Is it Easy Being Green?

My daily adventures in attempting an environmentally-friendly lifestyle

Beautiful Green Thing #4 March 31, 2009

Filed under: beautiful green things — isgreeneasy @ 5:06 pm
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You may have heard that last week, the First Lady, the White House Horticulturist, White House kitchen staff and 23 5th graders broke ground for what will be the White House Kitchen Garden. The 1,100-square foot site will include spinach, broccoli, sugar snap peas, carrots, herbs, collard greens and more. Check out the layout. I hear there won’t be any beets–the President doesn’t like them. I guess I’ll let that slide.

Mrs. Obama is doing a wonderful thing by starting this garden. She’s making a statement about the importance of healthy, local food as well as the ability of many of us to grow at least some of our own food. We can save money, decrease the food industry’s huge impact on the environment and enjoy the benefits of flavorful, colorful, fresh food. The garden is near the girls’ swing set. In the midst of hard times beautiful things can happen. This is one of them.

The First Lady and elementary school kids break ground for the new White House Kitchen Garden.

The First Lady and elementary school kids break ground for the new White House Kitchen Garden.

Mrs. Obama and the kids work on preparing the soil for the garden.

Mrs. Obama and the kids work on preparing the soil for the garden.

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I Must Compost! March 23, 2009

Filed under: composting — isgreeneasy @ 1:50 pm
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Several posts ago I wrote about my strong desire to compost in my apartment, and listed a few options for how I might do that. I decided to go with the plastic garbage can route, mainly because it seemed like an easy, cheap and mobile way to compost on my balcony.

I started out by buying a small garbage can with a locking lid. With the help of my husband, we drilled holes throughout the container, on the bottom and sides. The holes are small, but big enough to let air in and liquid out.

Drilling holes into the bottom of the container

Drilling holes into the bottom of the container

Drilling holes into the sides

Drilling holes into the sides

I then started building the bin by creating layers of “browns” (carbon) and “greens” (nitrogen). It’s important to have a balance between these materials for the composting process to occur properly. I began by putting a layer of shredded newspaper in the bottom of the bin. Newspaper will be serving as the main brown material in my compost bin.

Shredded newspaper at the bottom of the bin

Shredded newspaper at the bottom of the bin

Next, I added my first layer of greens to the bin. I had been saving kitchen scraps in freezer bags for weeks, so I had a good supply of material ready to go. It’s truly amazing to see how much kitchen waste, in size and weight, comes from organic materials.Yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 24 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream (US EPA). Since I’ve started collecting it, the frequency that we need to take out the garbage has drastically reduced. And, the smell has drastically improved!

Layer of kitchen scraps added to the bin

Layer of kitchen scraps added to the bin

I continued layering, with the next layer of browns largely consisting of dried grass, leaves and twigs from my flower pots on the balcony. It was around this time that I cut off the tip of my finger, but I won’t get into that. I’ll just say to ALWAYS WEAR GLOVES when composting or gardening! Days later, I’m still having a hard time typing, among other things that I need my finger for. (I just hope the tip went in the compost bin.) I know, gross!

Layer of dried plants and grass

Layer of dried plants and grass

One more layer of greens…

More greens

More greens

Then, a final layer of browns (always having browns on top is a good idea) and some water. Moisture is very important to composting. The material should always be the consistency of a wrung-out sponge.

Final layer of browns and some added water

Final layer of browns and some added water

I clamped on the lid (yes, I was doing all of this one-handed) and picked a spot for the bin to stay on the balcony. After noticing some water come out of the bottom, I realized it should have a tray under it. I think a huge flower pot tray should do the trick.

Now the question is, will this work on a balcony? Will the critters find their way into it and create composting magic? Stay tuned to find out; I’ll write an update later this spring.

 

Beautiful Green Thing #3 March 18, 2009

Filed under: beautiful green things — isgreeneasy @ 8:36 pm
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Love design. Love green. When the two come together, it’s a beautiful thing. Greener Gadgets has just had a competition for designing green electronics and the competitors came up with some amazing concepts. Here are a few:

BugPlug is an energy-saving gadget that has a built-in motion sensor, turning off all connected devices (through powerstrips) when it detects no motion. And it’s so cute!

bugplug

Fastronauts are toys that will power lights, sounds, speedometer and odometer in response to a child pedaling their bike.

fastronauts

This indoor drying rack is made of bamboo and recycled aluminum and is designed for apartment dwellers or anyone for whom drying clothes outside isn’t an option. It folds up so it’s out of the way when not in use.

dryingrack

Lightimus is a decorative solar-powered lamp. One side has solar panels that can collect sunlight during the day, and the other side is composed of LED lights that can be used at night.

lightimus

See many more green gadget designs!

 

Grounds for Change March 12, 2009

A day of nothing but tasting, smelling and talking about coffee? I’m in! Yes, I like my java. I was feeling caffeinated just walking into the room of Coffee Fest, a coffee trade show recently held at Navy Pier. It was open only to coffee industry people, so with media credentials hanging on my neck, I felt especially cool as I made my way in to mingle with all the hip baristas.

Coffee is an enormous industry; it’s the world’s second most valuable traded commodity. What goes along with that is a lot of environmental and social impact along every step of the process, from bean to cup. Poor conditions for workers, farmers being taken advantage of, degradation of the land and the waste created by disposable cups are among the many issues involved in coffee production. And don’t forget about the quantities of water and energy used. Until recent years I doubt that most of us thought about all of these things, but today it’s hard to not be aware of concepts like fair trade, shade-grown, organic and bringing your own cup.

The growing awareness and demand for more responsible coffee was apparent everywhere I looked at Coffee Fest: it seemed like almost every coffee company at the event had something to say about direct trade, sustainability and organic coffee, or compostable cups and even more natural and organic syrups and pastries.

The folks from Eco Products had a great display of their plant-based cups that look like plastic or paper but are actually compostable. They even had straws, stirrers, cup sleeves and a brand new cup lid. So cool!

Eco Products

Eco Products

Eco Products cups and lids

Eco Products cups and lids

One of my favorite stops of the day was at Cupcoat Expressions. They had a really eye-catching display of paperboard cup sleeves (how did it become a necessity to have one of those things on your coffee cup?) on the floor equalling the number of cup sleeves the average person uses each year.

Display of paperboard sleeves used in a year by one person

Display of paperboard sleeves used in a year by one person

Cupcoats are reusable cup sleeves made out of fabric–cotton, bamboo or even jute. They come in a ton of styles, from basic solid colors to a ridiculous (in a good way) pink fuzzy option. They were nice enough to give me a cupcoat and I have since been carrying it around in my purse. (So far it’s been like getting into the habit of using reusable shopping bags: I keep forgetting. I know I shouldn’t be using paper cups anyway, but I’ve already admitted I’m not perfect.)

Cup coats made from natural materials

Cup coats made from natural materials

While the barista competition echoed from across the hall, I spoke to people about their efforts to create relationships with coffee farmers, establish values and guidelines in how they conduct business and carry out environmental audits in their facilities. Companies like Zingerman’s, Intelligentsia and PT’s emphasized their values of quality and sustainability. They personally know who grows their coffee, and they want us to as well.

Intelligentsia baristas making their fabulous coffee

Intelligentsia baristas making their fabulous coffee

I have to throw in here that I was a little distressed by all the trash I saw piling up everywhere. Disposable sample containers, plastic bottles and paper handouts–almost all of which did not need to be garbage–added up fast. This was a typical garbage can by early afternoon:

Unnecessary garbage

Unnecessary garbage

After making my way through every square inch of the show (I took it easy on the espresso shots) I felt encouraged about the direction coffee, or at least specialty coffee, is going. But, although these companies are heading in the right direction (and some have been leading the ground-breaking way), many were still selling traditional coffee. Then, it’s up to the retailers and consumers to decide whether they want to pay higher prices for the more responsible option. And of course the coffee giants, whose coffee makes up the majority of the coffee consumed in the world, aren’t as evolved and will need some nudging to change.

This is where we come in: We need to put our dollars toward reponsible coffee and help turn the industry into a much healthier one for all of us coffee lovers. And ditto for tea. I’ve been buying organic coffee for awhile now, but I’m going to make sure it’s also fair trade. It might hurt a bit to spend more, but I really believe that after thinking about how huge the coffee industry is, and how much impact we could make by making smart choices, it’s a no brainer to get the good coffee. I’m pretty sure it’s going to taste better too, plus I can wake up with a lighter conscience.

 

Beautiful Green Thing #2 March 3, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I visited the Garfield Park Conservatory for the first time and attended their “Sweet Saturdays” event. What fun! While enjoying the surroundings, I walked around and stopped at stations positioned throughout the garden where volunteers would talk about, show examples of and share samples of sweets that grow right there. I sampled multiple forms of chocolate, candied ginger, honey, coffee, and cinnamon candy. Cinnamon comes from the bark of a tree? Vanilla comes from an orchid plant? Who knew? This event was such a great way to draw connections among the things that we eat and where they come from. And I realized I still have much more to learn.

The conservatory was far more impressive in size and variety of plants than I expected, and I enjoyed my brief time out of winter and into this fantasy world of green. I was thrilled to see glass lily pads in the pond by artist Dale Chihuly. It was peaceful, warm and lush. This is my beautiful green thing of the week.

View across the conservatory

View across the conservatory

waterfall

waterfall

gorgeous flowers

gorgeous flowers

Chihuly lily pads

Chihuly lily pads

Lily pads close-up

Lily pads close-up