Monday, December 9, 2013

It's a Wrap!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wondered why I spend so much time wrapping Christmas presents so carefully with colorful wrapping paper, when all of that beautiful paper ends up in a garbage bag a few days later.

It’s always fun to wrap presents for family and friends, but the amount of waste is frustrating. But, like most situations, it pays to get creative!!

Here are some of my favorite ways to reuse wrapping paper. Something that we think is garbage can suddenly become a valuable material with a little creativity.

Ideas for Reusing Wrapping Paper:

1)      Use the paper to make textbook covers. This could be a fun back-to-school project!!

2)      Use the scraps to make a paper collage. (This is one of my favorites).

3)      Shred the leftover paper to use in gift bags instead of tissue paper.

4)      Cut small paper squares, and use them for gift cards.

5)      If there is enough paper left over, cut out letters to use for labels on other crafts.

6)      And for those of you who love to read, you can create a beautiful bookmark with your favorite wrapping paper.

So, the next time you see a roll of wrapping paper, think of all it can be used for after it’s off the present!!

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful day!



Monday, November 25, 2013

We Can Decorate!!

As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s always fun to see the different seasonal decorations.

I’m someone who enjoys finding creative ways to decorate, which might explain why the picture on the right caught my attention.

I like this idea, because the main components are aluminum and tin cans, and it just so happens that these are in abundance during the Thanksgiving season.

Not only does this create another use for metal cans, it provides a fun craft for the family. And, as an added bonus, it’s not complicated!!

To prepare the cans, you remove the labels, wash the cans, and get a color of paint that coordinates with your decorating theme. Then, use your imagination!! You end up with a new Thanksgiving decoration that’s made from recyclable materials!!

Fun Fact about Aluminum Cans: According to the Waste Management Website, Americans currently discard about 2.7 million tons of aluminum each year.

Recycling cans can save up to 74% of the energy used to initially produce them.

And before recycling the cans, what's a better way to reuse them than by decorating?!

Thanks for reading, and enjoy your Thanksgiving season!


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Packaging, Plastic, and Picky Eaters

I’m guilty. This week, my trash can is filled with single use pouches from baby foods, wrappers, packaging, and other random plastics.

What is it about convenience that seems to win out over even the staunch environmentalist’s thinking?

I’ll say this: having a two year old who refuses to come inside to eat will make you opt for convenience. I would rather him eat a squeezable pouch of food while playing outside than having the battle that comes with getting him inside. Otherwise, I get him inside and he is so mad that he will refuse to eat. Not to mention he is the pickiest eater I have ever seen.

I am also tired of feeding the ants and whatever else eats the mountains of food he drops outside when I try to do the more sustainable thing and bring a bowl of something out to him. So, excessive packaging it is, right?

One contributing factor in this whole situation is the lack of bulk food buying options in my town. Even at the organic grocery store, there are bins of nuts, candy, granola, pasta, rice, and dried fruits but that’s it. Everything else comes in a plastic wrapping of some kind and/ or plastic bag with a box. This is especially true for things you buy to make lunches.

If you are like us, you try to make and bring lunch to work most days. That makes for a lot of this plastic wrapping and bags. Much of it is not recyclable, so what else do you do?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the time to make my own chips or bread and have no idea how to make fruit snacks. Even buying fresh lunch meat from the deli produces plastic wrapping and wax paper.

I guess there really isn’t a solution to every issue for everyone in all parts of the country. I suppose we can all buy what we can in bulk, recyclable packaging, and try to get the largest packages possible to reduce this waste.

In the meantime, I will be working on how to get a two year old to eat things that aren’t individually packaged. Maybe tricking him into it would work?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Letter to the Editor

I recently read a letter to the editor of my local paper where the writer was outraged by the LEED certified buildings popping up in town. The left wing liberal crazies are trying to push their weight around and make people do things they don’t want to do.

Honestly, I am trying to understand why this person is so upset that the town and business owners are choosing to build LEED buildings. It saves money, energy, and water resources while the green rooftops are creating habitat and cleaning the air.

Why are actions that are taken to help reduce our strain on the environment considered left wing craziness? Does this mean there are no right wing folks who care about the Earth and our strain on it? I know this is not the case as I know many people of all kinds of political beliefs that care for the Earth. In fact it is a growing majority of people.

It is a fact that conservation of our resources is a good management practice; one which conservatives and liberals should be able to relate with. Also, for those that are religious, wasn’t it a teaching of Jesus to rid yourself of material things and not to waste anything?

However, these are not the only reasons for “Going Green”.  Sustainability makes dollars and cents too. Ask any number of companies, big and small, about their sustainability initiatives and most have them. From Patagonia, to Walgreens, Wal-mart, New Balance, Kroger, Jewel-Osco, and on and on, they all have sustainability goals and plans. They have seen first-hand how being green makes business sense for them.

I imagine the local businesses and the town buildings that became LEED certified have made their business case for doing so and are achieving their goals through this. Maybe we need to stop labeling and being outraged over so many things that are completely out of our control. Then maybe, just maybe, we will be able to jump outside of our boxes and see all sides.  

Friday, May 24, 2013

Changing the Norm

My husband and I got the chance this week to attend the national premier of Gasland 2, a film about fracking (hydraulic fracturing). Since the first film five years ago, much has happened in Illinois in this area. Leases are being signed in the Shawnee National Forest, companies have approached my county about fracking here, and the Illinois legislature has bills before it to ban fracking and to allow it with a minimum amount of regulatory oversight. You can guess which groups support each of these measures I’m sure.

But whether or not I think this should go on in the state or the world is not what I want to talk about. It’s what led us to this point that I am interested in exploring. The consumerism, feelings that it is your right to use whatever resources you want without consequence, desire for cheap goods and services, desire to live the lifestyle Americans live, etc. : all of these things work together to lead energy companies to look for the next boom in the energy supply. First it was steam and wood, then coal, oil, nuclear, and now the big one is natural gas. All of these things made these companies rich at the expense of people, ecosystems, communities, countries, and the entire planet.

There has to be a better way and there is. It is more difficult than I will make it sound here due mostly to politics, lobbying and money, but renewable energy technologies have been proven to be able to readily supply the world’s energy needs. Between wind, solar, and hydro-power, there is enough supply to exceed the current demands when used together. Add to those: geothermal, wave technology, biogas, bio-fuels, and others and you have a diverse and capable range of energy sources.

So why not? Why not build up the energy grid over the next 5 years and develop these resources and change things over? A lot depends on us. How we consume affects more than how much garbage we make. Our lives are connected to more than our little bubble and every seemingly insignificant decision can have a butterfly effect to many other things including the energy booms and busts.

I know this is a heavy topic for a Friday but someone has to say it right? We have made many strides toward good environmental stewardship since the first Earth Day and there is no reason to stop now.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Green Moms

Since Mother’s Day is coming up on Sunday, I thought it appropriate to address the common gifts for Mother’s Day and possible alternatives that are more Earth Friendly.

First – a bouquet of flowers. While lovely, these flowers are cut and will only last a few days to a week. Instead, get flower bulbs or a perennial flower planted in a pot that mom can transplant in the yard. This is the gift that keeps on giving year after year with sweet smelling aromas just like those you smell when mom bakes your favorite sweets. As an added bonus, these flowers will take in CO2 and release Oxygen!

How about Jewelry? Lots of moms get Jewelry for Mother’s Day but there are more sustainable and conflict free jewelry options out there. Like making mom jewelry from seashells and beads like is suggested here on Or, there are companies like Brilliant Earth who sell sustainably harvested and conflict free diamonds and everything to go with them.


Of course there are always the hand-made coupons for mom to use that say things like: 1 hour of alone time, free week of Daddy and kids making dinner, mom’s choice movie night, 1 free breakfast in bed, 1 night out with mom’s girlfriends, etc. Pick out what your mom likes and start crafting these great coupons.

What are some of your Earth friendly ideas for Mother’s Day?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Litter, Litter, Everywhere

As we do many a Sunday morning, my husband, son and I walked to the local coffee shop. It is only 4 blocks away and we enjoy walking by the community garden and through downtown.

However, this past Sunday, the very Eve of Earth Day, I was troubled by what I saw.

Litter. Everywhere. In the streets, in the grassy right of way, in yards, on steps up to a porch, just anywhere you looked, there it was.

We generally will pick up cans or bottles on our walk back and had more than our bag could handle. And we didn’t even come close to getting 25% of it. I realize trash accumulates over the winter when people aren’t out and about to pick it up, but this seemed exceptional. Have people forgotten the proper place to put trash and recyclables? Or could it be the ever growing population of folks who throw their trash out at the curb loose or worse yet, out their car windows that are contributing to this mess?

I do live in a trying neighborhood, I’ll give you that. However, I see a lot of litter everywhere. Suburbia is not exempt from this. However, those people in suburbia seem to be doing a much better job at keeping their streets and lawns free of litter. The first nice day comes and you see them out in droves, cleaning up their yards.

Is it maybe that many of the people who live in my neighborhood are renters and therefore don’t care what the property and neighborhood looks like? Possible. Yet, where are the owners or management companies of these properties? Why don’t they care enough to clean it up and fine their residents for their disrespect of the property?

These are all things I will probably never know the answers to but certainly will keep searching. In the meantime, I guess we need to start bringing a few bags with us every time we leave the house. That’s our baby step toward a greener city center. What’s yours?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Earth Day!

Did you know that Earth Day is Monday, April 22nd and marks the 43rd Earth Day? What are you doing to commemorate it? Each year I try to think of something to do to celebrate the beginnings of our national movement to a better, cleaner environment. I know we all hear that Earth Day is Everyday slogan and it is true. If you are a recycler, make your home more energy efficient, carpool or take mass transit or bike, and generally be a conscious consumer, you are putting this slogan into action. And that is what Earth Day is all about, action.

The first Earth Day in 1970 marked the beginning of a national movement to clean up our air and water (Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act), and establish the Endangered Species Act. Demonstrations were occurring all over the nation in response to polluting industries and the state of our natural environment. Public spaces all across the land were full of people who were concerned for the health and well-being of not only the environment, but themselves and future generations.

Here we are, 43 years later, still fighting these battles. Don’t get me wrong, we have come a long way since April 22, 1970, but we have new and tougher challenges facing us. Climate Change, whether you are a believer of the human impacts or not, is occurring. Weather patterns are changing, storms more frequent and more damaging costing us billions every year. Coastal populations are planning and implementing strategies to deal with sea level rise and some island nations have already left their homelands.

So, what will you do this Earth Day? Commit to saving energy, commit to saving water, and commit to buy a more fuel efficient car or be better about not driving everywhere, plant trees, plant a garden? I have done all of these things already but could still do more. We can always do more. After all, we are the generation of doing more with less right? Our challenges are big; there is no doubt about it. But, we have to rise to the challenge now, before it will take more sacrifice on our part and more irreversible detriment to our natural world.

What will YOU do?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spring is here... almost

Spring is here! Though you wouldn’t know it with the near foot of snow we just received yesterday. Regardless, Spring planting, and planning for planting, is upon us. The snow won’t last forever so let’s talk about a few things that will help our gardens grow.

First, before you mulch- compost! Adding good, organic compost to your lawn, flower beds, and garden will jump start the nutrients and help to feed your new plants. I buy compost that is locally made by a food scrap compost program and it works wonders! Apply a generous amount (half and inch to an inch) and turn it into the soil. Then you can go ahead and put mulch down to keep weeds from emerging.

If you grow a food garden, remember that some plants take more of one thing than another from the soil so some nutrients can get depleted quickly. Apply a generous amount of compost and turn the soil. This will help your garden get all the nutrients it needs to grow. I have seen 12 foot tomato plants with tomatoes all the way to the top with a good compost mix applied!

In my garden, I try to make raised rows for plants with nice deep valleys between them. This helps with watering. Water in the valleys and put down straw to keep the sun from evaporating too much water (also prevents weeds), and you will conserve water usage.

It depends on where you live and what grows well there but try to get plants that are native to the area. That means less maintenance is required so you can have a beautiful garden that won’t require too many additional resources to maintain. Hey, I am all about having more time to do other things in the Spring and Summer.

What are some of your planting and gardening tips?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Why We Don't Recycle

What is it about recycling that turns some people off and others get really excited about it? I heard a recent report about interviews with several hundred non-recyclers who gave many reasons for not recycling. Some of these were the usual ones that we recyclers hear all the time about it not being convenient, not knowing what the rules are, and not thinking it really does any good.

But the most often stated answer was very shocking to me. They most often stated reason was that they didn’t like the attitudes of those of us who do recycle. Saying that we act like we are better than them and it makes them want to throw it away instead of recycle just to spite us.

I have to wonder about this answer. It sounds more like a teenage rebellion response than a legitimate one. I admit; I do give people several economic and environmental benefit reasons to recycle that material they just threw away if I see it happen. But does this make it sound like I am better than them in their minds? Or do they just feel guilty and resent me for making them feel guilty?

This is important to me because I would like to know how we as a nation get beyond the 34% national recycling rate that we have been stuck at for several years. And that counts everything, not just residential. Residential recycling is a mere 21%.

So, what ideas are out there to help get the message out there about the benefits of recycling and how to recycle? The industry has tried many approaches but we still seem to stagnate. Please comment with your ideas and suggestions. Or, if you have different reasons why you don’t recycle (if you don’t recycle) please share as well.

Friday, February 15, 2013

DIY projects

I am a terrible DIY craft person. I see all of these awesome ideas and pictures of things people turn their old stuff into and think that I can do that, someday. Sometimes I will even gather the things to do the project, but alas, I never get around to doing it. I can’t be the only person like this, can I?

Because of my greenie nature, I embrace the idea of reuse and turning things into something else. However, I have to wonder when people have time to do these projects.  Furthermore, where do they get all of the froo-foo frilly stuff they decorate their projects with? I don’t just have things like that around my house. No, I don’t have a jar of buttons somewhere, and I don’t have scrap ribbons lying around, or pieces of fabric. Do many people have these things or do they specifically go and buy new things to be able to remake something?

It sounds strange but these thoughts and questions occur to me more than once a week. It’s not that I can’t do these projects. I consider myself fairly creative and am not shy with a hammer.
However, in all of this, I wonder if I am not just a bit jealous. Not of the cute things that come out of these projects but of the time that these DIY folks seem to have. In the meantime, I think I will just keep trying to consume less, and recycle what I can’t donate.

Tell me, do you pin to boards on Pinterest and actually get around to doing these projects?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

New Toys

I was sitting in my living room playing with my son and his new toys from Christmas when he stopped paying attention to me and focused intently on his toy. As I watched him, I could see the gears turning in his head as he connected the dots and realized several things the toy could do that he hadn’t noticed before. His brow furrowed and he continued to do these new things over and over again. When he was satisfied that he had mastered this, he looked up at me and gave me a huge smile, looking thoroughly pleased at his ability.

I looked on with pride and reaffirmed his excitement with a big smile and a “yay!” We continued on with what we were doing.

This made me think about all of the times I had these same “aha” moments. Several of these came in college when I saw how classes seemed to correlate with others that you wouldn’t have expected. Topics like World Humanities and Waste Management don’t really seem like they have anything to do with one another upon first glance; especially when your world view is so limited at that point in life. 

But, we live in a world where nothing really stands alone. Everything is connected in some way. As humans, we are constantly trying to relate new experiences with something we know so we can make sense out of it. We do this in conversations too.

So, why is it that some of us can’t see the connection between the economy and the environment and things that affect both? I am amazed still by the benefits of things like conservation and recycling, and their compounding benefits on the economy and the ecosystems that we depend on. Likewise, it is astounding how much degradation of these ecosystems occurs from consumerism, overuse, and negligence when you are not keeping these things in mind.

Consider this: When we recycle 1 ton of material (2000 pounds), we save 3 cubic yards of landfill space (and consequently the methane it will produce), trees (at 17 trees per ton of paper), energy, water, air pollutants, oil, soil erosion (from mining practices), and all of the added CO2 emissions from the extraction, transport, refining, and manufacturing of new materials.

Energy and water are our biggest threats in the near future. We have aging and at capacity transmission grids and our water supplies are strained by overuse and pollutants. There are more and more spills, accidents, and unintended consequences from our ways of extracting raw materials that cost taxpayers billions. Though, we don’t usually see these costs. Hidden costs.

Has there been an “aha” moment yet? 

The only thing I can hope is that more people, and our government, will come to the realization that we need to make a bigger effort. Treat it like a new toy. It may take a little work and you may have to turn it over in your head several times but you will eventually see so many new possibilities.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Java Jump

Every evening, I set up my coffee pot to brew just enough coffee for my husband and me in the morning. It is much more sustainable and cheaper than buying coffee at a coffee shop every day. This is especially true if I opt for a fancy designer coffee beverage. 

My routine consists of making and eating dinner, playing with my son, giving him a bath, reading stories, and putting him to bed around 7:30 (or 8 if he pushes it). I then turn to making my lunch for the next day, setting up the coffee for delay brew, dishes and sometimes laundry.
However, sometimes things come up that completely throw me off my game, and thus, I end up buying coffee in the morning. 

This brings me to a recent popular story in the news about a certain large coffee chain wanting to be more sustainable. This nationwide coffee chain decided that they will charge an extra $1 for their pricey coffee if you opt for a reusable plastic cup. Every time you bring your cup back for a refill, you get 10 cents off the price of the coffee, essentially paying for the cup after 10 uses. While this seems like a great idea, the company is betting on a lot of things coming together for this to take hold. 

First, you have to bet that the customer will pay an extra dollar on top of their $4 coffee. Then, you have to bet that they will remember their cup in the morning. (I sometimes have trouble remembering my cloth bags when going to the grocery store and that is when I am fully awake and have had coffee already.) Then, you have to bet that the customer will get out of their car and come in the shop for their order. 

This is where the biggest issue comes in, I think. We are Americans after all, and as such have a love affair with our cars. Drive-thru convenience is paramount. So, unless you are in a busy city where people walk more and drive-thru lanes are few and far between, or in a very green-minded city, I don’t think this will last long. This is unfortunate but true. I know when I am in a hurry in the morning (which is every morning), and I hadn’t pre-made coffee, I probably will opt for the faster drive-thru option. And the coffee shop isn’t going to want to wait until I get up to the window to take my cup and then make my drink. 

So I guess we will have to see how this experiment turns out. In the meantime, I am still working on the more sustainable and cheaper option, of making coffee at home.