Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Make Way for Ducklings

A hat-tip to Geri at Good News Network for pointing to this video. Here’s a Wednesday Warm-Fuzzy. Lakewood, WA, police officer Dustin Carrell stopped traffic on a recent morning — on a four-lane interstate — to help a mother duck and her ducklings cross the highway. KOMO-TV has the video here (a short commercial, then silent footage).

Today’s mitzvah: Who can you go out of your way to help today?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Landlord Mitzvah: Let There Be Light(bulbs)

I was the recipient of a good deed on Monday! From the landlord, no less. My apartment building’s management had slipped noted under the door that our maintenance guys would be coming by with aerators for our kitchen and bathroom faucets. I’m all for saving water, especially after my appalling results on a water consumption quiz posted on reader Finn’s blog. The aerators also make good sense for our very large building since it will reduce the owner’s bill water bill.

But the surprise good deed: our maintenance guys arrived not just with aerators but with a case of compact fluorescent light bulbs. Even though tenants pay our own electricity, the building decided to offer CFLs, gratis, for the hallway and bathroom light fixtures. I asked why. They said they got a good deal, they knew all the fixtures were identical so it was easy to determine the right wattage — and “we were talking on Earth Day and we thought it would be a nice thing to do for the tenants.” A nice thing indeed, especially since I can’t reach the hallway ceiling fixture on my own and it was still using an old-fashioned bulb.

Today’s mitzvah: As environmental awareness moves into the mainstream, be on the lookout for unlikely compatriots — and cheer them on!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Goof Off for a Good Cause: The Rice Game

Help end world hunger
“What if just knowing what a word meant could help feed hungry people around the world? Well, at FreeRice it does . . . the totals have grown exponentially.”
- The Washington Post

Back at work today? Stuck on a long conference call? Here’s a way to play an online game, build your vocabulary — and give the UN World Food Programme (UNWFP) a free contribution for every word you get right.

I posted about Free Rice last December, but I thought it was time to spotlight this program again. A global rice shortage means prices for this staple crop have risen 68% just since January. Governments in several poorer countries have called out the military to supervise sales, and even the U.S. and UK are seeing some stores limiting sales to discourage hoarding. All the more reason to help out even in a small way, with
The Rice Game.

The lure is a vocabulary game: choose the correct definition for a word, “win” 20 grains of rice for the UNWFP. Does 20 grains per word really amount to much? Saturday’s total: 133,619,760 grains of rice donated (March’s total = 4,109,191,320 grains). It adds up quickly. Happy procrastination, word games, and giving to a good cause. What could be better?

Today’s mitzvah: Play the Rice Game today — you’ll be hooked! And hungry people will benefit from our fun.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Simple Sunday: Thank You

Why all the flags? Over the past week readers visited Daily Mitzvah from the U.S., Canada, Spain, France, South Africa, Singapore, Thailand, Germany, Japan, Belgium, Iran, Australia, the UK, and the Philippines. This delights and amazes me. Thank you for reading.

Today’s mitzvah:
Remember to say thank-you.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Help Out on World Malaria Day

It’s hot and sticky (and possibly tornadic) in the Upper Midwest today. But in hotter and stickier parts of the world, malaria is a serious problem. Freedom from Hunger notes that April 25th is World Malaria Day. They invite you to support their initiatives, either with a monetary contribution or by signing a petition, to support their targeted education campaigns (including story theater-based education programs on proper use of anti-malarial drugs for children, for moms in countries with high illiteracy rates) and distribution of insecticide-treated malarial nets.

A site called My is trying to get everyone in the West (seriously, everyone) to contribute just one bednet. They’re only 5 blucks — see the package the little boy is holding in the photo — with all money going straight to the purchase. (Investigate this on your own, of course.)

Today’s mitzvah: Learn more about ways to help fight malaria, a scourge that kills one child every 30 seconds. If you have some extra cash, consider contributing a $5 bed net.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

An Electric Car in 2009?

This isn’t a personal good deed as much as a “Hey, this looks promising!” moment. The Think City Car — all electric and somewhat affordable ($25K range) — is on sale in Europe and allegedly coming to the U.S. next year. AutoCar UK test drove it and gave a thumbs-up. It’s an itty bitty car, which always makes me pause about highway driving. (With a max speed of 65 mph and a range of just over 100 miles, highway driving may be out in any case.) But an electric car for not too much more than a Prius — maybe 2009 will be the year I buy a car. Hmmm, it’s an idea. Gas 2.0 has mileage info and lots of pix. Check it out!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Take A Chance Day": April 23

The American writer William James wrote: “To change ones life: Start immediately. Do it flamboyantly.”

Today is St. George’s Day in the UK (he of the dragon slaying), and “Take A Chance Day” if one trolls the web for random holidays. Now that the long winter is over and we’re all thawing out and re-engaging with the world: it’s a time for brave new ventures. What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? Slay a dragon? Be a dragon? Ask a dragon to lunch?

Today’s mitzvah:
Take a chance!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day!

Is this cool or what? I’ve been trying to decide what to post today. What is the best way to mark the culmination of Earth Week? Instead of re-inventing the wheel with “365 Ways to Observe Earth Day,” I decided instead to recycle with a nod to activities I’ve enjoyed blogging about over the past few months. Enjoy!
  • If you’re a new visitor, we had a blast and lots of eco-friendly ideas during the Carbon Fast for Lent

  • I’ve also been blogging intermittently about Fun with Recycling

  • Or check out a happy array of generally environment-related posts

  • Last but not least, if you feel affectionate toward the Earth’s critters, check out Animal Week

Today’s mitzvah: Did you do anything fun for Earth Day? Post a comment and give yourself a shout-out

Monday, April 21, 2008

Smile for Earth Day (Eve)

I thought of titling the post “Green Those Pearly Whites,” but even I have my limits! I was GoodSearching for toothbrushes with replaceable heads (re-use the handle, so only the head gets thrown away) when I stumbled upon an post that opened up a whole new world of eco-friendly toothbrushes. (I’m a geek — I love this stuff.) Did you know you can buy a toothbrush made from recycled Stonyfield yogurt cups? Who knew? (I don’t typically like to plug specific brands, but this was too neat to keep to myself.)

I’m still looking for one with replacement heads, but this is pretty cool too. The company, Recycline, also offers replaceable razors with recycled handles. Thank goodness someone is making good use of all my yogurt containers!

Today’s mitzvah: Thousands of lbs. of toothbrushes wind up in landfills each year. Consider a recycled or recyclable toothbrush (check out Larry West’s post for several options).

EXTRA: Daily Mitzvah on the Radio

I was taking a break from grading a massive pile of papers and checking out the blog stats — I like to see how folks get here — when I noticed a visitor all the way from Brazil had arrived via a link to Daily Mitzvah on Spotlight Radio. Being a radio fan myself (and also childishly delighted when someone links to the blog) I skedaddled right over. It turns out Spotlight Radio has a Special English program (the BBC used to do this, too) with clearly enunciated and not-fast programs for listeners around the world. (I wish I could find a program like this in Special French so I could practice, but that’s another story.)

Anyhoo, Spotlight Radio did a very sweet segment on Daily Mitzvah, called “Acts of Kindness,” talking about why I started this blog and mentioning some of the posts. You can check it out here.

This made my day. Thank you, Spotlight Radio!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Simple Sunday: Ocean-Friendly

I’ve been blogging about Earth Day all week, without a peep about the ocean! Well that needs to change. Oceana is a fairly new nonprofit that combines public policy advocacy, science and economics, legal action, grassroots mobilization, and public education. They do good work, and you can help with a free click-to-give over on Care2’s Ocean site. How simple is that?

Today’s mitzvah: Visit Care 2’s Race for the Oceans and click the yellow box under the dolphin. Sponsors will make a small donation to Oceana, at no cost to you. To learn more about their cool work, visit their web site at

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Bid Adieu to Plastic Yogurt Cups

We’ve signed up for green power, switched our lightbulbs, given up plastic bags, and I convinced my students not to use cover sheets for the rest of their assignments this semester (big classes; it adds up). And now that the weather is finally nicer, I'm shifting some public transit trips to foot power, quite happily. But I’ve been looking the other way when it comes to 90% of our recycling each week: soda cans and bottles, and those little plastic yogurt cups. I know, I know: I should kick the diet soda habit altogether. I did, though, think I had found a more earth friendly solution, in a home-based make your own soda gadget. But the gizmo uses polycarbonate bottles, which have been receiving so much press this week as Canada moves to ban the chemical P.B.A. in products that come into contact with food or beverages. (Popular bottle maker Nalgene today also announced plans to stop manufacturing polycarbonate bottles.) So for now, I guess I’m sticking with the recyclable bottle status quo.

Yogurt appears to hold out more promise. I remembered babysitting in high school for a family that had a little 6-cup yogurt maker, so I knew such things existed at least in the past. It turns out they survived the 70s, enjoyed a revival of sorts in the excitement about thin French women, and if one hunts it’s possible to find devices that use glass cups, which avoids the whole PBA problem. As reluctant as I am to add even a small appliance in the kitchen . . . we really do go through a lot of yogurt. Even though the recycling that services my building does take the little cups, it’s an awful lot of waste. I think homemade yogurt will also be healthier, although as the diet soda paragraph suggests, health isn’t always a selling point at Chez Daily Mitzvah.

Today’s mitzvah: What’s your environmental blind spot, the area that’s stubbornly un-greening the works? Consider tackling it for Earth Day.

Friday, April 18, 2008

"Clean Up Your Wrappers"

Nah, it’s not me, I just like the photo! I click on a free “save the rainforest” link every day, but forests in the U.S. are being felled as well, and for an easily avoidable reason: packaging for the country’s insatiable appetite for fast food. The Petition Site is hosting “Stop the 11 Fast Food Junkies,” in conjunction with the Asheville, NC based Dogwood Alliance. According to the latter, in 2007:
  • the average American ate fast food 150 times, and generated 300 pounds of packaging waste
  • Americans used 15 billion disposable hot beverage cups
  • 32 percent of the U.S. domestic waste stream consisted of containers and packaging
Less packaging, more post-consumer recycled content, ensuring the paper for all these wrappers and other logo-driven packaging isn’t drawn from endangered forests — the Dogwood Alliance is pressuring fast-food purveyors to address all these issues. Their special focus is southern U.S. forests which are being heavily tapped for burger wrappers and other paper-based packaging, most of which goes straight into landfills.

Today’s mitzvah: Use the that freest of all weapons, your signature, to help put pressure on the big fast food chains to reduce and improve their paper-based packaging, to help preserve southern forests.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Great Lakes Earth Day 2008 Challenge

The Lost Albatross posted a link to a terrific event, the Great Lakes Earth Day 2008 Challenge. The goal: to collect 1 million lbs. of electronic waste and 1 million unwanted pills.

If you live in the Midwest and have old TVs, cell phones, broken VCRs (my contribution this year, since mine just bit the dust) — or expired medications — check this out. It’s a good alternative to flushing medications and messing up the water supply, or trashing old electronics and gadgets, which fill up landfills and often have toxic components.

The Great Lakes link includes a list of collection areas. If you live elsewhere in the U.S., check here for your region.

On Not Getting Discouraged

After I added the most recent post — really just minutes later — I read a New York Times article “Fuel Choices, Food Crises, and Finger Pointing.” Soaring world food prices, a grain shortage, and poor people pushed toward starvation — according to the article, plant-based biofuels may be the culprit. As countries rush to embrace biofuels in response to price-, environment-, and supply-based oil crises, the world’s poor may be paying the real price.

A perfect time to post on new corn-based products, eh? I felt so discouraged all day. After a lot of thought, here’s what I’ve taken way from this — none of it earth-shattering, but a reality check-in for me. First, consumption is a problem. Plant-based fuels (or switching from plastics to corn resin for disposable items) doesn’t address larger problems of too many cars and too much disposable stuff. Second, Newton’s third law of physics: for every action there’s an equal an opposite reaction. If more corn and grain is diverted to non-food uses, that means less grain available to feed people. Beyond Newton — the solutions that look like such a good idea today may (or more likely shall) have unintended consequences tomorrow. Maybe I’m just channeling my inner Pollyanna, but it seems like the response is to acknowledge there will be set-backs and disappointments, yet not stop trying. This is the only planet we get; might as well keep plugging away to take care of it.

Today’s mitzvah: stay hopeful. And for something practical: pop over to The Hunger Site, where sponsors will contribute food as a free thank you for your click.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Plant Love and Corn Bottles

I’ve faced the fact that I will never be No Impact Man (or even Low Impact Woman). I like to shop. But if one must buy things, I’ve been collecting links about consumer items that are not just recyclable but can literally be given back to the earth.

Cargo Cosmetic’s Plant Love lipstick line, which I haven’t tried, is either a great gimmick or an example of unusually responsible consuming. The lipstick comes in special cardboard packaging imbued with wildflower seeds. Instead of just throwing away the package, it can be moistened and planted, with wldflowers to follow. The lipstick tubes are also unusual: made with corn-based plastic they’re supposed to biodegrade completely within 80 days when exposed to sufficient heat and sun. (FYI, this won’t happen in a landfill — a reality check for all the biodegradable products, since landfills are airtight and stuff hangs around forever.) To complete the trifecta, Cargo donates $2 from every PlantLove lipstick purchase to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. The lipstick is available at several Nonprofit Shopping Mall vendors, including Amazon and Sephora, both of which will donate approx. 2% of your purchase price to a nonprofit of your choice when you use this link.

On a recent trip to the co-op I stumbled upon a resuable personal water bottle that also uses this corn-based technology. EnviroProduct’s Corn Resin Bottle is a resuable water bottle with a small screw-in carbon filter, so one can use regular tap water for DIY bottled water. The bottle is recomended for up to 90 uses, after which it is also guaranteed to decompose in 80 days in “commercial compost,” which would mean not in the regular landfill-bound trash.

Since any reason to plug The Lost Albatross is a good thing, blogger Emily posted a comment during the Carbon Fast for Lent mentioning BioBags, which are cool corn-based trashbags, as an alternative to the usual plastic trashcan liners. (BioBag also offers corn-based bags for cat litter liners and for cleaning up doggie waste.)

Today’s mitzvah: If you’re going to buy something anyway, why not make it plantable or disappear-able?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Earth Day Countdown

Since we all know I am lost without a theme . . . Earth Day is coming (April 22)! My university has proclaimed April 14–22 April as Earth Week, and who am I to argue. Welcome to an impromptu Earth Week here on the blog too.

To get us started, the trio people either love or hate, Blue Man Group! They’re supporting the very good web site, with a higher quality version of their video “Earth to America,” which I’ve YouTubed low-res, below.

Today’s mitzvah: What exceptionally cool idea do you have for Earth Day?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Simple Sunday: Turn This Puppet from Hungry to Happy

I’m nothing if not a sucker for a cute image. Visit The Pajacyk (Wooden Puppet) Campaign, a Polish anti-hunger site, and you’ll be greeted by a sad-faced wooden puppet. But — click on the green circle on the puppet’s tummy and see him turn from sad to happy! You’ll also be helping to provide meals to hungry schoolchildren in more than 100 Polish schools. Sponsors agree to make a small donation for each visitor who clicks the puppet’s belly button, at no cost to you.

Today’s mitzvah: Click to give and put a smile on
Pajacyk’s face and some food in a schoolchild’s tummy.