Archive for the ‘Eco-friendly’ Category

Well, folks, today is the day. The day I finally dumped dirt—yes real dirt (well, mostly)—out of my compost bin.

People always think it’s daunting, hard and complicated to compost. But it’s really not. It just takes a quick, relatively inexpensive trip to your local hardware store ($40 or less), a little bit of time to make your compost bin (an hour or less), and a few new habits (like saving food scraps in a separate container, getting used to what’s compostable, and turning the bin once in a while). Oh, and a bit of outside yard space.

If you’re not sure where to start, this is an excellent video, and it’s exactly what I referred to when I started my bin. It’s super helpful…go watch it!

You will need:

  • A giant plastic trashcan and lid
  • A drill and ¼-inch drill bit (the video recommends pounding holes with hammer and nail, but that takes forever. Just use a drill.)
  • A couple of cinder blocks or something else to lift your bin off the ground circulation (mine is up on an overturned milk crate, which works fine, too).
  • I also recommend a few bungee cords to hold the lid on your can. Otherwise, the lid comes off when you try to roll it. Not fun.

Use the drill to poke holes all over the sides of the bin. Mount it up on the cinder blocks and secure the lid on top with the bungee cords. After you’ve added your material to the bin, it will need turned about once a week, and turning is as easy as rolling the bin on its side around your yard for a few minutes.

Actually, I recommend making two of these bins. I’ve found that if I keep adding stuff to one of them, it never is able to fully break down. So when one is full, I trade bins so the full one has time to be left alone to decompose (but still turned regularly). The theory is that by the time the second one is full and ready to be left alone, the first one will be ready to be emptied of freshly made mulch and ready to start the process again. That mostly worked for me, but after a while I just have to trade them when one is full. As the contents break down, they take up much less space, making room for more.

Here is what my setup looks like:

Now, I know they say that your fresh, ready-to-use compost will be ready in 4-8 weeks if you follow all the instructions and do everything just right, but I’m here to tell you that even if you do absolutely everything WRONG in almost every possible way, you’ll still get good compost…..eventually. Mine took maybe about two years or so. I think. I don’t know for sure, I lost track. I almost never turned it, didn’t always have a good balance of materials (more on that later, keep reading), and didn’t do anything with it in the winter time. If you’re going to be lazy like me, truly no-hassle compost takes a bit (or a lot) more time. But it does work.

But even before you start out with lazy composting (like me), there are still a few things you should know first.

With composting, items are classified into two categories: carbon-rich “brown material” and nitrogen-rich “green material.” For a healthy (read: faster and without a strong stench) composting process, you’ll want to balance your browns and greens. Some websites out there say you need equal amounts, and some say you need more brown than green, even up to twice as much. I don’t keep exact tabs on mine, I just make sure to add enough brown so it seems to balance out all the food scraps. Trust me, your bin will let you know if it’s out of balance (it will stink to high heavens). Just take a deep breath (before you take the lid off!), add some more brown material, and mix it in as best you can. That helps.

Ok, so what’s green, what’s brown, and what CAN go in the bin?

Brown (carbon-rich) material:

  • Cardboard (shredded)
  • Office paper and junk mail (shredded, remove the plastic envelope windows)
  • Newspaper (shredded)
  • Wood shavings/wood chips
  • Sawdust
  • Leaves
  • Straw/hay
  • Pine needles
  • Wood ash
  • Corncobs and husks
  • Dryer lint

Green (nitrogen-rich) material:

  • Fruit peels, cores, pits, rinds, and scraps
  • Veggie peels and scraps
  • Any overripe or moldy produce
  • Tea bags (remove any staples)
  • Coffee grinds and filters
  • Grass clippings
  • Weeds
  • Flowers and clippings

Not sure whether green or brown, but still OK to put in:

  • Egg shells (crush first for faster breakdown)
  • Breads (donuts, pizza crusts, crackers, pasta, anything made from flour)
  • Grains, cooked or uncooked
  • Old spices
  • Expired boxed foods
  • Vacuum bag contents
  • Hair and nail clippings

What shouldn’t go in the bin?

  • No meat or dairy products should ever go in your bin. This includes meat, fish, animal fat, bones, and pet/animal feces, as well as any kind of cheese, butter, milk, yogurt, sour cream eggs, etc.  Adding any of these items will make it smell bad (like really, really bad!), attract maggots, and attract all kinds of other critters, large and small. Certain kinds of cat litter may be ok (you’ll have to read the label), but only the litter. You’ll still need to scoop the feces out. Basically, if it came from an animal, it shouldn’t go in your bin. Eggshells are about the only exception to this rule.
  • Also, you don’t want to put excessive amounts of cooking oils in either.

Other helpful hints:

  • Keep your bin in the sun, if you can. Warmth makes for faster breakdown.
  • Chop or shred materials before adding them. The smaller they are when they go in, the faster they will break down.
  • The more often you turn you compost, the faster it will break down.
  • If it’s dry, water it. You want to keep it moist, but not dripping.
  • Once you have some soil start to develop (or if you start with some soil in it) adding some worms will also help material break down much faster.

The most important thing here is that you don’t have to be an expert to compost your food scraps. Nature has been composting without fancy plastic bins since pretty much the beginning of time. She doesn’t really need our help, but there are certain things we can do to help speed the process a bit.

I’m not an expert. Heck, I think I’m a great example of what not to do when you’re trying to compost, but I still get an ok result. What I like best is that our trash doesn’t stink (because there’s no food scraps in there anymore) and we hardly have to take it out anymore, between composting and recycling. And diverting compostable food waste from incinerators and land fills is one of the single most important things we can do for waste disposal in general. I wrote about that earlier when I toured my local incineration facility. What I remember most is that they estimated 40-70% of everything they process is stuff that shouldn’t be there, be it recyclables, or food waste. That’s huge. And we should all be doing our part to decrease that number.

I think I’ll save the easy and convenient kitchen habits I’ve figured out for a later post.

So….does anyone compost? Who’s got tips, tricks, and any more advice?


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I know it sounds weird but, I really enjoy reading stuff by economists. Leavitt and Dubner’s Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics as well as their podcast, everything by Daniel Pink (books and blog), the list goes on and on. So when I heard about this new book by Gernot Wagner, who’s not only an economist but an environmental economist, I knew it was going to be a definite must-read for me. The book is called But Will the Planet Notice? How Smart Economics Can Save the World.

It’s a great read, with clear explanations of problems and policies needed, if a bit on the grim side. It’s actually been a while since I’ve read it, (this post has been a long time coming), and I regret not writing a lengthier review when it was all fresh in my mind. (I meant to, but you know……) I’ll have to get back on the library’s wait list to re-read it.

Perhaps the most jarring part was that he continually referred to the atmosphere as “our atmospheric sewer,” which is indeed what it is, unfortunately. One of his major arguments is that we don’t need to worry about oil running out, as we’ll run out of breathable air long before that happens if we remain on the path we’re on. Yikes.

His main point is that we can change what we do as individuals, but the population is so massive, our little efforts don’t make a difference. What we really need to do is change the policies and laws, which will change the behavior of everyone to make the largest possible impact. He lays out exactly what kinds of policies that would need to be put in place, as well as how and why they would work.

Sometimes I feel like I might have missed my calling as an economist, because I love reading about stuff like that.

If you, like me, have an interest in all things green through economist’s goggles, or if you’re interested to know more, or you just think I’m weird and are perversely curious about my crazy thing for economics, here are a few links you might enjoy:

What are YOUR most highly recommended blogs, books, documentaries, podcasts, websites, or other eco-minded sources of information?

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We have a lot of trash cans in our house. And I’m not just talking about having one in every room. There’s a recycling bin, a container for landfill trash, a compost bucket, a bin for compostable paper. The compostable paper one came into the mix just because our compost bucket was filling up way too fast. And since paper doesn’t smell bad, it doesn’t need to fill up the small bucket that’s designed to keep the smell from bad-smelling food waste contained until it’s taken outside to be composted.

Currently, it’s way too easy to just toss things into the landfill trash. It’s more easily located, first thing in the kitchen, and often, in my laziness, I plop little things in there that could go in the recycling or paper just because I don’t feel like walking  that far into the kitchen. “Just  this once,” I tell myself. “I usually do the right thing, but this little scrap is so small, it hardly matters.” And truthfully, it really doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean I can’t work on being better about it. It’s also about the principle of the matter. I’m being a hypocrite and I know I’m being a hypocrite. And for no reason other than I’m just feeling a little lazy at that particular moment, and letting myself off the hook by saying I’ll do it next time.

But I really wasn’t doing it next time either.

I tried posting a sign on the landfill trashcan, designed to be part reminder, part guilt-trip, and part informational for when we have guests over.

Overly dramatic SIGH. “Yes, I Can compost or recycle this little receipt.” and begrudgingly I would walk to the paper bin and deposit my little shred of paper. And that worked for a while, with the sign pushing me to do what I knew needed done but just didn’t want to do right then.

But lately, my response has been, “Yes, but I’ll do it next time.”

Am I really that lazy? Unfortunately, yes, I am sometimes.

Ok, now for a bit of background here. Really, we only take our landfill trash out about once a month, with Husband and now I making a game of how long we can hold out before the bag is full and needs to go out. And we keep track of it. Because I’m weird and I love to keep data about stuff. (Seriously. I have lots of lists tallying various data on a wide range of things in my life. I figure averages, make graphs, and plot data on just about everything. I know, it’s weird.) Actually, in 2011, we took our trash out a total of 10 times, so not even once a month. (Yes, I keep a list of when the trash went out, and I’m doing it this year too, so I can compare it with previous years. I should start weighing it and plot a graph by weight to see our progress…..)

So a few days ago, this obvious thought occurred to me. Given this fact about our trash almost never going out, WHY WHY WHY is that the receptacle that’s easiest to access in the kitchen? It seems like maybe that bin should be switched with the recycling bin and the trash put over where the recycle bin is now.

With a little reorganizing, I think I came up with something that will work much better than the system we had. And with some new and smaller bins, it doesn’t take up nearly as much space as before, looks nicer, and makes more sense. The recycling bin is now the easy-access bin by the kitchen entrance, with the others piled by the fridge, neatly labeled. It hasn’t been in place long enough for me to really evaluate how well it’s working, but it seems to have streamlined our trash process, all while maintaining my current level of laziness. Score!

Paper, landfill trash, and compost bin, neatly organized and labeled. The recycling trashcan (not pictured) is on the other side of the kitchen, for easier access.

And here’s one of Madeline, simply because she was trying so hard to make it into the pictures I was taking. Whenever there’s a camera out, she automatically assumes it must be to photograph her and comes running to pose for every picture.

How do you organize all the trash that needs to go to various places?

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A couple of days ago, Husband dropped his phone into the toilet. For being a so-called “smartphone,” I’m still not exactly sure how it let itself fall into a toilet (seems to me like a dumb thing to do…), but whatever. At least the toilet was clean. Anyway, his phone was making cracking and popping noises, and the touch screen wasn’t really responding. Uh-oh, not good.

But…..there’s a surprisingly easy fix for a wet phone.

Take it apart into as many pieces as you can: back plate, battery, etc. Lay them in a bowl or container of some sort so none of the pieces overlap, and pour dry rice over the pieces enough to cover them. Leave it sit overnight, and the rice will absorb all the excess water.

No, you don’t have to keep reading. That’s really it. It really is that easy.

I wondered in the back of my mind if this would actually work, but in the morning, his phone was truly good as new, and worked just fine.

Apparently those silica gel packets–you know, the ones labeled with “DO NOT EAT” that come in shoe boxes and stuff–work better than rice, but really, who has tons (or any) of those lying around??

That does leave us with the sad task of throwing out all that rice, which seems a teensy bit wasteful, but let’s face it. Neither of us will be eating the thus-nicknamed “toilet rice.” And that’s way less wasteful than trashing a phone and getting a new one.

On a side note, my “dumbphone” would never do such a thing as leap into a toilet. I’m pretty sure it knows better.

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No Impact Week is coming up again! I participated in this for the first time in January, and now that I’ve had a chance to gauge my progress forget about all the progress I’ve made and revert to old habits, it’s time to sign up again and give it another go. This time around, the folks at Yes magazine have added the option of being able to register as a group. So…..I created a group for Path to Green. This is an open invitation for anyone who’s interested in giving this a try. No judgments, just effort and action. Start yourself wherever YOU are in this process, and make progress at a pace and level that works for YOU. Every little bit counts, and it’s not about comparing what you do (or can’t do) to what others do.

It’s a week of daily challenges to try, and by the end, the idea is to have a different perspective on your life, what you need, what you appreciate more, what you can do without, and what hinders rather than enhances your life.

Anyone out there who wants to sign up? I’ll (try to) post my reflections every day about my own experience, and hopefully this can be an outlet for us to all share our thoughts, experiences, and commiserate cheer each other on.

No Impact Week is scheduled to start the week of September 18.

Go here to sign up: http://noimpactproject.org/experiment/register-for-the-yes-magazine-no-impact-week/

And in the box that asks if you have a private group name to enter, be sure to type in Path to Green

Some specifics on how the project works: http://noimpactproject.org/experiment/how-it-works/

More general info: http://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/join-yes-for-no-impact-week-september-2011

Some inspiring words from creator Colin Beavan: http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/jump-in-together-an-invitation-to-no-impact-week

Drop a line in the comments if you’ve signed up, so we can all get an idea of who we all are and how to support each other throughout the week!

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We don’t have company very often, but we’re getting ready to have a party with some friends and coworkers, and I’ve been worrying (just a little) about how my “greenness” will come across. It doesn’t seem to me that anything I do is extreme or off-putting, but all the small changes we’ve made have added up gradually to what amounts to a new lifestyle. I’ve had time to get used to it all, and all this stuff is normal to me now. But to the outsider, we might look like hippie-environmentalist cheapskate freaks. And I worry about that.

It’s not that I want to hide anything about the fact that I live environmentally consciously, I just want to make it seem less “out there.” I’ve just been trying to take a look around my house and see things as an outsider. It made me realize I should clean out the compost bucket. So instead of asking others to take a deep breath and hold their nose before adding anything, it’s a clean and easy disposal. I’ve fixed the flip-up lid on the bin for our used toilet rags so they’re all covered up now. I still have regular toilet paper out too, but the option is there for anyone who wants to use them. I’ve gathered up all my half-used tissue rags into the laundry so there’s only clean ones out. Not that I really want to admit that I leave half-used tissues around, but there you go. Not everyone is used to these things, so one thing I thought would help would be to put a sign on our trash can, reminding people to please make sure their trash goes to the right place: food into the compost, recyclables into the bin, and only landfill trash into the trash can.

I don’t want to be preachy or seem self-righteous, and I don’t really want my lifestyle to be a pervasive topic of conversation. I just want to bring a little awareness. Someone can ask if they want to know more, and anyone can see how do-able it is to maintain these changes because I make it look so easy! I’m not going to change. I’m not going to stop doing anything I would normally do because I’m afraid of people thinking I’m crazy. I just want it to be there and to gently make people aware of how even small actions and changes can impact our environment, and that it’s not that hard or weird to just jump in and make those changes.

Have any of you other “greenies” experienced this? How do you prepare for visitors?

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We’re in control of lots of ways to cut down on paper usage, but one thing we really don’t have control over is the junk mail we receive. I’ve gathered up a few sites that will help cut down on that unwanted paper. And while it likely won’t completely eliminate it, anything is better than nothing. And it’s just plain nicer to not get so much trash in the mail.

Yellow Pages Opt Out

This one is relatively new, and I just heard about it recently. Before now, you didn’t have a choice whether to receive your local yellow pages delivered on your doorstep. Now, there’s a way to opt out of getting it. It’s as simple as a free signup with your name, address, and email, and you can select which yellow pages you’d like to not get. We usually get 3 separate ones on our doorstep, and I was able to opt out of all of them. Here’s the link: http://www.yellowpagesoptout.com/homepage

National Do Not Mail Registry

This one has been around a while longer, and was started in response to the success of the National Do Not Call Registry. It is as quick and easy as it sounds. Just fill out the form on the page here and you’re registered!

DMA Choice

DMA Choice has a very thorough list for removing all kinds of unsolicited mail. This one will take a little longer to fill out (maybe 10 minutes), as there is a separate section for opting out of pre-approved credit card offers, catalogs, magazines, and other kinds of mail offers. But if you hate junk mail as much as I do, it’s worth it. Click here to get started.

Catalog Choice

Catalog Choice will remove your name from receiving catalogs. You simply create a free account, input the catalogs you’ve received, and they will contact the company on your behalf to discontinue the catalogs. This sounds like an added step, but I can honestly say I have several catalogs where I tore off the back page with the phone number and saved it. I always had the best intentions of calling them to have my name removed but never got around to it. This just eliminates the phone call and the waiting on hold to talk to someone. Also, if you make a $20 donation, they contact the third-party sellers who buy and sell names to other companies and have your name removed from those places, so you don’t get the stuff in the first place, let alone have to specifically discontinue the stuff you do get. Pretty cool huh? Here’s the link: http://www.catalogchoice.org/

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