How Green is Your Family Bin?

Joshua, 11, has a special title: Waste Management Officer. Every Saturday morning he sorts all the recyclables for his family, packing up glass bottles into boxes ready to go to the recycling plant, squashing aluminum cans and sorting paper, cardboard and plastic waste. He’s not only proud to be given this responsibility, but makes a real difference in how environmentally friendly his family’s waste habits are!

Did you know that in many areas, if you put the wrong items into your recycling can or bag, the whole thing often ends up in landfill? Or did you realize that with a bit of extra effort in reusing and recycling in your household you could make a substantial inroad into your total carbon footprint each year?

Why not make waste a family issue and involve your children in helping to reduce, reuse and recycle? Giving children responsibilities of their own, as Joshua’s family has found, increases their self esteem and general enthusiasm.

Once you have implemented the obvious and are recycling as much glass, paper and plastic as possible, here are some extra ideas to further reduce your family waste:
Use food scraps and any other organic waste to compost in your garden
Aim to buy products with minimal packaging
Can newspapers, shredded paper or vegetable peelings be used for a pet – perhaps your neighbor would appreciate you saving them?
Sign up for online billing where the option is offered, saving lots of wasted paper bills
Train everyone in the house to use both sides of paper in writing pads or in your home printer
Investigate refillable printer cartridges. This can save you lots of money as well as reducing waste
Buy a battery recharger, and use rechargeable batteries where possible instead of disposable ones
Get refillable juice containers for the kids’ lunchboxes instead of buying individual juice packets. Remember to set a good example by taking using a portable coffee mug instead of buying takeaway coffee in cardboard cups!
Use cleaning cloths in the kitchen instead of paper napkins
Reuse plastic containers as desktop organizers, food storage containers, flower pots and more
Replace light bulbs with long lasting energy efficient versions – not only will you reduce your electricity usage but you’ll be throwing away many fewer bulbs
Buy concentrated laundry detergent in a smaller bottle to perform the same number of washes with less packaging
Consider whether toys or clothes can be repaired so that they last longer. Buy good quality shoes and have them resoled when needed rather than replacing them as soon as are showing wear
Donate old tools, toys or other hardware to a local charity, or have a garage sale and sell them cheaply. It’s a lot better than throwing them in the trash!

As you can see from the ideas above, sometimes all it takes is a bit of “out of the box” thinking to find new ways to reduce your family waste. Children can learn a lot if you decide to approach this as an opportunity for a positive challenge.

You could suggest a “Zero Waste Week Challenge” – and see how close your family can come to having an empty trash can for the week. Start by analyzing your waste and see where you can make the biggest savings. Perhaps your trash can tends to be full of disposable packaging from supermarket foods? Time to start buying goods with less packaging! Or you may find a lot of food is being thrown away. You could tackle this with better meal planning.

All of these ideas and activities are ones that the kids can help out with. It will help them to develop all kinds of useful skills and attributes, including:
Problem solving – thinking about the problem of excess waste, and coming up with possible solutions.
Creativity – remember that no idea is a bad idea! Encourage your kids to think outside of the box and let them know that all suggestions are welcome and will be considered.
Teamwork – Environmentally friendly waste management is definitely an area where the whole family needs to work together and cooperate for best results.
Communication – sharing ideas and plans for waste reduction with the rest of the family. Once your child is an expert at waste reduction, he’ll probably even start to communicate his solutions with friends and teachers as well!
Responsibility – Your child will soon realize that he has a responsibility to think about what waste he is creating as an individual, and how this contributes to the whole family’s carbon footprint or wider impact on the environment.

Tackle your family waste issues with some of these ideas and approaches and soon you will not only have a significant impact on your family carbon footprint, but chances are your kids will be enthusiastic “Waste Managers”, just like Joshua!

 

Build Your Own Converted Grain Bin Home

For the past two years, I have lived in a grain bin at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. Or more specifically, a converted grain bin home (pictured to the right). It is insulated with straw bales, has a wood stove for winter heating, and has electricity thanks to a few solar panels. Several years ago, Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage members renovated an old steel grain bin that was on the property into this new straw bale-insulated, solar-powered, two story home. Since then, both floors of the grain bin have served as rental units to Dancing Rabbit members. So what was once an empty, unused structure became a functional house.

Grain bins are a very common sight in rural and agrarian communities, and many are ripe for converting into a living space suitable for humans. Even if you live on land where there are no grain bins, you can probably score a silo for no more than a few hundred bucks. Of course, it will take some work to make it livable, but the potential is great for recycling grain bins into homes.

For some tips and inspiration, Mother Earth News shares some stories on finding and outfitting a grain bin home. Check it out if you are interested in building your own converted grain bin house!

Green Education - What Nature Can Teach Our Kids

Kids today have huge advantages with regard to learning through technology; however, many kids are very – sometimes almost completely – disconnected from nature.

Having all the technological advantages for education doesn’t mean that our children need to miss out on the important lessons that they can learn by interacting with nature. Here are some ideas to get your kids out and about, and learning some of the wonderful lessons that are just waiting to be discovered about plants, animals, and the world around us.

Learning About Plants
Chances are, your child isn’t planning to be a botanist when he grows up. But plants have a lot to teach us about biology, reproduction, landscapes, even art.

Some activities for children of various ages, to start learning from plants, might include:Experiment with crayon rubbings of leaves and bark from different trees.
Learn to identify common wild plants and flowers in your local area.
For older children, examine different kinds of flowers, and learn how different plants reproduce. Look up diagrams of flower parts in books or on the internet, then see if you can find similar types of flower in the park or woods.

Learning About Animals

When you really observe the animals around you, you’ll find that they are ALL interesting. A child can learn just as much from the sparrows in the backyard as from the lions in a safari park.

Ideas for budding animal observers:What are the commonest birds in your local area?
Observe how different kinds of birds move. For older children, learn to identify more difficult species, based on their flight movements.
Collect feathers, and try to identify what bird they came from. Then use the feathers in craft projects!
What signs can you find in the park of animals that are too shy to usually be spotted? Look for prints, droppings, holes in the ground and plants that have been nibbled.
Look for insects in different places – under rocks or logs, in trees and flowers, in ponds and streams. Gently catch insects in a jam jar, draw them and then release them back where you found them.

Learning About Geography

You can think up lots of nature activities that will help your child in school geography lessons; doing so will also broaden your child’s horizons when it comes to thinking about his local geography as well as larger issues.

With young children, try out some of these ideas:When you have trips out, show your child where the park / river / woods etc are on a map. At this early stage, you’re just getting across the concept of representing places on paper.
Lie on your back in a field together and spot different shapes in the clouds.
Raise your child’s awareness by talking about the seasons and the weather. Play games like spotting trees that have started to change color in the fall, or who can spot the first signs of spring in the park?

For older children the opportunities for learning geography in nature are almost limitless:Make your own map of your local park or wood. Bring it to life with symbols showing where you have seen different plants or animals.
Learn about different types of clouds, and see how many kinds you can spot in a week.
Examine the soil in different areas. What are the differences in texture and color? Does this affect which plants grow?
Make a study of a river near you. What can you learn about it? Can you find your river on a national map, and trace the path your river takes until it reaches the sea? How do the shape of the river and the type of soil it runs through relate to how fast the water flows? What animals live in your local river?

Learning About Yourself

When we interact with nature, perhaps some of the most important lessons we learn are about ourselves! When you take your children out to explore nature, you’ll find they will need very little equipment other than their own senses.

Encourage your child to learn about himself as he explores the natural world around him:How quietly can I move? Can I walk slowly and quietly enough to get close to a squirrel or a rabbit?
Can I mimic the movements that different birds make? Can I crawl like a turtle, wriggle like a snake, run like a rabbit?
Can I close my eyes and use my sense of touch? For a young child, a great game is to put several natural items in a cloth bag and have the child feel them and identify which is a feather, flower, leaf, piece of bark or a rock.

Wherever you live, and whatever the time of year, you and your family can always have a lot of fun learning from nature!

 

Zero Carbon Activities for Kids

Kids’ entertainment is a massive industry and has a massive impact on the environment. Vast quantities of children’s toys and games are manufactured in the U.S. and also imported, particularly from China. Many are made from non-recyclable and non-biodegradable plastics.

Yet millions of these items are barely played with before they end up in a landfill site. Even community conscious families who prefer to take unwanted toys to a charity shop rather than toss them in the garbage may meet with resistance as some charities refuse to stock toys and games because of the risk of selling on items containing lead.

And when our children are not playing with or asking for new toys, many of their other activities have just as much impact on the environment. Driving children to and from various extra curricular activities accounts for half or more of the total car use in some families.

Even when your child is quietly entertaining himself at home, chances are that he is doing so with some kind of electronic device, from TV to computer or mobile phone. A recent poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that 97% of teenagers have at least one electronic device in their bedroom; on average sixth grade kids had over two devices in their room, and high school seniors reported having four!

All this goes to show that taking a serious look at how your children are entertained can be an area of huge scope in terms of reducing your family’s carbon footprint.

Here are some ideas for low or zero carbon activities that could be jumping off points to lead you and your kids down fun, educational and environmentally friendly paths to new hobbies and interests.

Zero-Equipment Games

There are dozens of fun games that can be played both outdoors and in, and which require no equipment whatsoever. Some are more appropriate for small children, while others can be exciting and entertaining for all ages.

Do you remember any from your own childhood? Here are a few suggestions to look up if you’re stumped for ideas!Swapsies
Copy Cat
What’s the time Mr. Wolf?
Down on the Farm
Who am I?
Hide and Seek
Red Light Green Light

Organic Gardening

You don’t need a garden in order for your children to have fun with plants. A balcony or even a window ledge is enough space to let your kids grow a few organic plants and you can do it at very low cost.

Yoghurt and other plastic containers can be reused as planters, and you should remember to encourage your child to save bath water or other lightly used water rather than running a tap.

Mini-tomatoes, green beans, celery or sweet peas are good choices, and for older children a herb garden can be particularly satisfying.

Be sure to encourage your children to “own” their plants and take care of them daily just as they would a pet.

Re-use Before You Recycle!

Teaching our kids to recycle is very important, but there are hundreds of fun and inventive projects you can do with things before you throw them into the recycling bin!

Cardboard boxes make great playhouses, old clothes are fun for dressing up and jam jars have dozens of important uses from bug catching to making containers to organize your room.

A fun resource you can use is http://www.kid-at-art.com/htdoc/matchtmp.html – here you can search for an art project suitable for your piece of waste.

Walking and Nature

Walking and exploring nature is a great zero-carbon way to spend time as a family. Kids used to spend much more time walking and playing outside than they do these days.

Today, a lot of kids won’t show much enthusiasm if you simply suggest a “walk”, so if you want to spend time outdoors as a family then you may find that you will need to turn your outing into something more interesting – an adventure, a mission or a field trip. Ideas to help prevent the cries of “I’m bored!” Include:

Water – kids love anything to do with water so make a pond, stream or river your destination and let them paddle, dabble with a jam jar or feed the ducks

Collecting – turn a walk in the park or woods into a competition to see who can collect the most different feathers, colored pebbles etc, or who can spot (and identify, if your kids are older) the most birds / trees / flowers

Benefits for the Environment and Your Kids

When you put a bit of imagination and effort into encouraging your kids into zero-carbon activities, there are added health benefits that naturally follow when your child spends less time in front TV and computer screens. It’s a good thing to do however you look at it!

 

How to Eat Green with Your Kids

Learning how to “eat green” with your kids can be a fun, educational adventure which could have a big impact on your family carbon footprint.

Eco-friendly eating is not as simple as just buying expensive organic foods from your supermarket. There are lots of things to consider and learn, and doing so with your children will set them a great example of environmentally aware thinking. It also has the potential to not only make a large improvement on your immediate carbon footprint and environmental impact as a family, but also to alter your children’s attitude towards food and eating for the rest of their lives – benefiting their own health as well as that of our planet.

Eat Simple

Explain to your kids that eco-friendly eating means thinking about all the different impacts that the foods we choose can have on the environment.

The overall goal is to minimize the impact we have on the environment by choosing simple rather than complex foods: given the options available, choose foods that are produced simply and packaged simply.

This includes considerations like:How much packaging does this product have? It the packaging recycled and / or recyclable? Is it biodegradable? Ideally look for foods sold simply, with no or little packaging.How much energy has been used in the production of the food? Highly processed foods cost much more to produce, in energy terms, and also tend to be less healthy for us.

The educational opportunities in discussing these issues are tremendous. Your children can become environmentally aware consumers by learning about food production methods, and can learn to “spot the difference” between products that may seem the same initially but have a very different impact on the environment, such as loose fruit and vegetables versus packaged ones of the same variety.

Eat Local

One of the heaviest costs to the environment of our eating habits is the transportation of foods. Teach your kids that buying local produce can have benefits to the environment that outweigh many other factors.

Which is better for the environment, walking to your local farm shop and buying a bag of locally-produced yet non-organic potatoes, or driving to your supermarket and buying a bag of organic potatoes that was produced half a state away? Of course the answer depends on many factors, but unless your local farmer is an excessive user of pesticides then probably the local bag wins out.

Sourcing local foods is an educational way for your kids to learn about and get involved in their local community. Farmer’s Markets are a great place to buy local foods, reduce your impact on the environment by avoiding produce that has been transported to you from miles away, support your community, and get great value, farm fresh foods.

The Department of Agriculture maintains a searchable database of Farmer’s Markets (http://apps.ams.usda.gov/FarmersMarkets/).

And if you are able to grow even a few vegetables of your own in your garden, this will introduce your kids to local eating on a micro-scale.

Eat Seasonal

Only a generation ago, a large proportion of fruit and vegetables were produced and consumed locally. This meant that most produce was eaten when it was locally in season.

Do your children think that everything from asparagus to kiwi fruit comes from your supermarket – and “should” be on the shelves every day of the year? That’s a short sighted view of vegetables and fruit that even many adults subscribe to today.

There is so much that can be learned about the environment, farming, the seasons, weather and botany when you and your kids start to look into which fruits and vegetables are in season in your own state at any particular time of year. And there is a special appreciation to be gained from consuming the first-harvested beans or Brussels sprouts of the year.

Eat Thrifty

Food wastage continues to be a problem in western countries, with estimates of domestic food thrown out ranging from 14 to 40 percent. Clearly one of the most important things that families can do in order to benefit the environment is to ensure that what we buy, we eat!

This also provides us with the opportunity to teach our kids about meal planning, shopping and budgeting – and to raise a thriftier generation of eco-friendly families for the future.

Why not make it your goal this month to buy only what will be eaten? Use simple, healthy meal plans and involve your kids in decision making. They will enjoy their food more if they have been part of the weekly meal planning. Show them how to use a meal plan to make a list, work out a financial budget and shop to it.

So remember: Eat simple, local, seasonal and thrifty. Your kids, your pocket and most certainly the environment will benefit!

How To Plant a Space Saving Herb Spiral for Your Garden

Do you want to enjoy fresh herbs throughout the season, but you don’t have a lot of garden space to spare? After all, there’s tomatoes, peppers, greens, onions, garlic, and a wealth of other vegetables taking up precious gardening space. However, you may need less space than you think to design what is called an herb spiral – a space-saving, microclimate-promoting garden bed especially good for growing your favorite herbs.

How to make an herb spiral

Permaculture is a set of principles that promotes self-sufficient food production through smart design considerations. An herb spiral is a good example of permacultural design. Essentially, an herb spiral is a garden bed compactly wrapped into itself. The center of the spiral is at a raised height, and it winds down to ground level. Different herbs can be planted in different parts of the spiral: the top, which will be warmer and drier than the bottom, should feature heat-loving herbs, and the bottom, shadier portions of the spiral can support those plants that enjoy cooler temperatures.

If you want to make your own herb spiral, check out these detailed instructions for more information.

Also very helpful are these two how-to videos for designing an herb spiral. Happy planting!

 

Happy Earth Day 2009

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to take a few minutes to say Happy Earth Day and to thank all of our loyal visitors, readers, subscribers and clients. When we originally started this site over 2 years ago, the goal was to make a difference in our environment and to spread the word about carbon neutrality, global warming and energy efficiency. Well, our goals have not changed, we are still here for the long haul, and until “green” and “eco-friendly” are no longer “buzz” words, but the norm, we will be here teaching and spreading the word about how to reduce your energy usage and help the environment.

So, without further a due, Happy Earth Day!

Also, just for today, get 10% off of any product in our Eco Shop by using ’ earthday2009 ’ as the coupon code at checkout.

 

A Vegetarian Diet For One Day Can Help Stop Global Warming

Americans consume a huge amount of meat. So much so that livestock is now one of the leading contributors to global warming, responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions as measured in a carbon dioxide equivalent.

A recent United Nations report concluded that the meat industry causes almost 40% more greenhouse gas emissions than all the world’s transportation systems—that means all of the globe’s cars, trucks, planes and ships combined.

Kathy Preston poses an important question for meat-eating Americans concerned about the effects of global warming: what are the effects of going vegetarian for just one day? Here are her astounding statistics about how going vegetarian for a single day can help prevent global warming:

If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would save:
100 billion gallons of water, enough to supply all the homes in New England for almost 4 months;
1.5 billion pounds of crops otherwise fed to livestock, enough to feed the state of New Mexico for more than a year;
70 million gallons of gas—enough to fuel all the cars of Canada and Mexico combined with plenty to spare;
3 million acres of land, an area more than twice the size of Delaware;
33 tons of antibiotics.

If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would prevent:
Greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 1.2 million tons of CO2, as much as produced by all of France;
3 million tons of soil erosion and $70 million in resulting economic damages;
4.5 million tons of animal excrement;
Almost 7 tons of ammonia emissions, a major air pollutant.

It is undoubtedly clear that human activity causes increased global warming, and America’s dangerous over-consumption of meat is a major contributor to climate change. Adopting a vegetarian diet is an important step towards preventing global warming. And as these alarming statistics suggest, simply decreasing the amount of meat in your diet can have a major impact.

For more information about how going vegetarian can help prevent global warming, check out the original article.

(See also: Humans’ beef with livestock: a warmer planet)

 

Gettin’ wiggly with it - Worm Composting

In my household, we recycle everything – cans, plastic, paper, paperboard, wine corks, batteries, electronics, and other items we no longer want or need that could benefit someone else I donate to local homeless and animal shelters.

On average, we have about 1 13-gallon bag of actual garbage a week. By the look (and smell) of my weekly garbage bag, most of that 13 gallons is filled with food scraps.  Living in a small apartment without a yard, a large scale compost pile for my old leftovers isn’t really an option.  However, a worm bin on my balcony is.

Vermiculture (also known as worm compost, vermicast, worm castings, worm humus or worm manure) is a composting process that uses worms to break down and decompose food waste into fertilizer.

How it works is simple. You let the worms have at your food scraps, they chow down at the all-they-can-eat buffet and then they poop, leaving behind some of most nutrient rich natural fertilizers that your garden will love. It doesn’t sound very elegant (it actually sounds kind of disgusting) but what’s great about this kind of composting is that it’s self-contained (no pile in the backyard that needs turning), is super easy AND (if you’re doing it right) it doesn’t smell – very unlike my garbage.

Getting Started

The beauty of vermiculture is in its simplicity. All you need to compost with worms is a bin, bedding, worms and worm food.

Bins

Worms don’t really care about aesthetics. You can use just about anything for a worm bin so long as it has drainage and air flow. Worms like moderate temps, so it’s a good idea to keep the bin in a shady place that won’t get too hot or cold.

Treehugger.com has a great run-down of the different kinds of bins you can use. Having seen several in practice, I’ve found the “continuous vertical flow” to be the easiest (and least messy). If you’re making your own, make sure the container is wide and shallow for good ventilation and there are air holes in the bottom.

Bedding

Bedding is easy. Again, worms aren’t picky and shredded paper or newspaper is the perfect bedding material, so chances are, you’ve already got what you need lying around.  The bedding should be a little moist, but not dripping wet (worms can drown). An easy way to moisten the bedding is to dunk it by the handful into warm water and then squeeze out the water until it’s barely dripping. Pull it apart to make little pockets and passageways, toss in a few handfuls of dirt and leaves and the bedding is ready for worms.

Worms

Vermiculture does require a certain type of worm. You can’t just go digging around in the backyard for nightcrawlers. Worm bins do best with Red Wigglers or Red Earthworms who are especially adapted to the conditions of rotting vegetation, compost and manure piles.

You can find worms at many garden stores, fishing suppliers, but most people order them online, by the pound. 1 pound of worms will run you about $20 and
should be more than enough to get you started. In addition to eating and pooping, the worms do other things, too. Worm populations double every three months so you can start another worm bin, or share your worms and help your neighbors start their own bin!

Worm Food

Here is where worms can be a little fussy.  No meat, no dairy, and no grease. Also, never give your worms anything salty, spicy, or acidic like lemons, limes or oranges, or anything synthetic.
They do like coffee grounds (which because of its grit is great for the worm’s digestive system) and coffee filters, tea leaves and bags, non-acidic fruits (remember NO oranges, lemons or limes) and veggies (like tomatoes and green peppers but no hot peppers) fruit/veggie peels and cores, leafy greens (sans salad dressing), paper, rice, grits, and cotton are all things worms can eat. Eggshells that have been washed out and ground up are also an excellent source of calcium for the worms.

To feed them, simply bury the food beneath the bedding and leave the rest to the wiggly guys. Start feeding them a little bit at a time (it’s easiest to start burying in one side of the bin so you can tell how much they’ve eaten. Worms easily can eat more than their own weight every day.) After getting to know your worms and their eating habits, you’ll know how much to regularly feed them. If your bin starts to smell, you’re probably feeding them too much or not burying food deep enough – a well balanced bin shouldn’t smell like anything but fresh dirt.

Collecting the Castings

Worm castings (a nice term for worm poop) collects at the bottom of your bin under the bedding. How you collect the castings will likely depend on the type of bin you’re using. The worms are attracted to food, so if you feed your worms on one side of the bin and wait about a week, the worms will concentrate on that side, allowing you to move the bedding from the other side and collect the compost.
Using a sifting device (a colander or chicken wire and wooden frame work well), separate the casting from the other organic matter left behind. Any worms and food remaining can be put back into the bin.
What you’re left with is “black gold” – the most nutrient-packed fertilizer you can find. It’s great for your garden when added to the soil around your plants. You can also mulch the compost into potting soil for your houseplants and other potting mixes.

Composting with worms is easy and will cut down on the amount of garbage you send to the landfills. What’s more, this green practice will help you grow green in no time, too!

For more information on vermiculture, see the following sources:

TreeHugger. Vermicomposting and Vermiculture: Worms, Bins and How To Get Started

How Stuff Works. How Vermicomposting Works.