Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Up-cycle, Down-cycle, Pre-cycle, Reuse: What’s the difference?

Up-cycling explained

In my next few entries I will explore these terms we are so often hearing nowadays. First, the newest term I have heard lately is “Up-cycle”.   I literally had to look up what this means since all of the ideas and pictures I am sent of cool new up-cycle projects seem, to me, like reusing.

In short, up-cycling is reusing; just a little more fancy. The true definition from is “Up-cycling is the process by which waste materials are used to provide new, high quality products.” So I think what has been done here is splitting the idea of reuse into two forms: up-cycle and down-cycle.

Here’s my idea for a good up-cycle project at my house.  I’m going to take those empty baby food jars we have at home, attach them to an old salvaged piece of crown molding, put it up on the wall in the kitchen, and voila! We have a nice row of spice jars for all of those tasty herbs we have been growing in the garden.

 On I spotted a really cool idea for those over the door shoe racks. You know the canvas ones that people use for like a year and get tired of? Someone hung it outside against their porch and put delicate seedlings in the pockets. They created vertical garden space in the space-limited urban area they live in. Ever visit ? One of the boards is called DIY/ Crafts which contains many Up-cycling ideas as well.

Check out this great Up-cycle idea (posted by Shana Nicholson the DIY/ Crafts board).  It is a lamp base that she turned into a side table base! Definitely an up-cycle!

There you go. Now we all know what up-cycle means and how to spot a good up-cycling idea when you see one. What other up-cycle ideas are out there? Do you have any good ones to share?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Green Babies

After my first year being a parent I have realized something. It isn’t easy being green when it involves children. If you have a child and you have tried to be green in the raising of that child, you know what I mean.

When I was pregnant I tried to eat more organic food and to use only organic and natural products. I vowed to only feed my baby organic foods and use natural products for him as well. And I think I haven’t done too badly so far. Here is the run-down on the basics for your green baby.

1.       Diapers. Do you use disposable or cloth? Cloth diapers sure aren’t what they used to be. They are amazingly cute and you can get a certain size or ones that adjust/grow with your baby. I love these diapers and in the long run they save a TON of money. Check out these two places: and  Did you know that disposable diapers contain many potentially harmful chemicals like Dioxins, chemicals that can cause Toxic Shock Syndrome, and TBT among others? The environmental effects are large as well.  They are the third largest single consumer item in landfills representing 50% of a household’s waste with just 1 child in diapers. Imagine this with 2 children in diapers.

2.       Breast milk. The advantages of breast milk are widely known and many hospitals are promoting it more these days. It is healthier for your baby and burns a lot of calories for mom to help lose the baby weight gain too. It is also FREE! Can’t beat that with the cost of formula these days.  

3.       Baby food. When your baby is ready for solid food, you can make your own. Yep, making food is as easy as buying the organic fruits and veggies and using a blender. True, it takes a little time but you end up saving a lot of money. For example, a 4oz. jar of baby food costs anywhere from $0.49 to $0.99. One organic sweet potato generally costs $0.50. You can make roughly 8-10 ounces of food with that one potato. This book was great for me, and you can always find books like this at Goodwill, your local Library, and often times at baby re-sale shops.

4.       Clothing. This one I have a really hard time with. It seems that if you want organic cotton clothing, bedding, etc, you have to purchase online. I don’t have any stores in my area that offer organic cotton baby items. If they major retailers have anything, it may be one thing here and one thing there. I usually try to shop locally and try to avoid buying online because of the environmental impacts of shipping goods and sending my money out of the community. So, if anyone wants to open up an organic baby store in Bloomington- Normal, there should be a good market available.  Anyway, there is a lot of research coming out about the use of flame retardants in baby items. Their clothing, pajamas, bedding, and pretty much everything is loaded with the stuff. Some recent research I read links the chemicals with SIDS.  New Zealand has seen NO SIDS deaths since 2006 after not using the chemical and implementing a mattress wrapping program. I ultimately ended up buying an organic crib mattress after reading this. You can Google this topic and find all the research and articles. They have even made it into Wikipedia (under the Toxic Gasses section of the SIDS and flame retardants search).

5.       Toys.  Toys are a difficult one for sure. You can’t prevent people from buying your child toys. Many are plastic and you may not want your child playing with and chewing on them. It can be unnerving when you hear about recalls and discovery of lead and cadmium in infant toys. There are plenty of options for toys now though. Most communities have stores that sell safe and educational toys.
So, these are the basics as I see them. I can’t claim to be 100% organic and green with my son but I try the best I can. The way I see it is if I can do a little it is better than not at all. Right? Or at least it gives me a bit of peace of mind which counts for something too. What about you? Anyone else struggle with this or have any good tips to share?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

What is all the commotion with plastic bags?

You may have heard in the news about the latest city to enact a “bag ban”. Why and what is the big deal?  I must say that before a few months ago, I didn’t realize the huge problem that plastic bags cause. We have all seen them caught in trees and fences and blowing across the road to get caught in a farmer’s field or flow down a stream. But, did you know that plastic bag litter is the second largest ocean litter material? It is only surpassed by cigarette butts.

The problem with these bags stems from their ability to float away in the air and in the water. They don’t degrade very quickly at all, taking roughly 450 years in water and 1,000 years on land.

Turtles, seals, sharks, birds, whales, and many other land and sea animals (roughly 100,000 a year) are entangled, choke to death, or starve because of ingesting plastic bags that are not digestible. (

As if that isn’t enough, they cause litter problems, consume non-renewable resources in their production (oil), and cause floods. Yes floods. Bangladesh banned them completely in 2002. They found that they were clogging the drainage and sewage systems that ultimately caused the massive floods in 1998 (and also in 1988).  

Back in college, I remember one of my professors talking about Ireland. They put a 15 cent tax on each plastic bag the consumer used. It spurred people to bring their own bags, milk crates, and baskets when they went shopping. Their plastic bag litter problem went down to nearly nothing and roughly 90% of stores stopped offering them because they weren’t needed. Back then, I hadn’t heard of any community to do this and now you hear about at least one a week.

We are catching on here in the US. Since the beginning of the year 42 cities have enacted plastic bag bans which bring our total to 79. (Plastics News, July 2012) Granted, most of these cities are in California, who seems well on their way to a state-wide ban, but it is a start for sure. Several other cities in the West have done the same.

Now, SB3442 in IL is looking to go a different route. The bill, now awaiting Governor Quinn’s signature, creates an environment where bag and plastic film manufacturers wishing to sell bags in the state, have to register, create a recycling plan, and show percentages of bags ad films collected versus what they sold. It goes further, thanks to lobbying efforts in the plastic bag industry, to prohibit municipalities with fewer than 2 Million people, which only excludes Chicago, from enacting bans of their own. Check it out.

Many groups, organizations, and municipalities are upset with this bill because it takes away their home-rule authority and doesn’t go far enough to protect land, water, and animal life. Have you researched this at all? What do you think about it?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Check out the local scene

My husband works for his father at the family business in town. He has always been adamant about shopping at local businesses and supporting the local economy and really pushes that with anyone he comes in contact with. I was not the local shopper type when I met him and found this a little annoying. “Seriously, you’re telling me I have to go to 4 different places for my groceries and other things I need?”, I would say. His argument is that the lifeline of the community is the local business. Over the years, I have come to love the local businesses and make it a point to shop there, even if it costs more, and even if I have to go to several different places for the things I need.

But, why? Why would anyone do this if super center big-box stores have everything you need in one place? Or you could shop online and not have to go anywhere at all. I decided to do a little digging and find out what this local lifeline is and if it really makes a difference.

As it turns out, if you shop at a locally owned and operated business, much more of your dollar spent stays in the community. Even a chain store that is locally operated doesn’t provide the same benefit. Check out this image below from an Andersonville West Michigan study.

They found that when you spend $100 at a local business 58% more money on average stays in your community compared to a chain store. Check out the whole report here:

West Michigan isn’t the only area catching on to this huge economic impact of local businesses. San Francisco, Austin TX, Portland Maine, and many others have all performed similar studies on the economic impacts to their local economies by supporting local businesses. In fact, SCF Arizona, a locally owner 55 employee company, is supporting local businesses by making a policy to buy their goods and services locally. A study on that company found that they are indirectly supporting 3,573 jobs and $538 million in total output in Arizona! ( )

It’s also the local businesses that contribute much more often and in greater number to the non-profit groups and other fundraising in the community. Just pay attention to the sponsors for the next events in your town and see for yourself. After all, local businesses have vested interests in the future of the communities they operate in.

This is not to say there isn’t a place for the big-box stores. There certainly is and you can’t buy everything local can you? But still, shopping at a chain store that is physically in your town helps your local economy more than shopping online. And better yet- it helps to reduce your carbon footprint.   

So I guess m husband has been right all along! Wow, I hope he doesn’t read this to see me say that in writing! So was it just me, or are there many of you who had also never realized the huge impact you can have shopping local?