Friday, April 8, 2016

Celebrating Earth Day - A Year of Green Living


Earth Day is Every Day!

You hear this phrase all the time.  In one very important sense, it's true.  We should be considering our impact on our planet home every day, with all of our decisions.  But is there any value in actually taking time out to celebrate a single "Earth Day" each year?  Yes, I believe there is. 

Like any holiday, celebrations remind us of things that are important to us that we may have lost track of in our busy schedules.  Celebrations help us rejoice and come together as communities with shared values.  So I believe it's well worth taking note on April 22nd of all the activities that effect our environment and having a little fun together in the process.

So, what should you do for Earth Day?

Attend a Fair or Festival
Many conscious businesses, artists and organizations spend a lot of time and effort to set up earth day festivals.  So check one out.  Learn, mingle and just enjoy all of the effort. 

The Earth Day Network has a Find an Event in Your Area option.
The EPA has a small listing of Earth Day events.
Events12 has listings of all fairs and festivals for a number of larger cities.

The best way to find a local event is to do a web search using your city name, check with your local paper or contact your city hall. 

Here in Oregon, I'll be attending the Portland State University Earth Day Festival on Friday.  It's free and located along the PSU Park Blocks.  On Saturday, the Oregon Gardens is offering free admission for it's Earth Day event.

Volunteer
There are so many beach, trail and forest clean-up efforts centered around Earth Day.  This is a great time to chip in a few hours, get outside, and meet up with other caring folks.  While there's no single website or link that covers every area, a quick web search should point you in the right direction for a local event.

For example "Oregon Earth Day Clean Up" produced these helpful links:
EarthShare Oregon Volunteer Opportunities
SOLVE Oregon's Environmental Clean Up

Donate
Chip in a few hard-earned bucks to an environmental charity.  There are so many great organizations, you can definitely find one that resonates with your values.  Charity Navigator rates charities based on how they use funds that are collected.  It's a great way to ensure the charity you give to is using your money wisely.  The Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Guide also helps donors make more informed giving decisions.

Vote for the Environment
The League of Conservation Voters is a non-partisan, political action group that "works to turn environmental values into national, state and local priorities." Check them out to find out how your elected representatives are voting when it comes to the environment. 

Contact your Congressperson and Representatives to let them know you're pro-environment.

Get Outside and Enjoy the Day
The single best thing you can do for the environmental is to get outside.  People fight to protect what they love, and they only love what they know.  So go introduce yourself to the beautiful places in your area.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Green Cleaning Products - A Year of Green Living Tip

Green cleaning products are fairly easy to find these days, and not just in specialty stores, but just about everywhere.  The biggest complaint I hear is that green products are more expensive than their every day (often toxic) counterparts.  So let's start with some great, inexpensive, DIY cleaning options. 
Cleaning with fruit acid
Limoneira just put out this round up of easy, inexpensive cleaning options using lemons. You can also use oranges or grapefruits in these recipes.  One caution, never use acidic fruits or cleaners on granite, marble or natural stone.

Cleaning with vinegar
Vinegar is an amazing product.  Not only does it clean and disinfect all around the house, but you can even use concentrated vinegar (which is not edible) as weed controller in your garden. Reader's Digest came up with 95+ Household Uses for Vinegar. Again, never use vinegar, which is also acidic on granite, marble or natural stone.  Also, as an odd fact, pearls can dissolve in vinegar!  It takes a while, it's not instant on contact.  Still, it's a good idea to take off your jewelry or wear gloves when cleaning with vinegar.

The benefits of Baking Soda
Baking Soda is another inexpensive, miracle cleaner.  Good Housekeeping advocates 21 Cleaning Problems You Can Solve With Baking Soda.

Combinations
Most of the recipes listed combine several ingredients.  In general, you can mix and match the above products with simple soap like Dr Bronner's Pure Castile Soap for extra cleaning power and add essential oils for fragrance.  Tea Tree Oil also has disinfecting properties.

Steel Wool
There are several brands that sell steel wool pads filled with cleaning agents.  Let's face it, sometimes you need the strength of steel wool and elbow grease to clean burnt-on pans, ovens or other really tough stains.  But you don't need to buy pre-fab steel wool at the grocery store.  Any hardware store will have medium grade steel wool that you can augment with your own cleaning agent. 

Store Bought Green Cleaners
If you don't have time to make your own, or your looking for something specific, like the elusive granite and marble cleaner, here are a few really good options that I've personally used and love.

Earth Friendly Products Creamy Cleanser - When you need to really scrub down that kitchen or bathroom this scrubs without scratching.

Zum Frankincense and Myrrh Granite and Counter Cleaner - This has an intoxicating scent that I absolutely love.  But beyond the scent, it does an excellent job on my granite and quartz surfaces.  It has no acids, so it's completely safe.  If this scent is too much for you in the kitchen, it also comes in several others.

Biokleen's Bac-Out Bathroom Cleaner - This enzyme-based cleaner helps keep mold and mildew at bay.  It's an easy spray-on and wipe or rinse off.  I tend to spray this in between deep cleanings for a quick clean.  Leave it on for a few minutes before you wipe it, rinse it or flush it to allow the enzymes to work.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Greening Your Laundry: A Year of Green Living Tip

If you're reading this blog, you probably already know about the harsh chemicals and detergents in mainstream cleaning products.  Chlorine bleach and ammonia are the most well known, but the list is long and filled with toxins particularly hard on the lungs.  Happily, there are a lot of resources already available to find eco-friendly, non-toxic cleaners.  The Environmental Working Group's Guide to Healthy Cleaning is among the best.  Additionally, a few eco-friendly brands have moved beyond the health food store and into the mainstream.  Big grocery and department store chains are now carrying brands like Biokleen and Seventh Generation.

With all this information already out there, I thought I'd bring you some personal tips on cleaner effectiveness (it's great that it's eco, but does it actually work?), as well as a few tricks I've put together over the years. 

This week we'll tackle Laundry.

Biokleen Sport Liquid Laundry detergent is my personal favorite.  While it's designed to get sweat smells out of sport clothing, I end up using it for everything.  It makes all my clothes smell great and cleans very well.  It's also reasonably priced compared to some other natural brands.





Eucalan No Rinse Delicate Wash, which we sell at FaeriesDance.com, is absolutely
amazing for hand or gentle machine washing delicates.  The Jasmine scent is intoxicating. It smells so good, I've tried using it for the regular wash, but it just gets overwhelmed by the rinse cycle.  Though I have added a capful to the fabric softener tray when I'm out of lavender bags. 


Use lavender bags in the dryer instead of dryer sheets and fabric softener.  This is a great tip that can be very cheap if you take a few minutes to put them together yourself. 

  1. Buy a bulk lot of small, cotton muslin drawstring bags.  You can get them at craft stores or on eBay
  2. Buy a large bag of bulk lavender flowers, again on eBay or Amazon or at a craft store or apothecary. 
  3. Fill the muslin bag with lavender flowers until it's stuffed.
  4. Add a cotton ball at the top to avoid having any spill out.
  5. Make a double knot at the top.
That's it!  Add one lavender bag to the dryer and your clothes will come out smelling awesome!  Each bag lasts about 4-5 loads in the dryer, though the first one is always the strongest.  I try to put a new one in with my sheets because I love the strong lavender scent on the sheets when I go to bed.

You can also untie your knot and reuse the muslin bag over and over again.  Use the remnant lavender flowers in craft projects, your composter or sprinkle them directly on the lawn.  There's no reason to throw them away.

Oxygen Bleach
There are a number of products out today that use a hydrogen peroxide base bleaching agent to clean and brighten without the use of chlorine.  I have personally tried Earth Friendly Products Oxo Bright and Biokleen Oxygen Bleach Plus.  I have not noticed a significant difference between the two brands, and generally buy the cheapest.

Advantages of oxygen bleach:
  • Brightens whites
  • Completely safe and non-toxic
  • Readily available in stores, and inexpensive

Disadvantages of oxygen bleach:
  • Doesn't seem to work well in cold water washes
  • Requires a bit of effort as a stain remover

As a stain remover for white clothes, just putting oxygen bleach in the machine doesn't seem to make much of a difference.  For the best results, make a paste with your powdered oxygen bleach and hot water.  Gently rub your paste directly onto your stain.  Let it sit for a few minutes before putting the item in the wash to allow it to really soak in.

Finally, the very best thing you can do to green your laundry is to do it less.  Laundry uses a lot of water and energy.  Here are a few guidelines.
  • While you should wash undergarments after every wash, jeans and sweatshirts can often be worn a few times before washing. 
  • Wash clothes in cold water whenever possible. (I wash almost everything in cold except whites and workout/running clothes.)
  • Do laundry at night and on weekends when power usage tends to be lower.
  • Hang dry clothes if you can.
  • If you live in a rainy area or just don't have the time to hang dry, set your dryer to a low heat setting to save energy and make sure the lint screen is cleaned after each dry, as that can also effect drying time.
  • If you're in the market for a new washer, check the energy star rating and choose one that is both energy and water efficient.  Most front-load washers use much less water than top-load varieties.

Friday, February 5, 2016

A Year of Green Living - Is a Home Energy Audit Worth it?

On Wednesday, I received a $362 check (woohoo!) from the Energy Trust of Oregon.  This isn't the first check I've received, but it's been the biggest so far.  And why did they grace me with this new found money?  For insulating my attic.  The 1957 home I purchased in 2012 still had its original, now much compacted, insulation and was leaking heat.  This October, I finally upgraded to R38 insulation before another winter set in.


The surprising part of completing this project is how the living room "cold zone" almost instantly became the same temperature as the rest of the house.  Even better, my heating bills are down 25% this winter over last!  I hadn't honestly believed it would make that much of a difference.  And while it's unseasonable warm right now, we had a good snow and freeze early in January that I've already seen the bill for.

While conscious consumerism is an essential part of green living, we have to look well beyond shopping to make our largest impacts.  So to answer my own question; Yes, getting a Home Energy Audit is well worth the time and money.  Here's a good intro video, though each state handles them a little differently.

 
In my case, I didn't have the full-blown audit like the one shown, but I did have an inspector point out areas of concern.  Since I was already doing some renovations, I had my contractor make suggestions and then compared the two to determine which areas would have the most impact.  In addition to the attic insulation refund, I was able to take advantage of a rebate on an Energy Star refrigerator and a tax credit for upgrading to an energy efficient water heater.
 
If you're not quite ready to have someone do something as extensive as in the video, you can also try Energy Star's self-assessment test.  If it looks like you can make some improvements, whether from windows, appliances, heating and air-condition, insulation or elsewhere, there's a good chance you can get some financial help for it.  Here's a list of incentive programs by state.
 
This is a great green step that not only has environmental impacts, but can also be a good financial investment for the long haul.
 
As a side note, we steered away from compact florescent light bulbs in favor of the more expensive, longer lasting, and much greener LED bulbs.  This Light Bulb Showdown has LEDs winning on price alone, with other benefits like no heavy metals in LEDs, being icing on the cake.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Fast Fashion and the Destruction of Developing Countries


Photo by delpentax on Flickr

If you're reading FaeriesDance.com's blog, then the chances are high that you have an interest in environmentally friendly fashion. I work for a waste management and recycling company in the UK called Forge Recycling, and we recently did some research into clothing and fashion in terms of waste, recycling, and environmental impact. We are keen to share the results with you, as we found some shocking statistics. For example, did you know that in conventional cotton farming it has been estimated that only 0.1% of applied pesticides reach the target pests, leaving the remaining 99.9% to wreak havoc on the environment? This is why shops such as FaeriesDance.com exist; organic cotton is so important for our planet. Please take a look below, and find out more about cotton farming and textile waste.
 
Best wishes,
Lucy Ravenhall
Content Manager, Forge Recycling
 

Fast Fashion and the Destruction of Developing Countries


576px-Oxfam_clothing_and_shoe_bank

It’s a little known fact that us Brits wear just 70 per cent of the clothes that we have stored away in our wardrobes, which leaves us with a total of 1.7 billion unused items. On average, a consumer keeps their garments for three years, but even more shocking than this is the fact that something might be frequently worn in the first year, and then phased into the stockpile of unworn clothes later on. That is why the average British closet is so overstuffed: we don’t wear all of the clothes we own.
 
The spending habits of the average person in the West have changed dramatically over the last hundred or so years when it comes to buying clothing. Between 2002 and 2003, for example, people in the US spent, on average, four per cent of their income on clothes, whereas back between the years of 1934 and 1946, clothing used up 12 per cent of people’s incomes. The current average expenditure per item in the USA is $14.60. Don’t go thinking that we are all consuming less though. On average, just one person in the UK will produce 70 Kg of textiles waste per year – that is a lot of clothing. Cheap, fast fashion means we are spending less yet buying more.

So, what will happen after you clean out your closet?
The best way to rid your wardrobe of unwanted clothes is to donate them to a charity shop, as this generates revenue for the charity.

Donated garments are sold in charity shops, but any clothes that aren’t sold will be resold to the used-clothing industry. These clothes are sorted into piles based on potential markets (type, condition of the clothes, and fabrics). The sorting process is actually quite labour-intensive because it is often done by hand. After sorting, the clothes will be distributed all over the world, but in fact, most of them end up in countries such as Poland, Ghana, Kenya, and Benin. So, what begins as a charitable donation can end up as a trading commodity.

Although this process is good for the charity, it could be argued that this process destroys the textile industries of importing countries. In fact, as a result of this issue, over 30 African countries have actually prohibited import embargos of used clothes.

Destinations of end-of-life clothing
Destinations of end-of-life clothing (Wrap)

From the sorting process, there will also be unwearable garments left over. These are sold to “shoddy industries”.

These industries disassemble garments into shreds, fibre or rags. It is a mechanical process that breaks down clothes with carding machines into fibre components; producing less material than before. These materials are then used as a stuffing in coffins, mattresses, and upholstery. An innovative company, IRIS Industries, is currently using these shredded materials and converting them into furniture or countertops.

Click here to continue reading the full article at Forge Recycling.