested or homemade recycled Christmas tree) but you can also find some very beautiful, or holiday themed, creative, or just plain witty recycled tote bags which are always a great replacement for wrapping paper. The wrapping now becomes a gift in it self that they can use in the future in replacement of plastic bags.

heritage-turkeys

It goes without saying that the star of the Thanksgiving dinner is the turkey. Most of us want to enjoy these traditions, but also want to make the right choices for the environment, and for the sake of healthy. It must start with where you are going to get your bird. Your local big-box grocery store is likely packed to the brim with ready-to-roast turkeys, and of course that seems like the easiest route. It’s not, however, the best choice for planet Earth, and if we are to be thankful this Thanksgiving, let’s start by being grateful for this spinning rock we call home.

The best place to get your turkey is from the turkey farm closest to your home. This way, the turkey hasn’t been shipped hundreds of miles in a gas-guzzling truck, and has gone through less storage and freezing.

Many farmers use organic methods to raise their turkeys. The definition of “organic” is often misused by larger farms and companies, so make sure you do your research. Websites like Local Harvest carefully select farms which raise these birds in a truly organic way, so if you find a farm there you can be assured that the turkeys there that are “certified organic” have been fed organic feed throughout their lives, and have not been treated with antibiotics.

Some turkeys on LocalHarvest are labeled “pastured.” This means that they grew up outside in the sun, and are free to roam the pastures. “Free range” birds are also free of confinement, but may have been kept in a barn, instead of being allowed to run around the outside. There is also a growing interest in Heritage turkeys.

According to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy:
“Heritage turkeys are defined by the historic, range-based production system in which they are raised. Turkeys must meet all of the following criteria to qualify as a Heritage turkey:

1. Naturally mating: the Heritage Turkey must be reproduced and genetically maintained through natural mating, with expected fertility rates of 70-80%. This means that turkeys marketed as “heritage” must be the result of naturally mating pairs of both grandparent and parent stock.

2. Long productive outdoor lifespan: the Heritage Turkey must have a long productive lifespan. Breeding hens are commonly productive for 5-7 years and breeding toms for 3-5 years. The Heritage Turkey must also have a genetic ability to withstand the environmental rigors of outdoor production systems.

3. Slow growth rate: the Heritage Turkey must have a slow to moderate rate of growth. Today’s heritage turkeys reach a marketable weight in about 28 weeks, giving the birds time to develop a strong skeletal structure and healthy organs prior to building muscle mass. This growth rate is identical to that of the commercial varieties of the first half of the 20th century.”

Check out LocalHarvest.org for a full listing of the organic farms that can provide you with a turkey that is truly organic, and will make this Thanksgiving extra sustainable.

Eco-Friendly Kids Building Blocks

In my opinion Christmas gift giving has become insane! For the most part people overspend money they don’t have to buy things that people don’t really need. Don’t get me wrong, I think giving a gift or two is fun and exciting, especially if you’ve made it yourself. But it has just gone too far commercially and there is too much pressure to spend, spend, spend. Even if you aren’t crafty enough to make your own gifts, you don’t need to spend a bunch of money to give a wonderful gift.

First we need to rethink our gift giving and look for gifts that:
• Are non-material objects
• Use natural resources in a sustainable fashion
• Have an extended shelf life

Here are some common gifts from some common gift categories that I consider to be eco-friendly:

Clothing

Basically anything made from organic cotton, bamboo, hemp or recycled fleece would do. T-shirts, PJs, sweaters, long-johns, hats all come in these eco-friendly materials, you just have to source them.

Candles

Recycle all your old wax and make some cool custom candles for your friends and family for gifts. Or if you don’t have any spare wax lying around to recycle then you can purchase some beeswax candles with all cotton wicks or rustic pebble candles. Just be sure to avoid conventional fossil fuel based candles.

Kids toys

Avoid the plastics, which I know really narrows down your choices, but there are still the staples, the toys we grew up on as kids before all the G.I. Joe’s and a million different Barbie dolls. I’m talking about hardwood blocks and building sets. If you are handy enough you can make these yourself from scrap wood around the house, otherwise you can get FSC-certified blocks. Or art supply sets, books, a membership to the museum or local aquarium. Basically anything that doesn’t require batteries to run it.

Sweets and Wine

This one is an easy one, to make the switch to a more eco-friendly stocking just be sure to buy organic or fair-trade when it comes to your treats like chocolate or coffee beans. You can source out organic vineyards for your wine choices as well. If you have the time be sure to do a little deeper analysis of the companies you are choosing to buy from; just because it says “organic” on the package doesn’t always mean they are using all the best green practices rather just trying to jump on the organic band wagon.

Recycled Eco-Friendly Rustic Christmas Tree

It’s a debate that many families have around the holiday season; which is better for the family Christmas tree, real or fake? Both offer pros and cons but in this instance that opens up both options to preference, as long as you take into consideration some facts and make a commitment to your choice.

Real Christmas Trees

Many don’t realize that real Christmas trees bought from local retailers are in fact a sustainably harvested product. All real Christmas trees carried by retailers are not from virgin forests but rather harvested from tree farms. There is however the major downfall of the fossil fuels consumed to cut these farm trees down and transport them to your local retailer. Then of course, unless you are the previous governor of California, you need to tack on the addition fossil fuels you burn from your home and back. Unless you are driving your fully electric vehicle recharged by renewable energy. Baby steps, I know!

Don’t forget, if you do decide to buy a real Christmas tree make sure you check your city’s tree and post-holiday pickup schedule. You city services will pick your tree up, turn it into wood chips and recycle it as mulch. Wouldn’t you be much happier to know that the tree you spent the holidays with went to gardens versus the landfill?

Fake Trees

Fake trees also have there pros and cons. The cons are in the manufacturing process and the amount of fuel, mainly large amounts of petroleum, used. It’s a large impact at first but overall if you were to buy a fake tree and use it during the next few decades you would be reducing your carbon footprint versus buying a real tree every year. If you decide to go the fake root than be sure to find a tree you like, don’t go buying a new tree each year!

Rustic Recycled Home Made Tree

If you’re feeling crafty and can handle not having the typical green, but rather the real green Christmas tree, than you might consider building your own simple tree from lumber you can recycle. You can see in this post’s image an example, it’s quite simple to find scrap lumber around your home, town, or city and you can make the tree as simple or extravagant as you would like. You can still find ways to hang all your traditional ornaments and will make for a great conversation piece around the fire, just be sure not to keep it too close to the fire! : )

Eco-Friendly Decorations

As many (most) of you, my favorite time of the year is Christmas. A time where family and friends come together to share good food, conversation, sometimes gifts, and bragging rights about decorations exceeding expectations. Though this time is precious with loved ones that doesn’t mean we can’t be aware and minimize the costs of celebrating to the environment and our own pocket. Below are some very simple ways to reduce your energy use, bills and overall carbon footprint.

1. Use Fiber Optic Decorations

The best way to reduce your carbon footprint over the holiday season is to decorate with fiber optic lights, even more so than energy-efficient light bulbs. Fiber optics only require one light source that is illuminated down the cables, drastically reducing energy needed compared to multiple bulbs each requiring current.

2. Timing Christmas Lights

A simple notion – Only turn on the lights when needed. There is no point in turning on your Christmas lights during the day but so many people do this. Some out of sheer ignorance but most due to the fact that they just forgot to turn them off from the night before. Using an inexpensive timer will allow you to ensure the lights are off during the day when the bulbs will be using unnecessary energy competing with natural light and automatically turn on the lights only during the peak evening hours when needed.

3. Use LED Christmas Lights

Costing on average only $10 a strand and consuming 90% less electricity compared to regular Christmas lights and regular incandescent bulbs, LED Christmas lights are a no brainer for the holiday season.

4. Use Candles to Light the Room

In my opinion rustic candles are more beautiful than a strand of Christmas lights any day of the week. Candles are a great way to light up a room during the holiday season and have the added bonus of emitting heat to help keep the furnace use down. Negligible some might say, but I say every little bit helps and in my small 580 square foot loft it makes an undeniable difference in temperature. If you really want to push the envelope you can be sure to recycle the wax from the candles!

5. Turn the Tree On, Turn the Lights Off

If your beautifully decorated tree that spent that whole afternoon on is lit up is there really any need to have the lights on? No. Not only will you be saving the energy use from unnecessary lights on but you will be enhancing the Christmas atmosphere.

6. Turn Down the Thermostat

With all those candles burning you can surely turn down the thermostat, especially once all your family and friend arrive and share their natural body heat!

7. Eco-Friendly Energy-free Gifts

Did you know that 40% of all battery purchases are made during the holiday season? Take this into consideration when you are doing your Christmas shopping this year. Buy energy-free gifts that don’t require power or gifts that make use of renewable sources such as solar. At the very least, if you can’t avoid a gift that requires batteries be absolutely sure to include rechargeable batteries.

Christmas-tree-watering

Nothing makes the holiday feel more festive than a live Christmas tree (that you buy from a farm that grows trees for the season) in your home. But there are ways to keep your live tree last longer, look better, and smell fresh throughout the entire holiday season.

If you can get the people to cut 1/4 inch off the bottom of the tree before you get it home, do so. Otherwise, when you get home, use a saw to do a straight cut right of the bottom. This will work wonders to keep the tree fresh.

Make sure you don’t put the tree close to heating vents or cold drafts. The constant heat or cold temperatures can hasten the drying out of your tree.

Then of course, make sure your tree is getting water. You can do this with an automatic Christmas tree watering system, or you can do it the old-fashioned way, and just keep making sure that the tree is sitting in a couple inches of water in it’s stand.

eco halloween

It’s Halloween, every kid’s favorite holiday and a great opportunity to go green! Some of the best ways to make Halloween a more eco-friendly event is to really pay attention to how much plastic you are using. Plastic shows up everywhere at this time of year, from decorations, to costumes, to the treat containers your kids use to collect their loot!

Instead of giving your kids one of those plastic pumpkin loot buckets, get them to use a re-usable grocery bag that you’ve sewn or glued some Halloween fabric shapes onto!

Another thing to try and avoid are those throwaway plastic costumes that you can get almost anywhere these days. They barely last one Halloween and end up in a landfill – not decomposing ever. Make your kids costumes out of old fabric, and then get into trading costumes with other parents!

As far as decorations go, try to use as little plastic as possible, and if you can, try and save and re-use those plastic decorations for as many years as you can get out of them. Don’t buy new, cheap plastic ornamentals every year and throw them away once the season is over, the earth can’t handle all our garbage as it is!

eco friendly candles

The first thing I like to do on a chilly fall night, is light a few autumnal scented candles around my house. I love the warm and comforting light they give off, and the delightful scents that permeate by little home for hours. Of course, I want to make sure that I’m choosing the best candles for the environment, so I did a little research on which ones are the least harmful.

But are regular candles actually harmful? Some are! Candle soot is a form of indoor air pollution. The US Environmental Protection Agency has found that paraffin candles release carbon soot, which in addition to blackening walls, ceilings, and furniture, can contaminate ventilation ducts and add potential carcinogens to the air. Never use candles that have metal wicks and look carefully at aromatherapy candles – as they are notorious for serious soot. Another candle ingredient – paraffin – is a petroleum product, which is not a renewable resource and is a polluting material.

For the green home, I recommend three kinds of candles: Beeswax, soy and palm oil. Beeswax candles smell wonderful, they are nontoxic, soot-free, and non-allergenic. They’re completely renewable and they burn much longer than regular paraffin candles. Candles made from soybean-based wax are often vegan, they do not create and they are biodegradable. They also super slow burners – so they will last longer, making them far more economical! Palm oil candles get their wax comes from coconuts so they are wonderfully renewable. They burn super clean and they last a really long time.

Read the label carefully, especially if you are vegan. Many candles are made with stearic acid, which is an animal-derived fat that comes from meatpacking plants.