February 29, 2012

Eggshells as Garden Helpers - Less Trash, More Plants

As anyone that helped our family move in the fall of 2010 can attest to, I have a healthy affinity for plants.  Maybe slightly more than healthy, some might say.  Either way I've really enjoyed having a yard to work in for the past year and have learned a lot about plants.  I previously touched on using coffee as a fertilizer, today's post is about the benefits that eggshells can bring to your yard and garden.


When we started our garden I was really disappointed to see our first plantings disappear almost overnight.  Basil, tomatoes, cilantro, and many other seedlings we put into the garden would quickly lose most or all of their leaves.  After a few nights of inspection with a flashlight I found multitudes of silverfish, slugs, and snails feasting on the greenery.  I was unable to find a quick solution to the silverfish, but eggshells proved to be a strong deterrent to the slugs and snails and I learned they also provide a number of benefits to the soil and plants.

Putting crushed eggshells in your garden helps to deter snails, slugs, cutworms, and other soft-bodied pests from your garden because of the sharp edges that they possess.  When these types of pests crawl along the soil, the eggshells cut their soft undersides and greatly help to prevent them from enjoying the fruits of your labor.

Eggshells also have a high concentration of calcium carbonate, which is a good fertilizer and helps to avoid root rot for plants like tomatoes and peppers.  Putting eggshells directly onto the soil of your garden will help to fertilize and protect from these pests, or you can add the eggshells to your compost pile and the calcium carbonate will be incorporated into your compost harvest.

Sometimes eggshells can slightly cut your hands when you crush them (if you don't have a set of gloves you want to use).  To make them more brittle, so they break more easily, you can place them in an unused gas oven for a few hours.  The heat from the pilot light will dry them out and make them easy to break.

Suggested action steps:

1) If you like eggs, make a nice scramble or omelet this weekend
2) Save the eggshells and sprinkle on your garden, yard, or around the base of a shrub or tree

Using eggshells to enhance the plants in your yard will make your space more verdant, and also help to reduce your weekly trash output.  

February 28, 2012

Cleaning Week - Day 7 - The Smell of Success (Simmer Pots)

Today is the final day of Cleaning Week.  I have some remaining requests for topics including cleaning wood floors and composting.  I'll work on writing about those topics in the coming weeks since Cleaning Week is at a close.

Today's post is about simmer pots, to help your home smell as wonderful as it looks and feels after a thorough cleaning.


Using natural and biodegradable cleaners will likely leave your home with less of a 'clean smell' than you are used to.  Many people, myself included, associate the smell of materials like bleach, ammonia, and chlorine with cleanliness.  Strong cleaner smells still remind me of elementary school and swirlies.

Natural cleaners often have little smell, or a less robust smell, than chemical cleaners.  I've enjoyed using simmer pots when cleaning, when it's cold outside, or just for a nice surprise when Amelia returns home from work.  I recommend starting the simmer pot before you start cleaning so it has time to work while you're cleaning.

Recipe 2: Orange (zest), cinnamon,
anise pods
Recipe 1: Lemon (zest), cinnamon stick,

A simmer pot is simply a pot of spices or other good smelling items simmered on the stove to produce a pleasant smell.  Below are a couple of my favorite recipes, and a couple of links to additional recipes.  I almost always use a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and anise and then vary the other ingredients including lemon and orange zest, vanilla extract, honey, and apples.

  1. Fill small pot with water
  2. Add ingredients
  3. Set burner on low
  4. Hardware: Small pot, zester / microplane (optional)
  5. Add water as needed

Suggested action steps:
  1. Try one of the simmer pot recipes above (or try these or these) in place of chemical cleaners, aerosol sprays, plug-ins, or scented candles.
  2. Experiment with a recipe of your own
  3. Enjoy the fragrant smell (and humidifying effects) of using a simmer pot
Thanks for reading during Cleaning Week and if you have suggestions or questions on cleaning or other topics please let me know!

February 27, 2012

Cleaning Week - Day 6 - Trash Bags

Today is day six of Cleaning Week and it's also Monday so today's post combines both cleaning and plastic bags in the topic of trash bags.


Similar to plastic shopping bags, trash bags have a limited useful life (typically a few days before being moved from inside a  home to the main recycling or garbage container outside) and take a long time to decompose (estimated between 500 and 1000 years).  Growing up and during my time in Chicago I thought that trash had to be put into a trash bag or the garbage collector wouldn't take it.  However, when I discovered this wasn't the case in San Diego we stopped using trash bags although I had to do some convincing before Amelia was persuaded this was a good and/or sane idea.  (I think that I having recently had a bag of 1,000 worms delivered to my office had something to do with her hesitancy.)
I couldn't resist.
Stopping our use of plastic shopping bags was a first step, followed by using reusable produce bags instead of disposable plastic, so it seemed like a natural step to stop using trash bags as well.  This has been the case with many things that we've reduced or eliminated: once we get rid of one thing we start to see so many other things we hadn't noticed before.  Often they are things we've simply used without thinking about and don't miss them once they're gone.

Taking out the trash is a chore so often required the marital strife that can result from opposing views of who last took out the trash has become a common joke.  This joke is based in large part on the frequency with which we dispose of our garbage.  (Not to mention the prodigious amounts of garbage we create.)

Consider if a home has a trash and a recycling bin in the kitchen, plus two bathrooms with a bin each.  If each bin is emptied twice a week, 416 bags would be used in a year.  Take those 416 bags, which I think is a low estimate since it excludes yard waste and higher volume trash times like the holiday season, and multiply times the 114 million households in the United States.  That totals 47 billion trash bags used per year.  Even if it's not possible to stop using all trash bags, if just the bags in bathrooms were eliminated the number used would decrease 50%.  That size of a reduction can make a big difference.

Reducing the use of trash bags also helps to avoid infant deaths.  According to the US Product Safety Commission, an average of 25 children in America die each year by suffocation from a plastic bag.  90% of this number are infants under 1 year of age.

Suggested action steps:

  1. Consider stopping or reducing your use of trash bags (trash, recycling, bathroom, garage, etc.)
    1. For items like scraps of meat, grease, or other items that smell we take them to the outdoor trash immediately to avoid getting the indoor bin dirty
    2. Having a composter has helped us to avoid mold or other food issues in the trash, since they go straight to the composter
  2. If your garbage collector requires use of trash bags ask them why and to consider changing this policy
  3. If you must use trash bags, consider using a biodegradable brand like this one
  4. If your trash cans get dirty clean out with water and Dr. Bronner's soap or vinegar.  I set up a calendar reminder on my computer for every 3 months to help me remember.

February 26, 2012

Cleaning Week - Day 5 - Toilets

Please clean me!
Today is day five of Cleaning Week and is about cleaning toilets.  Although cleaning toilets isn't a glamorous job, it is certainly a necessary one.


Many toilet cleaners utilize bleach as an ingredient to help with whitening / cleaning, and to kill bacteria that may be present.  According to WebMD bleach is also a dangerous thing to have at home, especially if children are p


  1. Because it's used so frequently, chlorine bleach is the most common cleaner that children accidentally swallow. 
  2. When mixed with ammonia, another common ingredient of cleaning products, and acidic cleaners, such as toilet bowl cleaners, the mixture releases poisonous gasses. 
    1. This is compounded by the difficulty in learning what ingredients are included in commercial cleaners since they're not typically listed on the label. 
If you want to avoid bleach in your home, like we did, you can use safer items that have similar properties to bleach.
  1. For getting rid of mold and bacteria, vinegar or hydrogen peroxide are effective.  (I haven't used hydrogen peroxide since vinegar has worked very well for me.)
  2. To clean and whiten I've had good success with a simple combination of vinegar and baking soda which I mentioned in a post on sinks and tubs, and utilize for many purposes.
In addition to being a health risk if inhaled or swallowed, bleach can also be absorbed through the skin.  Bleach is sometimes utilized to change skin coloration, with potentially disastrous results, as noted in this article from Ghana.  If you've cleaned with bleach before and not used gloves you've probably noticed the rough effect it can have on your skin.

Suggested action steps:
  1. Put baking soda and / or vinegar into bowl.  (We have also used the Seventh Generation Emerald Cypress & Fir before if you want a pleasant odor after cleaning, but I think going forward we'll stick with the vinegar and baking soda.)
    1. For stubborn stains try leaving vinegar in the bowl for a few hours or overnight.
    2. Here are some more detailed instructions and options if my method doesn't work for you.
  2. Scrub with toilet brush
  3. Clean outside of tank with a rag and vinegar
  4. Wait about an hour for vinegar smell to dissipate

February 25, 2012

Cleaning Week - Day 4 - Universities Setting an Example

I'm watching the KU vs. Missouri basketball game while writing this post (Rock Chalk) so thought a post on universities would be appropriate.

A number of universities have revamped their cleaning practices and/or providers in recent years, below are highlights from the University of Missouri - Kansas City (UMKC) and Harvard University.  UMKC was a winner of the 2011 Green Cleaning Awards (1 of 6 universities honored) and I selected Harvard since it's a premier university in the U.S. (and the world).


UMKC - Notes about changes the school has implemented to their cleaning practices

  1. A 5-year Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study found concentrations of 20 toxic compounds 
    were as many as 200 times higher in the air inside homes and offices than outdoors.
  2. This switch has halved the amount spent on cleaners, a reduction from $300,000 in 2008 to $140,000 in 2011 for the green cleaners and Green Seal-certified hand soap. 
  3. Since the implementation of the green cleaning program, hundreds of toxic chemicals have been eliminated from use on campus and have been replaced with just three daily cleaners with environmentally friendly ingredients.
Harvard - Suggestions for green cleaning at home
  1. Use cleaning products that:
    1. Are phosphate free
    2. Have plant-based and/or biodegradable products
    3. Are not petroleum based
  2. Use reusable micro-fiber cloths instead of disposable cloths
  3. Minimize the use of anti-bacterial soap
  4. Do not use bleach as a cleaning product
  5. Do not use aerosols
  6. Harvard also includes a list of hazardous ingredients to avoid.
Suggested action steps:

  1. Consider implementing some of the suggested practices from Harvard
  2. Ask your employer or apartment manager what cleaning products they use.  You have the right to know what materials are present in your place of work and residence.  Don't be surprised if your employer doesn't know.

February 24, 2012

Cleaning Week - Day 3 - Laundry

Today's topic is laundry (day three of cleaning week).  Before that, the announcement of the winner of the lemon counting contest.  The amount of lemons was 162.  The winner is Beverly, with a guess of 142.  (Bre had a guess of 155 but that guess had an unfair advantage - an in-person apparaisal of the basket so the guess was removed from the contest.)  Beverly - your package will be in the mail next week. :)

Fire ze lemon missiles!


Laundry is a constant task / chore, especially since adding another member to the family.  Below are a few statistics about the environmental impact of laundry and suggested action steps.


  1. Cold vs. hot water usage - If North American consumers switched from using warm water to cold water for doing laundry 21 million barrels of oil would be saved annually.  That's a little more than the average daily petroleum consumption in the U.S.
  2. Detergents - As with dryer sheets, laundry detergent packages don't usually list their ingredients.  Potentially harmful chemicals in laundry detergents include chlorine, phenols, bleach, phosphates, and many more.
  3. Dryer energy usage -  The Nebraska Public Power District estimates that each run of a clothes dryer costs approximately 47 cents.  Using the sun and wind leaves clothes smelling good and saves electricity and/or natural gas and money.  During the winter a drying rack or line can be used inside the home.  (Full disclosure: I am still working to get off my dryer habit and I don't have much of an excuse living in San Diego but I'm working on it.)
  4. Dryer sheets - Contain a host of chemical compounds, including benzyl acetate, benzyl alcohol, ethanol, limonene, chloroform pentane, and a number of others.  Check out the link for a summary of the effects of these chemicals.  Of course, if you look at your box of Bounce you won't find any of these ingredients listed since they're not required to be disclosed to consumers. 
Snuggles - how could you?!  (Although this does explain the creepy dreams about that bear when I was a kid.  I just thought it was the weird giggles, way too high-pitched for a strapping young bear.)

Suggested action steps:

  1. Use an environmentally friendly laundry detergent (or make your own detergent - link courtesy of Heather and includes some helpful photos of the process).  I added some options to my Amazon site at right.
  2. Wash laundry on cold setting, rather than warm
  3. Use environmentally friendly dryer sheets, or don't use dryer sheets at all.
  4. Utilize hanging lines or racks to dry clothes instead of a dryer
  5. If you're looking to purchase a new washer or dryer consider buying a high-efficiency model.  They use far less energy and water, and are usually more compact and can be stacked since they are front-loading instead of top-loading.  There are often also rebates available from utility companies and other sources for these purchases.
If trying all of the above steps aren't possible, consider trying out just one or two.  I'm still working on getting the line drying down and just recently switched out our dryer sheets.  


The longest journey starts with a single step.    - Lao-Tzu


Happy Friday from The Cure!

February 23, 2012

Cleaning Week - Day 2 - Tile & Linoleum Floors

Today is day two of Cleaning Week - I received a request yesterday for a post on cleaning floors so today's topic is tile and linoleum.  I don't have hardwood floors at home, so I need to do some research on options since I don't know from experience.

There are a number of environmentally friendly cleaning products available in stores including two brands mentioned yesterday, Dr. Bronner's and Seventh Generation. (Ecover is another I like.) Although these brands may not be available in a specific store you shop, there is likely a green aisle or section that will have a selection of green cleaning and household products.  One thing I would note is that some companies will attempt to mislead consumers about the 'greenness' of their product by putting leaves on the bottles, or including statements like '97% natural'.  It's best to read the label and opt for 100% natural cleaners, with all ingredients listed.  If a product is 97% natural and the ingredients aren't listed the remaining 3% could likely be things you don't want in your home.

If you have children or pets at home, you probably already know that floors get a lot of attention and whatever you use to clean with will most likely end up all over pets and kids, as well as likely consumed by them to some degree.


I use Dr. Bronner's liquid soaps for my floor cleaning and it works great.  There are a number of different scents available, although I usually opt for non-scented cleaners to avoid strong smells and headaches.  The Dr. Bronner's scents I like quite a bit though and aren't overpowering, so we use the Eucalyptus and Lavender varieties for cleaning our floors.  I promise I'm not a saleperson for Dr. Bronner's but I can't recommend their products enough (and thanks to Rico for the Christmas gift that got me started using them).  

All their soaps use organic ingredients (other than mineral based ingredients which aren't eligible for organic certification).  Their ingredients are also Fair Trade certified which essentially means they buy products from producers that don't run sweatshops.  A 16 ounce bottle is around $10 and goes a long way.  To clean our floors I use one squirt from the bottle and that is more than enough.  (I used more a couple of times and ended up with a bucket full of bubbles which are fun but not the best for mopping.)

Plus, the company is based in Escondido (San Diego County) so we get to suport a local company. :)

Suggested action steps:
  1. Sweep floors
  2. Mop with hot water and a squirt of Dr. Bronner's
  3. Let air dry
  4. Put on big fuzzy socks and slide around the clean floors
Sidenote - Amazon Store

I've added a link at the top-right to an Amazon site I set up that has products I recommend.  I've seen these type of stores on other blogs and websites and thought it was a good idea to have a central location for the products I mention.

I try to shop at local businesses and encourage others to do so also, but I know that's sometimes not possible and/or convenient.  Hopefully you find the store useful and I'll continue to update in the future to include the items I note in my posts and others I've enjoyed.  Please let me know if you have items you think I should add.

Have a great day!

February 22, 2012

Cleaning Week - Day 1 - Sinks & Showers

Happy Hump Day! 

I've received some requests to write about cleaners so the next week will be dedicated to this theme.  I'm still trying out different products and recipes and appreciate any additional information or experiences you would like to share.

Yesterday, 2/21/2012, the U.S. government announced new rules to promote purchases of biobased soap and other supplies.  Although I'm not sure how these rules will be implemented I applaud this effort to move away from synthetic chemical based cleaners and use less (or non) toxic products for cleaning our hands and our public buildings.

Avoiding synthetic cleaners and opting for natural based cleaners is a good choice for avoiding adding harmful substances into your home when cleaning.  There are a number of brands available these days and I like Dr. Bronner's and Seventh Generation brands, which are widely available.  I also really appreciate the transparency these brands espouse by clearly printing all ingredients on their products.  This is something which most 'major' cleaning brands have been reluctant to do and have been taken to court to provide consumers with more information.  Cleaners don't have the same requirements that food products do to disclose their ingredients so it's largely up to voluntary disclosure by producers.

Many cleaners can also be made at home of common ingredients that you probably already have.  The following items can go a long way in cleaning your home easily, cheaply, and safely:
  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar (white)
  • Lemons
  • Salt
  • Club Soda
If you need some lemons, don't forget to add your guess to last Saturday's post to get some for free.  Here's where the guesses stand to date.  Add your guess by this Friday, 2/24, for a chance to win. :)

Here is my method for cleaning sinks and showers.


  • Drains
    • Put 1/2 cup of baking soda in drain, add 1/2 cup vinegar.  Wait 10 minutes, then flush with boiling water.
    • If you remember making volcanoes in grade school it's the same bubbling and fizzing action at work to clean out your drain.
  • Sink / shower surface cleaner
    • Make a paste of baking soda and water (approx. 1/2 cup baking soda and 1/8 cup water but varies).  
    • Spread paste over basin and let sit for a couple of minutes.  
    • Scrub with scouring pad (use a cloth / less abrasive pad for porcelain and tile, or a more abrasive scrubber for stainless steel).  
    • Rinse with water.  
    • If the basin looks a little filmy, use a little vinegar to run over the basin for a clear finish.
Hopefully these recipes work well for you!


On a somewhat related note, I read James Altrucher's posts pretty regularly and really liked today's post on how to be more productive / positive.  In my efforts to be more healthy, be greener, etc. it's often easy to get discouraged.  So many small steps seem like a meaningless drop in the bucket - I put a banana peel in the compost bin and then walk out to the street and see a barrel of toxic waste being poured into the gutter, for example.

This post is a good reminder that there are endless negative thoughts we can think but ultimately they won't do much for us other than being a distraction to the good we can do.

No one is completely perfect, and no one is completely evil.  We're all flawed and learning as we go, trying to make it through life.  Our problems, and their solutions, are created by the collective 'us' and what the future is like will be decided by the accumulation of all our daily choices and actions.  A good act or decision, regardless of scope or size, is still a good act.  I think it's a good reminder and motivator to remember that doing the right thing in small ways can make a big impact over time.

February 21, 2012

Mardi Gras = Water Fountain Celebration

Happy Fat Tuesday!  Given the elevated levels of liquid consumption today I thought a beverage topic would be good.  Today's post is about bottled water.

We are fortunate in the United States to have abundant supplies of freshwater (in most areas of the country) and a safe and widespread system of distribution that allows us to have clean water in our homes for drinking, cleaning, gardening, and many other uses.  Despite the cheap and clean water distribution system present, bottled water sales have skyrocketed in recent years and in 2007 8.82 billion gallons of bottled water were sold in the United States, and 47 billion gallons worldwide.  On a per capita basis, that's about 285 12 ounce bottles per American per year.

In order to help conserve natural resources, and save money, I think it's a good idea to opt for tap water rather than bottled water.


Following are a few reasons I think it's usually a better idea to enjoy water from the tap.

1) Cost - Per this EPA article, drinking 8 glasses of water a day will cost you about 50 cents per year from the tap.  From bottled water the same amount of water will cost you around $1,400.  My own estimate, based on a cost of $10.73 for a 24 pack of 16.9 ounce bottles comes to a grand total of $620 for the year. Calculation noted below - if anyone knows how to easily add tables to Blogger I would definitely appreciate some advice.

(16.9 ounces per bottle x 24 bottles per case = 405.6 ounces per case.  8 glasses x 8 ounces per day x 366 days per leap year = 23,424 ounces per year.  23,424 ounces / 405.6 ounces per case = 57.75 cases needed per year.  57.75 cases x $10.73 per case = $619.67 total cost)

Either way, the cost is far higher for bottled water than tap water.  Additionally, you will have to pay to refrigerate the bottles.

2) Landfill impact - According to the International Bottled Water Association, a bottled water industry group, 30.9% of plastic water bottles are recycled each year.  Using the estimated amount of bottles from the EPA article noted above, that means the average American would send 285 bottles to the landfill each year. Additionally, this recycling rate is from a group organized to promote bottled water usage, so other estimates of the recycling rate are much lower.

3) Incidental costs - Production of water bottles for the U.S. market is estimated to use 17 million barrels of oil annually.  There are 42 gallons in a barrel of oil, so that amounts to 714 million gallons of oil.  In addition to the production of the bottle, there is also the cost to transport the bottles from factories to stores, from stores to homes, cost to refrigerate, and the cost to transport to landfills or recycling centers after use.  Since the majority of bottles are not recycled there is also the cost to cleanup those bottles not directly put into the trash stream, and the landfill maintenance costs for those that do end up there.

4) Bottled water may be tap water anyway - According to the above linked EPA article, over 25% of bottled water is from a municipal water source, the same place that tap water comes from.  Even the esteemed John Stossel has called out bottled water on this point.  It's from 2005, but still pretty entertaining and to the point.

Suggested action steps:

1) Don't purchase bottled water.  This is assuming you are not in a disaster area or developing area without safe water sources.
2) If the taste or quality of your tap water is not up to snuff, install a water filtration system or purchase a water pitcher with a filter (Brita is one brand).
3) Enjoy

February 20, 2012

Plastic Bags - The Next Frontier - Produce Bags

Last Monday's post was about using reusable grocery bags for shopping to carry your purchases to and from the store and your home.  I'm planning to dedicate each Monday's post to be about plastic bags of some sort.  Today's post is about another plastic bag commonly seen and used at the grocery store: produce / bulk bags.

Although I had been told for many years that it's better to use reusable bags for grocery shopping I didn't make the switch until I finally decided to make a commitment to not use plastic or paper bags from the store anymore at approximately age 27.  (I can still vaguely recall lessons in grade school about the environment and wonder why I never actually did anything about my habits in the past.  I think because I was distrustful of anything adults told me, as many children are.)

Our non-use of plastic bags has led to some awkward moments at the store, including one I had last Thursday.  We live next to a small convenience store and I needed a few limes to make a marinade.  I took Eva in one arm and headed over.  I picked up the three limes and took them to the register.

Clerk: "50 cents." Pulls out plastic bag from under the counter.
Me: "Ok - and no bag please"  I give him a dollar bill.
Clerk: "No problem." Puts the limes into the bag and gives me back the change.
Me: "Thank you, but I really don't need the bag."  Reach into the bag and take out the limes.
Clerk: Looks at me like I'm a weirdo
Me: Walk home feeling like a bit of a weirdo

I was relating this interaction to Amelia for humorous purposes and we got to talking about some similar interactions of this sort.  These conversations included Amelia almost getting into fisticuffs in a Mississippi Wal-Mart and other amusing misadventures.  


Many grocery stores offer bulk shopping sections for nuts, dried fruits, spices and herbs, cooking ingredients, candies, etc.  These bins are typically accompanied with plastic bags to fill and tabs to note your selection and item code for check-out.  I like shopping in the bulk section at our local Sprouts (an amazing grocery store if you have one in your area) since you can tailor the amount of your purchases to your baking needs, make your own trail mix, etc.

Although when we moved to San Diego we had pretty ended our use of plastic bags to carry our groceries, for some reason we didn't view the bulk section in the same manner.  I've found in many cases I do things for no other reason than that I've 'always' done them.  I suppose inertia is as powerful in habits as it is in physics.  However, Amelia was kind enough to break me of this habit by gifting me a set of three produce bags from the aforementioned Chico Bags.

Although I felt good about stopping my use of plastic shopping bags, I genuinely enjoyed having these produce bags.  (We quickly went from the first three to 10 or so, including a few hand-made ones from my sister-in-law Angela.)  They're convenient for shopping since they're stronger and larger than the bags in the stores which matters when getting multiple pounds of the jasmine rice Amelia is addicted to.  They also work well for storing the goods in our kitchen cabinets.  Most importantly, they made it easy to end our use of the remaining plastic bags in our grocery habits which had been overlooked for a long time.

Suggested action steps:

1) Purchase 3, or 10, reusable produce bags
2) Put a few bags in the trunk of your vehicle(s), in your backpack, or in whatever you usually take to the store
3) Use your reusable bags instead of the plastic produce / bulk bags at the store

Thank you!  (from me and the sea turtles)

February 19, 2012

Coffee Time - Reusable Mugs

I'm a big fan of coffee, as noted in a prior post, and will likely have a number of posts on the topic of coffee.   This is one of those posts.

Coffee is enjoyed by millions daily, the majority of whom discard the cup when the drink is finished.  I was one of those people, but purchased a reusable mug for the reasons described below.


Recycling is good, but reuse is better.  Recycling an item takes energy to produce and deliver the original product, then additional energy to collect and re-purpose the item after use, and energy to deliver the new good for future use.  With an item like coffee cups that are used and discarded or recycled on a massive scale, the amount of energy involved in producing or re-purposing those cups adds up quickly.  Cups that go directly to a landfill consume far more energy since producing a new cup takes more energy and resources than recycling a used one.

In many cases, recycling a coffee cup is not an option.  First, many communities in the U.S. do not have a regular recycling service that allows for consumers to recycle their used cups and other refuse, if they are inclined to recycle.  Second, many coffee cups are made from 6 polystyrene plastic (symbol displayed below) that is often not recyclable even if your municipality has recycling services available.  This was a big surprise to me.  My community in San Diego has bi-weekly recycling and before I learned of this limitation on plastic of this type I assumed that if it was in the recycling it would be recycled.  Little did I know that even though it went in the blue bin it would be added to the trash heap.

In addition to being good for the planet, using your own mug will save you money.  Most coffee shops will give you a small discount on each purchase for using your own mug (typically between 10 and 25 cents per purchase).

Suggested action steps:

1) If you drink coffee, purchase a reusable coffee cup and use it on every trip for a cup of joe.  I recommend one with a screw on lid so it won't spill and a non-plastic one so the flavor of coffee won't seep in.  (If you're interested in a Walking Miss Eva branded mug let me know and I can hook you up.)
2) If you forget your reusable mug, request a mug from the coffee shop and get your beverage to enjoy in the store.  Most coffee shops, including all Starbucks I believe, will accommodate this request.
3) If you go out for coffee at home and at work, purchase a cup for both locations to ensure you have one on hand when you head out.

Have a great start to your week!

February 18, 2012

Local Produce and a Guessing Game Contest

Although I plan to post about local produce in the future, I couldn't resist sharing these photos.  If you're not already familiar this is Eva, the namesake of this blog, and she's a big fan of the ultra-local food movement (only eating produce grown within 100 feet of your kitchen).

This basket of lemons is from the tree in our backyard and as you can see Eva is pumped about having so many yellow things to play with and/or eat.  There's about an equivalent amount still left on the tree.

Guessing game: How many lemons are in the basket?

Person closest to the correct number will receive a package in the mail with some super sweet surprises, including at least one of the pictured lemons.  Put your guess in the comments section to participate, or send me an email if you're shy.

Contest ends Friday, 2/24 so add your guess now if you want to play.


February 17, 2012

Fighting the Junk Mail Monster - Part 2 of 2

Part 2 of 2 on stopping the flow of junk mail to your residence.  Part 1 (Yesterday, 2/16/2012) addressed reactive measures to stop the junk mail you currently receive and Part 2 covers proactive measures to prevent future junk mail deliveries.

The following are suggested action steps you can take to reduce the amount of junk mail you receive.  If you have additional suggestions please share them in the comments section.

Suggested action steps:

1) Use the major mail opt-out services.  Similar to the Do Not Call Registry to stop telemarketers and others from harassing you by phone there are similar services available to handle junk mail, although none are as comprehensive as the Do Not Call Registry is for phone calls.  The following are the sites for some of these opt-outs and only take a minute or so to complete.  And, it's Friday afternoon and you could probably use a couple minutes of diversion.

2) If you prefer to outsource your junk mail management consider 41pounds.org.  This service costs $41 and they will remove you from a host of mass marketers, and manage your junk mail for 5 years.  Additionally, a third of your payment goes to environmental non-profits and public works.  I haven't used this service but have heard good things.

3) Avoid credit card offers and other marketing sign-ups in disguise.  When you sign up for a promotional card at a store, or for a free shirt at a sporting event you are most likely also signing up for promotional materials from that company and other companies they will sell this data to or share your information with. 

Now, time to get ready for the weekend with a classic from Kool and the Gang.

Have a great Friday night and get excited for tomorrow's post including a contest. :)

February 16, 2012

Fighting the Junk Mail Monster - Part 1 of 2

Part 1 of 2 on stopping the flow of junk mail to your residence.  Part 1 addresses reactive measures to stop the junk mail you currently receive and Part 2 will cover proactive measures to prevent future junk mail deliveries.

Tell me if the following sounds familiar.  Arrive home in the evening, check the mailbox and walk inside.  Flip through the pieces of mail with a faint hope of receiving a letter from a friend or relative but typically have that hope dashed by a steady stream of credit card and cable offers crashing upon the breakwater of your soul like the endless waves of the ocean.

If this scenario describes the current state of your mailing affairs this post may be for you.


Junk mail has been around for many years and is often just another slight annoyance during the day.  The amount of junk mail Americans receive each year is pretty large.  According to the EPA and cited by a mail advertisement industry group, The Direct Marketing Association, 2.4% of all municipal solid waste is from direct mail / junk mail.  This association implies that 2.4% of solid waste is a small percentage but it seems large to me given the usefulness that I find these sort of mailings to have.

The previously noted The Zero Waste Home addressed this issue and how they had gone about stopping the seemingly endless flow of junk mail they received.  Their basic approach was to take any junk mail received and call the sender immediately to request removal from all of their mailing lists.  This is the approach we have followed and although we still receive the occasional advertisement nearly all of the mail we receive now is worth getting excited about - letters from grandma, Valentine's Day cards, photos for the refrigerator.  Checking the mail has been re-transformed from a daily disappointment to a source of anticipation and one of life's small daily pleasures.

Suggested action steps:

1) Pick up your daily mail and place any junk mail on the kitchen table or somewhere else you can't ignore it.
2) Call the company that sent each piece of junk mail the following day (since business hours are likely done for the current day).
3) Keep a list of the numbers, companies, and date contacted so you can refer to it if the mailings do not stop.  Here's an example of the list we created to do this which has been handy for the few companies that repeatedly ignored our requests.  We made it on Google Docs so we could have it handy and both access it easily.

Maybe with less junk mail we can avoid a world that only has fake plastic trees.

Question for attorneys or those with class action suit knowledge: 

Is there any basis for a class action suit against companies that repeatedly ignore requests to stop mailing materials to a residence?  I thought that perhaps from a privacy standpoint (exposing personal information including name, address, and potentially additional information depending on the contents of the mailing) or a harrassment standpoint (ignoring the explicit and repeated requests of a person to stop solicitations) might be grounds for a suit.  Given the quantity of junk mail and people affected by it I thought there might be potential here but am not familiar with the relevant laws.

February 15, 2012

LED Killed the Plasma Screen Star - 2/15/2012

For 2012 I'm writing this blog to document things our family has done to be more Earth-friendly. I started the year late and was trying to play catch-up to get current by the end of February but Amelia (my wife) mentioned that it was kind of dumb and confusing to have two different dates on each post.  So, starting today I'm posting with the same date and will fill in the skipped days over the rest of the year to ensure I have 365 in total for 2012.


We moved to San Diego from Chicago in the fall of 2009 (props to Lucas Thayer and Kevin Koehler for help with the long-haul move).  Due to the distance, and our meager worldly possessions at the time, we made a number of purchases upon our arrival in America's Finest City including a new TV.  At the time, and to this date, I don't know much about televisions but have learned that the different types of televisions use very different amounts of power.  I learned that in regard to electricity usage with my choice of a plasma TV (42") I had chosen . . . poorly.


As you're probably aware, assuming you reside in the U.S. flat screen TVs have become very popular over the last few years.  There are primarily 3 types of televisions screens for these devices: Plasma, LCD, and LED.

As noted in this 2010 article from CNET, plasma TVs use the most power of this group of three, followed by traditional LCD and then LED (technically a subset of LCD but different enough that I'll treat as a separate category).  For a full description of how the different types of TV work check the the ever helpful Lifehacker.

The total bill for a 300 watt plasma TV with an average of 5 hours of use a day and a price of 15 cents per kilowatt hour would total about $82 a year.  (300 watts x 5 hours use x 366 days in a leap year / 1000 to convert to kwh x .15 dollars per kwh)  This is not a huge amount, but if you have more than 1 TV in your home or use your TV more than 5 hours a day it can quickly increase.  LCD and LED TVs use approximately 1/3 to 2/3 less energy than a plasma TV according to both the above CNET article and this International Business Times article.  The latter article also notes that in Australia TVs are now the 4th largest user of electricity in a home.

Given the above I wish I would have purchased an LCD or LED TV instead of a plasma TV and wanted to share this information in case anyone else is considering a purchase of a new TV.  I'm in the market for a 2nd computer monitor since I'm now working at home and I definitely plan to purchase an LED.  Additionally, because they use less power, LEDs are cooler which can matter when you're at a desk.  Unless you happen to be in Alaska for a few months and need to cuddle your monitor.

Suggested action steps:

1) If in the market for a new TV or monitor consider purchasing an LED which has the lowest energy usage and energy cost
2) Hook up your laptop to the TV and check out the totally awesome Kenna Hell Bent video

Please let me know if you have any comments, compliments, criticisms, or questions regarding this post or have suggestions for future posts. If you'd like to receive future posts via email, enter your email address in the box at the top right labelled "Follow by Email".

February 14, 2012

Pucker Up - January 3rd

Although this is the January 3rd posting (due to my belated start to 2012) the posting date is February 14th so this post has a Valetine's Day theme.  Since many people will be bestowing gifts of chocolates, flowers, and kisses today I thought a post on oral hygiene would be appropriate.

Over the past couple of years a blog I read occasionally is The Zero Waste Home.  I was introduced to the blog by a Sunset magazine article that I found incredibly interesting.  Although Amelia and I are nowhere close to being as low-refuse as this family, reading the blog gave me many ideas about how we could lessen our environmental footprint, in ways large, medium, and small.  One suggestion I took from that blog was to change our toothbrushes to a compostable variety.


An estimated 50 million pounds of toothbrushes are deposited in U.S. landfills annually per an E Magazine article from 2005.  (My rough estimate would be about 38 million pounds based on 2 toothbrushes per person per year, at a weight of 1 ounce per toothbrush but the 50 million sounds pretty reasonable.)

Since most toothbrushes are made primarily or entirely of plastic they remain in existence for many (most likely hundreds) of years.

There are a few different brands of compostable toothbrushes available, at a similar cost to the standard plastic toothbrush.  We've used Izola brushes for the past year or so and really like them.  The bristles seem to last longer than our old toothbrushes but maybe it's because we only brush once a week to save water.  Just kidding, for now at least.  Another brand I've seen recommended is The Environmental Toothbrush, but since it's from Australia I believe the cost is higher for U.S. shoppers.

Suggested action steps:

1) Purchase compostable toothbrush
2) Use old plastic toothbrush as a cleaning tool
3) Brush and floss daily
4) Kiss someone daily, or more frequently

Please let me know if you have any comments, compliments, criticisms, or questions regarding this post or have suggestions for future posts.

Happy Valentine's Day / January 3rd Holiday!

February 13, 2012

Coffee as Fertilizer, It's Not Just for People Anymore - January 2nd

For 2012 I'm writing this blog to document things our family has done to be more Earth-friendly. This is the January 2nd posting. Hopefully you'll find some helpful ideas and decide to take some action to help promote a healthier planet. I'd appreciate any feedback you have, and if you'd like to share successes you've had I'd like to hear them so we can try to do more.

I haven't always been a coffee drinker, and didn't grow up in a household that drank coffee at all (although my grandparents did). However, in more recent years I've grown fond of the last legal vice and generally have some each day. About a year and a half ago my mother-in-law informed me that not only is coffee delicious, but it is also a great fertilizer.


Coffee is a global commodity, and in recent years it has surged in popularity. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2009, 8,261,487 tons were produced globally. According to PBS Frontline, this amounts to more than 500 billion cups of coffee consumed each year.

Coffee beans have a sizable amount of nitrogen, which is a great fertilizer, and contain around 2% nitrogen by weight. (Here's a Sunset Magazine article that purchased a laboratory analysis of a sample of beans. Also, if you live on the West Coast I highly recommend Sunset for articles on travel, gardening, events, etc. They also regularly publish books on cooking, bird watching, gardening, and many other topics.)

When I first learned of the magical fertilizing properties of coffee I didn't regularly brew or drink coffee, so I didn't have access to used grounds. However, during a winter trip to Kansas I entered a Starbucks and nearly tripped over an overflowing bucket of grounds that was next to the door and available to anyone for free. Little did I know that Starbucks has a 'Grounds for your Garden' program that has been around since 1995 and offers free grounds to customers at their stores.

When I returned from my trip I inquired at my local Starbucks in San Diego about this program and although they weren't participating in the program at the time, I contacted local area manager Joshua Longacre and he got the program going in all of the downtown San Diego stores. I've also since inquired at many other coffee shops and have yet to be turned down on a request for fresh, free grounds.

In addition to helping your plants grow, using grounds in your yard reduces the amount of waste being taken to the landfill.  With the huge amount of coffee produced, that's a big deal.  Two birds with one bean, if you will. The smell of coffee grounds also repels some types of pests, so in addition to promoting growth in your garden they can help deter intruders from eating your carrots.

 Although good for plants, I wouldn't recommend using grounds on houseplants since there's not as much room for the nutrients to disperse and they can make the soil overly acidic.

Suggested action steps:

1) Enjoy coffee (If you don't drink coffee you can get free grounds at most any coffee shop - just ask at the counter and they'll usually be glad to help.)
2) Sprinkle grounds onto garden, lawn, shrubs, trees, etc. I usually pour some water over the grounds too, but you don't have to.  I wouldn't sprinkle one area with grounds more than once a month, and make sure to spread the love. :)
3) Watch plants grow
4) Smile while enjoying shade, fruits and vegetables, or feeling of grass between your toes

Please let me know if you have any comments, compliments, criticisms, or questions regarding this post or have suggestions for future posts. If you'd like to receive future posts via email, enter your email address in the box at the top right labelled "Follow by Email".

Now for a great song with some coffee references:

Thank you!

Category: Food, Garden

Stopping Our Use of Plastic Bags - January 1

For 2012 I'm writing this blog to document things our family has done to be more Earth-friendly.  Below is the 'first' post of the year - for January 1 (I'm playing catch-up right now but hoping to gain some momentum with this post).  Hopefully you'll find some helpful ideas and decide to take some action to help promote a healthier planet.  I'd appreciate any feedback you have, and successes you have had so that my family can do more.


Plastic bags are a ubiquitous part of modern life and you probably encounter them every day, whether you're making a purchase, walking down the street, or at home or the office.  They're a convenience item and one that I took for granted in the past before thinking more about the impact they have, especially given the limited time of use I had for each bag.


It's hard to find concrete numbers on the environmental effects of plastic bags since it's a highly politicized issue and various groups use their own (often self-serving) figures and statistics.  A number of countries and cities including Ireland, Mexico City, and San Francisco have enacted plastic bag bans and surcharges to reduce the use of these bags and their impact on the environment.  Estimates of the lifespan of plastic bags (time it takes to fully degrade) range from 500 to 1000 years but the exact lifespan can only be estimated since they have existed for less than 100 years.  Regardless of the exact time it takes to fully decompose, it is a very long time and to put it in perspective if Christopher Columbus had used plastic bags on his voyage to North America, they would most likely still exist today.  Additionally, the time to decompose is longer in bodies of water than on land.

There is no firm number for the number of plastic bags produced and used each year but the EPA estimated that that United States uses 380 billion plastic bags each year (this figure was previously reported on the EPA website and cited in many articles but has since been removed and the EPA now does not report plastic bag information separately from plastics in general.  (Here's a 2007 CNN article that cited this EPA figure.) Using this estimate, each person in the United States uses approximately 1,150 plastic bags per year.  On a daily basis that would mean that every American uses more than 3 plastic bags every day of every year. Often these bags are only used for a few minutes before entering the refuse stream but will impact our environment for hundreds of years.

The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme estimates that plastic bags kill 100,000 turtles and other marine animals annually and that each square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of plastic.  Although the total time for a plastic bag to decompose is long, they do break down into smaller and smaller particles which can cause death to wildlife, but can also enter the food chain as fish and other animals eat the pieces of plastic and are then consumed by larger animals, including humans.  Again, there is a wide range of estimates of the impact that plastic bags have on wildlife and the environment, but it's a small effort to eliminate the use of plastic bags from your daily routine and to make a positive change for the world.  Even if you don't always avoid plastic bags, using fewer is a great step to take and even one less bag per person can make a huge difference in total.

Suggested action steps:

1) Purchase 10 reusable shopping bags - I'm a fan of ChicoBag products, but nearly every grocery store has reusable bags for sale, or sometimes for free.
2) Put a few bags in the trunk of your vehicle(s), put a couple by the front door, put a couple in your purse, backpack, stroller, or other carrying device you often use.
3) Refuse plastic (and paper) shopping bags when at the grocery store, hardware store, restaurant, library, department store, etc. and use your reusable bags.

If you have a few minutes, here's a semi-humorous mockumentary on the migrational habits of plastic bags.

Please let me know if you have any comments, compliments, criticisms, or questions regarding this post or have suggestions for future posts.

Thank you!

- John

Category: Shopping