Category Archives: Environmentalism

Outsiders

13442218_10103670593932299_3612704563831867025_nOne of the ways I waste time online is by reading articles on child-rearing and homemaking.  To be sure, in reasonable quantities, this can be helpful; in fact, I have learned a great deal in my “continuing education” endeavors. (It is only when one spends large quantities of time on this–like yours truly does–that it becomes an issue.)

In one such online session, I came across an interesting fact sheet regarding the value of time spent outdoors.  One fact that stood out is that the average American child spends 30 minutes or less outside.

I took this as a call to action.  I like to think we do a pretty job of getting the kids outside and off screens, but reading this really hit home how absolutely essential play–especially unstructured, outdoor play–is.

Not only can playing outside bestow all the benefits mentioned on that fact sheet, but as a mother, I also notice a huge difference in my kids when they spend time outside versus when they don’t.  For starters, I notice they sleep much better–Mother Nature is a great sleep aid!

Their behavior is also vastly improved when they spend a few hours outside, perhaps in part because of the amount of sensory input they receive while outdoors.  They are less likely to get into mischief when they have had a daily dose of the outdoors.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, their appreciation and concern for nature is unparalleled, and I believe this is as a result of the large amount of time they spend playing outside.  I see more environmental awareness come from two small children than from many adults I know–myself included!

Maybe one of the best stewardship practices out there is to take a page from children, and relish spending time outdoors!

Environmental Pet Peeves

Tomorrow is Earth Day. Just like we say about Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, we should love the earth every day. Please don’t allow this day to be the only day you think about your personal environmental impact.

In honor of the holiday, I’m going to use today’s blog post to share my earth-related pet peeves. I’m the first to admit that I can be a hypocrite and don’t always practice what I believe, so if you do any of these things, don’t think I think that you hate the earth. Still, I would ask you to reconsider.

My environmental pet peeves:

water bottles1. Bottled water. I try to never use a plastic disposable individual bottle of water. I bring my own water bottles wherever I go, and much prefer to drink from them. This also helps my wallet: a bottle water costs significantly more for something that is likely to be someone else’s tap water, anyway.

2. Throwing away recyclables. If you want to bug me further, throw that disposable bottle in the trash. I’m thankful that recycling options are so common these days. Even if you have to go out of your way to do so, please toss recyclables in the right container.

3. Leaving the light on. Here’s looking at you, Motel 6. I get that not everyone wants to live in the dark as much as I do, but even if you desire a room to be institutionally-bright, you don’t need it to be so lit when no one is in it. Turn off the light.

4. Leaving a car running while parked. Except when it’s extremely hot or cold, I don’t get this.

5. Excessive packaging. This isn’t an individual issue, but a manufacturer issue. We’ve come to believe that everything must come in a package. I hope to buy more and more that comes in green packaging (most preferably, no packaging).

What about you, what are your environmental pet peeves?

Photo by Daniel Orth

How It Works: Saving on Electricity

energy usage chartI don’t spend much on electricity. Since I moved to Colorado, I’ve not used more than $30 worth of electricity in any given month. While I’d love to have solar panels one day and get that down to $0, I’ll continue to seek to cut my energy use for the sake of both my wallet and the environment.

This is how I’ve kept my electricity bill low:

1. Trade out any provided light bulbs with energy-efficient ones.

In the last 2 apartments that I have had, I have unscrewed existing light bulbs and replaced them with my own CFLs. Then, when it’s time to move, I just switch them back.

I have saved particularly in the bathroom, where regular CFLs replace inefficient vanity bulbs. When you do this, make sure you do the math: you probably don’t need to fill every light socket, as a 26W CFL gives off the equivalent light to an 100W traditional bulb.

If you’re scared of CFLs, jump straight to LEDs. I’ll eventually replace my bulbs with LEDs, but I’ve never had one burn out yet.

2. Use natural light, whenever possible.

I do my best to do my chores during the day, so I don’t have to use any artificial light. A big part of this is considering a home’s sunniness when you are choosing where to live.

3. Turn things off when they’re not in use.

This is an obvious one that we don’t do enough. For me, this includes turning off the microwave clock display, flipping off my power strip when I leave the house and not using more lights than I absolutely need.

I know it’s weird, but I just don’t have lights on in my house, unless I absolutely need them. If I’m sitting in my “spot”, I really only need light when I’m reading. I have a night light in my bathroom, which means I only have to turn on those lights when I’m showering.

4. Store your emergency water in the fridge.

If your fridge isn’t always full, store a few gallons of water in the back somewhere. The US government recommends storing 3 gallons of water per person for emergencies. To save money (as well as space), mine are in the fridge.

Liquid holds it’s temperature better than air does, so my fridge heats up less every time I open its door than if I did not have that water in there.

I’m sure you could do the same with a freezer, if you had the space there. Just make sure you pour out some of the water so that it does not expand out the top as it freezes.

5. Designate a baking day.

I do all my baking and the majority of my cooking in one day. By baking and cooking things in my oven back to back, I save energy by not having to warm up my oven each time.

What ways have you found to save electricity?

Joint Book Review: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

51KRmbqxakL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Arguably one of the most important books on environmentalism, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was a driving force in eliminating the use of the pesticide DDT, and was critical in spurring other environmental reforms.

Amanda’s Take

Having first read this book in a biology class in college over  decade ago, I was glad to have the opportunity to revisit this text.

Once again, I was struck by how relevant her words (written over fifty years ago) are to us still in 2016.  While DDT is no longer in use, a great many other abuses are done to the environment (both chemical and otherwise).  The need to solve problems in a sustainable fashion rings just as true now as it did in the mid-twentieth century.

What I appreciate most about this text is the fact that Carson backed up her poetic assertions with proof; she doesn’t just “allege.” I also appreciate that, because of this work, enough people began to question what they had been told, and so change became inevitable.  Why can’t change be spurred the same way, in 2016?

Silent Spring is a must-read for anyone with an investment in the environment…which, I would argue, is all of us.

Ronnica’s Take

I was so glad when Amanda suggested we read Silent Spring. I love to read books that have made an impact on history, and of course this one fits the bill. I’m really not sure why I had never read it before.

For this being a foundational book in the environmentalism movement, I expected that it would be more broad. However, it makes sense that a book about a specific problem with hard numbers and targeted examples. After all, it’s much easier to get people to demand action when you make it very clear to them what it will cost them if they do not.

I’m thankful for Carson and the work she did raising awareness about DDT. Her work isn’t done: we all have a part to play in leaving this world as better place than when we arrived.

Trying Terracycle

If you are the parent of a young child, chances are good you have encountered baby food pouches at some point.  This handy pouches  are also great for the busy adult who wants a quick bite to eat on-the-go.

But they aren’t so great for the environment.

There are ways around the environmental impact, of course; there are devices that let you whip up some homemade food and put it in reusable pouches, and while more economical (certain pouch brands can get a bit pricey), for various reasons, this may not be the most practical or feasible for your situation.

It seems like Terracycle was made for just a time as this.

I finally took the time to find out what this little green label is all about!
I finally took the time to find out what this little green label is all about!

While I have not had an opportunity to take part in the Terracycle program fully yet–I am still “collecting waste” (pouches my son consumes)–this seems like a win-win for all involved.  After signing up for a “Brigade” (or several, if you wish–because they don’t just collect pouches!), you collect the items you intend to send in to Terracycle; ultimately, these items will be upcyled into any number of awesome products.

When ready to send in, you print off a shipping label (most Brigades have free shipping, but there is a cost for some), drop it off, and within a few days, points are awarded to your Terracycle account, which can in turn be donated to various charities and nonprofits.  Sounds pretty easy, right?  Anything to reduce the load on our planet, especially when it is relatively simple, seems like a good stewardship move to me!

Have you done Terracycle before?  Any hints, tips, or tricks you would recommend to this Terracycle newbie?

Passing it On

Vinca on balcony
My first gardening foray in 2009 was to plant two window boxes of vinca on our very shady patio.

It’s no secret that I love gardening. Obviously, you don’t garden on a balcony if you don’t truly love it.

I think I would have gotten into gardening at some point as I became more interested in environmental issues, but my interest in gardening predates that.

Some of my earliest memories from childhood are gardening at our rental house. I remember piling potatoes and onions in the outdoor closet for winter, planting bright-colored corn seeds and not wanting to touch cucumbers for their prickles. When we moved into the first house my parents owned, we enjoyed garden strawberries (or at least the ones the birds didn’t eat) while picking and weeding the garden became a part of my regular chores.

Of course I wanted a garden of my own the first chance I got, not waiting for a yard (though I still dream of one).

So if I got my love of gardening from my dad, where did he get it? From his dad, of course. My grandfather still gets great joy out of his flowers and vegetables and loves to show them off.

I’m thankful that my family didn’t forget the art of gardening when them moved off farms and into town. Most people aren’t that fortunate.

So how do we pass on green habits?

We invite others alongside us when we practice them. This goes double for our kids. I was recently visiting a friend who gardens here in Colorado. While we chatted in her garden, her kids were showing off their favorite plants by name. Obviously, they had spent a lot of time out in the garden.

I’m convinced that one of the best things we can do to spread green living is to live out our example in the open and discuss our motivations freely as opportunity presents itself.

How it Works: Kill-A-Watt

We talk a lot on here about going green and saving green–both important elements of stewardship (which is obviously the theme of this blog).

So today, I want to introduce you to a nifty tool to help in this ongoing endeavor of going green and saving green.  I happened across the Kill-A-Watt awhile ago at our local library, of all places.

A device that combines two of my passions (green living and being thrifty)?  Color me intrigued.  I checked it out the day I learned about it.

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The premise behind this device is to plug your electronic items into it for a period of time (a minimum of two minutes and a maximum of 24 hours per appliance).  After entering in your utility rate (as found on your electric bill), you use your electronic doodad like you usually would, except it is plugged into the Kill-A-Watt.  The longer the appliance is plugged into the Kill-A-Watt, the more accurate the reading.

By the time you are done, you have a better idea of not only how much energy your device or appliance utilizes, but also how much each item costs you to use.

My findings haven’t been too staggering or surprising; they have basically confirmed that which I already knew:  phantom energy is a real thing, bigger appliances use more energy than “little” ones, and good golly, we use a lot of electricity in this house!

Even though it may not reveal anything too especially earth-shattering, the Kill-A-Watt is a fun gadget to use, and adds actual dollars to your electronic devices.  Check it out!

Green or Green?

light switchI remember several years ago having a conversation with a friend about using less electricity.

“You’ll be doing your part to save the environment,” I said. Adding almost as an afterthought: “and save money, too.”

She responded, “To be honest, I’m more concerned about my own finances and don’t care much about the planet.” I relayed my shock at that statement so she posed her own scenario. “Why do you try to avoid fast food?”

Not recognizing the trap I glibly replied, “Well, it saves me money to eat at home. It’s better for my health. Oh, and it also produces less trash.”

“See, you value your own finances over the environment.” Obviously, I made her point.

From the start, we’ve tried on this blog to speak to both being green financially as well as environmentally. But these two “greens” can be at odds at times. After all, the cheapest financial options are often cheap because the real costs have been past on to others, now or in the future.

So how do you balance?

This is the question I ask myself a lot. I want to “vote” with my wallet for companies that do the right thing, but my money-loving side wants me to go for the option that is best for me.

Because I feel so conflicted, I’ve been finding myself gravitating toward a third way that meets both desires: I’m spending less and when I do spend, I’m spending more on raw ingredients. I am also desiring to do what I can to grow and make more of what I need.

I’m satisfied that my green desires have steered me towards a more minimalist, anti-consumer direction. That is a lifestyle that is more doable for me and more reasonable if it were reproduced by every soul on this planet.

I know that my views will continue to develop as I learn and grow.

Which “green” do you find more appealing?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema

Joint Book Review: Junkyard Planet by Adam Minter

downloadWhere does the stuff you get rid of wind up?  For many, any thought regarding a piece of trash or recycling ends at the dumpster, but in Junkyard Planet:  Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade, Adam Minter goes to great lengths to show what and how junk is recycled into new items.  Having grown up in a family of scrap dealers, Minter approaches the “trash trade” like you might expect:  with an eye on reuse and finances.

Amanda’s Take

As I read through this (surprisingly engaging) book, I found it hard to get past one thing:  just how much STUFF humans (specifically Americans) consume.  Were it not for all that we obtain and then throw out, there would be no basis for this book.

Another interesting idea for me was the over-arching theme of the book:  what happens to the “stuff” we throw out.  Some of the places that the trash ends up surprised me; I guess I thought that everything landed in a landfill or recycling center, but beyond that, I never stopped to wonder (as Ronnica notes below).  I was certainly surprised at some of the locations Minter traveled to.  To think that some of my trash has traveled farther than I have is pretty mind-boggling!

This book served as a great reminder that what some may consider trash, others consider not just a treasure, but their livelihood.  While I appreciated a new perspective on recycling and all things junk, I became an even more fervent believer in just reducing my consumption at the outset–an idea which Minter does touch on throughout the book.

Ronnica’s Take

A few years ago while I was watching the recycling center scene in Toy Story 3, I remember thinking, “Why have I never thought about how they sort recyclables before?”

Junkyard Planet answers the curiosity that Toy Story 3 sparked in me.

As opposed to most books we read on stuff and consumerism, I found it interesting how much Minter takes a relatively pro-junk stance. Given his background, that makes sense.

While I’m rather anti-junk (in theory…don’t take a look at my kitchen table right now), I actually think his perspective helped him see the good in the recycling industry while not being shy about pointing out the negatives.

I think the biggest takeaway from the book for me is that I shouldn’t be so quick to throw something out. Everything can have a second life.

Book Review: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman

world_withoutIn light of Earth Day this week, I wanted to share some thoughts on The World Without Us by Alan Weisman.

I recently listened to this book. It stood out to me in a list of audio titles available because it has an intriguing line of thought: What would happen to the world if all of mankind instantly disappeared?

I love “what if” books: that’s why I like science fiction, alternative histories and dystopian books. I suppose this is a sort of “alternative history”, though Weisman is making no claims that our disappearance will happen or how…merely speculating what would happen if it did.

A few things stood out about this book:

1. The book kinda comes off as if we should all commit mass suicide. I seriously doubt this was Weisman’s intent, but the things we’ve done to this earth (and will continue to do so, unless we make massive changes) are quiet horrific.

2. Things aren’t as permanent as they seem. The real-life examples of how quickly nature reclaims land is humbling.

3. I never want to use plastic again. That’s an exaggeration, but I do want to continue lessening how much I use (and reuse and recycle what I do have). While the book didn’t provide any new to me information, it was good to hear again the amount of plastic that is mucking up the oceans (and land).

4. I want to do a better job of living with the land (not against it).

While I don’t really think that this earth will go on without us, listening to this book was a good exercise in thinking through the repercussions of our actions.