Thursday, July 31, 2008

Going Dutch

Mom Go Green has been running a fun “Green Genius” contest, soliciting and posting tips from readers. While I was reading these I noticed a post about a Dutch practice that is genius itself in its simplicity. Dutch residents simply post stickers Nee or Ja as to whether or not they want to receive promotional (junk) mail, and do the same for the daily paper. These dual sided stickers grace a bank of mailboxes in one of the blog’s photos, underscoring the simple logic of recipient choice. I posted in May about a similar practice in Canada, courtesy of the Year of Living Greener blog.

Why are such simple solutions so difficult to implement here in the U.S.? Beats me, but it seems silly that, try as I might, I can’t get the mail carrier to stop leaving the glut of weekly glossy (and wholly unwanted) fliers, which she said she’s obligated to deliver since the sender has paid for the mailing. Yet another reason to Go Dutch!

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Mango Paper. And Banana, Lemon, and Coffee.

In this week’s Ecobunga! newsletter, I stumbled across a whole world of “tree-free” paper. Made from what I gather are the bi-products from fruit and coffee processing, combined with some post-consumer content recycled paper, has a very pretty array made from your choice of mangoes, lemons, bananas, or even coffee. The site says all the paper is laser printer compatible, and the Banana Paper looks like it might be white. The venture started as a way to make use of the waste products from Costa Rican banana and coffee production. It’s an intriguing concept (and summery), so I thought I’d share. And now I want a mango and some coffee . . . who knew paper could make me hungry?

Image © 2008 by

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Monday, July 28, 2008

July Update: Cooling Off Sumer Energy Use

Ouch. Ater a strong start, our latest electric bill is a big step backward. The mid-July bill shows we used 334 kWh in the invoice period, a big increase from 2007. I knew we might be up a bit since I was out of town for a couple weeks this time last year, but I still thought it would balance out with a lot of nights that were cool enough to do without the a/c. Moral of the story: it’s useful to have an independent confirmation of energy usage, since one’s own perceptions may not be accurate.

Here’s where we are
. Meter readings and dates (better month bolded):
  • June 2007: 276 kWh / June 2008: 179 kWh
  • July 2007: 236 kWh / July 2008: 334 kWh
  • August 2007: 476 kWh
  • September 2007: 232 kWh
  • TOTALS: Summer 2008: ???? / Summer 2007: 1220 kWh
So far we’re almost exactly almost exactly the same as last year at this time (513 kWh this year, vs. 512 kWh at this point last year). Not good news since we’re moving into the hottest part of the summer. If anyone has tips, send ’em on over!

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Dancin' Friday . . . With Furry Monsters!

Will I get tired of posting danceable videos every Friday? As if. For this week’s installment: apparently a lot of people love to hate the Feist song that saturated the airwaves a few months ago in the iPod Nano commercials. (I actually like it, but that’s me.) Sesame Street has revived it in an altered version (which BoingBoing has declared more palatable) celebrating counting to 4, with monsters, penguins, and chickens on vacation. Maybe not so much dancing as loping and bouncy walking, but it works for Friday for me.

Happy Friday!

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

350 Thursday: Carbon-Free Electricity

I blogged last month about, the group determined to reduce the world’s carbon emissions ratio back down to less than 350 ppm — soon — in hopes of staving off irreparable environmental consequences. Al Gore was on this topic earlier this week, in his call for carbon-free electricity within the next ten years.

What can one person do? has started a campaign to encourage utility companies to work faster toward renewable energy — not just as a special program, which many already offer and I know a bunch of us already utiilize, but for all customers. Find more information, including phone and email contact info for the country’s 25 largest utilities, as well as a form to include in your next bill, at Make Your Utility Carbon Free!

Today’s mitzvah: I’ll bug my power company, if you will, too!

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Finding A Good Home for All That Zucchini

When I was in college the local food co-op hit a point each summer when they resorted to a hand-written sign posted on the door: “Please! No more zucchini!” in response to the avalanche of give-away produce that overwhelmed local gardeners left outside the store. Now there’s a better solution. The always lovely PBJ shared a link to a cool story on the My Hero Project (which BTW is a great feel-good site) about Langdon, NH, food pantry director Mary Lou Huffling urging local gardeners not only to donate surplus but also to plant a little extra for the Fall Mountain Foodshelf. Happily, this idea is gaining popularity around the country.

When I hear “food pantry” I typically think “canned food.” But, spurred on by programs like Plant A Row for the Hungry, my quick hop around the web indicated the produce donation trend is growing. The Connecticut Food Bank offers a helpful info page with examples of the best kinds of produce to grow for these projects. In Seattle, a local school garden has been donating part of their delicious bounty, as well as serving as a central drop-off spot and organizing food bank runs. In eastern Wisconsin, residents can participate in the 2008 Harvest for the Hungry and find local drop-off sites (although I couldn’t find anything for South Central WI). With rising gas and food prices, many food banks are experiencing increased demand, yet another reason that gardeners and food banks are teaming up everywhere from Hawaii to Houston. Jane Avery, director of the Northeast Indiana Community Harvest Food Bank sums it up: these programs help the hungry and also offer practical help to gardeners for “the produce they usually struggle to pawn off on co-workers.”

Today’s mitzvah: Not a gardener? Consider a cash or non-perishable donation to the local food pantry. You can locate yours at America’s Second Harvest.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Being the Squeaky Wheel

Sometimes small successes make me very happy. After being an unhappy accomplice to the eco-debacle at this year’s AP Reading, I wanted to encourage places in my daily orbit to be more eco-friendly. So last month I emailed my credit union, asking (nicely) if they would consider replacing the styrofoam cups they used for their much-appreciated free coffee. I received a form-letter reply and wasn’t feeling very optimistic, and had almost forgotten about this when I went to the neighborhood branch Friday to deposit a check. Et voila, paper cups! The coffee area is right next to the customer service desk, where the desk-person heard me say, “Hey, cool, no more styrofoam!” She smiled and said, “Yes, we switched to paper cups at members’ requests.”

I was so pleased, I brought the cup home so it could see itself on the blog. (And, yes, it’s paper that’s been bleached within an inch of its life, and there are better options, but I figure one step at a time.)

Moral of the story? The squeaky wheel gets the coffee.

Today’s mitzvah: Can you gently nudge a local business to be a bit more earth friendly?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Animated Dance Friday

Dance Party Friday has made its mark — I feel a need to post something dance-y to end the work week. Herewith, an animated dance remix — with apologies for the quality — the original isn’t available any more (lawyers, mutter mumble).

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Going to the Olympics?

If so, the International Campaign for Tibet would like to give you a simple white Tibetan prayer scarf (khata) to take with you, as well as a copy of the ICT’s Tibet Travel Guide. I assume the latter is for the off chance that the Chinese government opens up Tibet for foreign travelers during the Olympics. And the former is to show support for the people of Tibet, who are approaching the 50th anniversary of Chinese occupation next year.

Not going to Beijing? You can help by signing the “Race for Tibet” petition to, in the ICT’s words, “make the Olympics a catalyst of change for Tibet.”

BTW for local folks, the Dalai Lama will be here in town beginning on Saturday. More info here.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

If You Can't Do "A," Try "B" . . .

I’m still thinking about a post I read last month on The Tao of Change. The blog author (who’s trying to cut back on driving) was going to bike to visit a friend, the friend thought the trip wasn’t safe by bike and urged her to drive instead — and quietly gave up his own car trip to the coffeeshop the next day as an “offset.” What a cool definition of friendship: taking on a friend’s interests and concerns as one’s own. This also got me thinking that there are workarounds for many situations when one can’t do the obvious eco-friendly thing. Here are some ideas from me — I’d love to hear yours, too!

If you can’t reduce car trips . . .
Unfortunately the U.S. has been built up for individual car travel, not public transit. People have kids, jobs, need groceries, etc. If you can’t reduce as many car trips as you’d like, consider an inexpensive carbon offset to help neutralize your annual driving. TerraPass and have calculators and info, includi
ng offset plans. (I’ve been using Carbonfund when I fly — they’ll also calculate driving offsets — and TerraPass for an annual household offset.)

If you’re not ready to stop using petroleum-based laundry and dish detergent . . .
I’ve been making a gradual switch, basically keeping two versions on hand (petro-based and plant based) and trying out the new stuff periodically. I finally put away our bright blue dishsoap when I realized I was using the nice almond-scent ECOS Dishmate for almost all the dishes. And we’re currently transitioning into new laundry soap. I still have Tide but I’m trying out more earth friendly options on different types of laundry loads (towels one week, socks and undies the next), just to see if I like it.

If it’s too hot to turn off the air conditioner . . .
I have friends and extended family in Florida; I feel your pain (and I use the a/c a lot, too). At my house we’re compensating with household offsets (see above) and by signing up for our utility’s “green power” plan. The Dept. of Energy has a handy page with links, “Can I buy green energy in my state?”

If eco-friendly is just too expensive . . .
I’ve noticed two new-ish ideas. Clorox worked with the Sierra Club to develop its Clorox Green Works line of products, all of which have
earned a Sierra Club seal of approval. They’re plant- and mineral-based, and all ingredients listed on the containers. Those I’ve seen in the store are comparably priced to familiar brand-name cleaning products. (I’ve tried out the toilet cleaner, which works as well as the really toxic stuff I was using before.) For cheaper laundry alternatives: Purex Naturals, while still containing about 1% petroleum based preservatives, is roughly 99% plant-based and is often priced lower than commercial brands (although I wish Purex was more forthcoming about ingredients. I had to hunt through their media pages to get this info). The one caveat here: do some pre-research, since I’ve also seen a couple well-known brand names just throwing “natural” on their labels to indicate fruit or flower scents.

Those are my ideas. If you have good workaround ideas, I’d love to see comments.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

No More Filmy Plastic Bags, Redux

I finally found reusable produce bags I like! This is actually what started my Etsy visits last week, but I wanted to wait for the bags I bought to arrive so I could road test them before writing. Definitely worth the wait. The bags are made from a slightly stretchy netting, they’re feather-light (no extra weight on the scale), and almost transparent when produce is inside (easy for checker or you to read PLU stickers on fruits and veggies). I got mine (pictured) from an Etsy shop called DaisyDots. The drawstring cord color coordinates with the stitching and she offers lots of colors. They were 3 for $6, which I thought was quite reasonable.

There are quite a few Etsy sellers who offer reusable produce bags — all with the nice added benefit of buying something handmade directly from the person who made it, instead of going all mass-produced. Plus, I haven’t seen bags this light commercially.

Today’s mitzvah: Consider buying handmade
— and bug your grocery to offer alternatives to the roll of tear-off plastic produce bags.

Photograph © 2008 by DaisyDots.

Friday, July 11, 2008

That Dancing Guy

Nope it’s not Dance Party Friday, but instead Matt the dancing guy who’s all over the internet. Despite the over-exposure I still thought this was sweet, especially the shots with kids.

Have a happy Friday.

P.S. Higher quality version here (some of the location shots are beautiful).

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Yes, We Have No Bananas

I’ve been buying Fair Trade coffee for a few years now, an action made easier by local Fair Trade coffee roasters’ presence in all the grocery stores here in town. (Shameless plug: I especially like Cafe Fair’s Cordilleran blend; and Just Coffee’s Maya Superdark.)

But I also read a lot of blogs from the UK, where I noticed they’re really ahead of the U.S. in expanding Fair Trade with things like Fair Trade Coffee Breaks in churches and businesses, and even
entire Fair Trade regions, like the Welsh Fair Trade Valley of Dyfi, pictured at right. I was thinking of this recently when Coop America sent an email about Fair Trade bananas. I’d never stopped to think about how bananas are grown, but it turns out the South American workers are paid just pennies, which keeps prices cheap for us in North America while still providing massive profits to the two multinational corporations that control most of the market.

Coop America has a letter (really more of a petition) they’re creating to send to the major national grocery chains encouraging them to stock Fair Trade bananas. When you sign they ask that you also note which chain(s) you patronize, so the letter will have more impact. They also provide suggestions for individuals on how to work with supermarket mangers in one’s own town.

Today’s mitzvah: Learn more about Fair Trade products. An easy place to start: Coop America’s “What is Fair Trade?” and “What You Can Do.”

Photo © Ecodyfi: A Fair Trade Valley.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Plantable Notecards

I blogged a few months ago about Cargo Cosmetics Plant Love Lipstick line, which comes in a package imbued with wildflower seeds, so it can be planted instead of thrown away. Plantable paper has intrigued me ever since. Since I’m also currently on an Etsy kick, I thought I would share this neat find, from the Etsy shop Claudia’s Creations, which is a lovely handmade recycled paper shop. These papers also form the base for a very nice selection of “plantable” note cards like the one pictured here.

Lots of recycled and upcycled goodies on Etsy. Check it out!

Photograph: Mini Plantable Note Cards © 2008 by Claudia’s Creations. Used with permission.

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Saturday, July 5, 2008

"Upcycled" Finds on Etsy

Our favorite person in North Carolina turned me on to Etsy, the handmade site, where she finds beautiful cards. I’ve also discovered it's a cool source for affordable eco-friendly items. Here’s one I especially liked: Etsy member RunOnTheSun has neat gift tags, made entirely from upcycled cereal boxes, toothpaste cartons, soda boxes, and, in her words, “basically anything that would otherwise be tossed in the trash!” She sells these cute tags in sets of 100 for just $3.50, with either white or light brown backs (e.g., toothpaste cartons would have white backs, cereal boxes would have light brown).

These are a nice way to focus on the “re-use” part of Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle — and support an independent craftsperson in the process.

Today’s mitzvah:
Consider buying handmade the next time you need something for your home. Etsy has all sorts of neat finds, many using recycled or upcycled material.

Photo © 2008 by runonthesun. Used with permission.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Wednesday Updates

It’s a miscellany day as I dodge storms here.

The Breast Cancer Site
Matching grant success. The Breast Cancer Site reached its goal of 8 million clicks for the month of June. This enabled a $10,000 matching grant to fund mammograms for even more women without insurance coverage. Thank you to everyone who helped out!

Virtual Hawaii. Daily Mitzvah is included in the most recent Share Some Good Stuff post over at Skeet’s Stuff. (BTW, Ms. Skeet is currently whomping me in an online game of Scrabble!)

Can 1.3 billion people be wrong? TreeHugger has an update on China’s plastic bag ban, one month after free plastic bags at the grocery were eliminated (consumers have the option of paying for plastic bags or bringing their own). So far so good. They note that older people have gone back to traditional woven baskets (or just cloth bags), while younger Chinese are using this as a chance to be eco fashion forward. Read the entire article here.

Can rising gas prices improve upper body strength? Local TV news ran a spot today on the re-emergence of the push mower, which local home stores can’t keep in stock. Get buff arms, save on gas, and help curb gasoline mowers’ nasty emissions (an hour with a conventional mower creates as much C02 emissions as driving a car 200 miles, according to the broadcast). One Illinois city is even offering drop-off and rebate programs for residents who swap their gas-powered mowers for a push mower.

And that’s the news from here on a muggy, rainy Wednesday!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Charity Piggy Bank Update

The summer is moving much too quickly. Time for the monthly Daily Mitzvah Charity Piggy Bank update! In keeping with the blog’s theme, this is a small way to make a difference in a big world (even on a budget). Here are the June totals:
Today’s mitzvah: Consider creating a “charity piggy bank” to collect small sums for a year-end — or as-needed — charitable contributions.