November 27, 2011

Green Up Your Holidays

Greening up your holidays allows you to revel in holiday spirit without all the over-consumption and wastefulness (from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day household waste increases by over 25%!). It really is simple to have a fun, budget-friendly, healthy and eco-friendly holiday season. Just follow these tips, sit back, and enjoy the season with family and friends (isn't that what it's really about anyway?).

You don't have to spend a lot to give meaningful gifts your family and friends will enjoy and appreciate. Click here for Everyday Green's list of green gift ideas. Once you've selected your green gifts, opt for wrapping paper made from recycled paper. Even better, wrap gifts in materials you already have on hand like fabric, the comics, or grocery bag paper you've decorated yourself.

Travel is a major part of the holidays for many people. Remember, buses and trains have less of an impact on your wallet and the environment than air travel. And if you're going to be away, remember to turn down the thermostat and turn off the lights to save energy while you’re gone.

With the holiday company coming you'll want to get your home looking its best. If you haven't done so already, swap those expensive, chemical-laden cleaning products for inexpensive, non-toxic solutions you can make right at home. With a few simple products, like vinegar, baking soda and peroxide, you can get your house just as clean as with traditional cleaning products. Click here for details.

When decorating utilize materials you already have on hand or purchase items you can use again. Bringing the outside in (think pine cones, plant or flower clippings, and living plants) is a great way to decorate for little or no money. Plus, holiday craft making is a wonderful activity the whole family can enjoy together.

If you must decorate with lights, switch to energy-efficient LED lights. They are brighter and use 90% less energy than conventional holiday lights, saving you up to $50 on your energy bills during the holiday season.

If you're decorating with candles, avoid traditional paraffin candles. Despite how nice they may look or smell, these candles and the smoke and soot they produce contain harmful toxins. The American Lung Association and the EPA have warned consumers that using paraffin candles decreases indoor air quality. The fumes released by paraffin candles are comparable to those produced by burning diesel. For a healthier, greener alternative look for candles made from soy or beeswax with non-lead wicks that are scented with essential oil.

The debate over real versus artificial Christmas trees replays every year. Real Christmas trees can be costly, are typically treated with pesticides, and add to an already large amount of post-holiday trash. Artificial trees are non-biodegradable and contain lead and other additives linked to liver, kidney, neurological and reproductive system damage in lab animals. And according to the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition', artificial trees “may shed lead-laced dust, which may cover branches or shower gifts and the floor below the tree”, posing a health risk to children.

Environmentally and health-wise, real trees hold the advantage over artificial. Look for a locally grown, organic tree. Even better, pick up a potted tree this Christmas. A small (no bigger than 4 feet) tree in a planter that is kept in a cool indoor space can survive indoors until the ground thaws in the spring and it can be planted. Larger potted tress and those that come with a root ball last no more than a few days before they must be planted outdoors. If you don’t have the land for replanting, you can always donate the tree to the local parks department or to someone who does have the space.

Thanks to the 4,000-plus recycling programs available in the U.S., over 90% of all Christmas trees get recycled. Do the green thing and visit earth911.org to find the tree-recycling program near you.

When preparing your holiday meals opt for organic and local. Doing so helps ensure that you're getting the freshest, most nutritious food that hasn’t been chemically modified to keep its appearance after traveling half way around the world. Plus, you'll be supporting your local economy. You can find farmers’ markets, farms, and community-supported agriculture programs in your area at http://www.localharvest.org. For help planning your meal around what’s in season check out the seasonal produce guide available at sustainabletable.org/.

Buying food in bulk will reduce packaging waste and save you money, but you don't want to overbuy and waste food. You can cut down on waste by planning ahead and calculating how much food you will actually need. This list of approximate food and drink portions should help:

Turkey - 1 pound per person
Stuffing - ¼ pound per person
Casserole side dish - ¼ pound per person
Vegetable side dish - ¼ pound per person
Sauce or Chutney - 3 tablespoons per person
Pie (9-inch) - 1/8 slice per person

Keeping track of how much was consumed can help you better plan for future holiday meals.

For drinks, consider serving biodynamic wine. There's a growing number of sustainable wines available and many are quite reasonably priced. Click here to learn more.

Finally, remember to take time to enjoy. Forget all the “stuff” and celebrate all have to be grateful for.

Have a happy, healthy, and green holiday season!


November 22, 2011

Green Holiday Gifts Ideas

Need some help with your holiday gift list? Why not think green this holiday season? Even if your gift recipient isn't very eco-conscious, you can still give a gift that they'll find useful and that you can feel good about.

Here are some green gift ideas:

Experiences. Sometimes the best gift you can give is your time. You can plan a sporty adventure like cross-country skiing or rock climbing, take someone to a concert, sporting event or show, or offer to teach something you're an expert at (cooking, knitting, computers, etc.).

Provide a service. Offer to green clean their home, babysit for a day, or cook them an organic dinner.

Classes. Give your foodie friend the gift of a cooking class or the fitness fanatic in your life a session of their favorite yoga class. If your loved one is really into a sport like tennis or golf, buy them a one-on-one consult with a pro to help them improve their game.

Charitable donation in the person's name.

CSA Farm Share. Give the gift of local, seasonal food that comes straight from the farm. A Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is basically a membership to a farm that includes a parcel of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season. Find a CSA near you at www.localharvest.org/csa.

National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. For $80 this pass provides up to four adults access to federal recreation sites that charge an entrance fee for a year. Learn more at www.nps.gov/fees_passes.htm.

State Parks Pass. Many states offer some sort of pass that grants access to most or all state parks. Click here for a list of all fifty states with a link to their official state park website and information on their state park entrance pass program.

Plants. Give an air-cleaning plant (some of the most effective are philodendron, English ivy, spider plants, dracaena, Chinese evergreen, bamboo or reed palm, and peace lily) or herbs in decorative pots.

Clothing and accessories made of organic cotton, bamboo, or hemp.

Sheets or towels made of organic cotton, bamboo, or hemp.

Cast Iron Skillet. This durable and versatile cooking tool can be a great replacement for questionable non-stick cookware.

Food containers made of glass, ceramic, porcelain, Pyrex, bamboo, or stainless steel to replace plastic containers which may be unsafe.

Home Water Filter. Filtered tap water is purer than bottled water, not to mention less expensive and better for the environment.

Fair-Trade, Organic, Shade-Grown Coffee. Eco-friendly coffee, a reusable coffee filter, and/or reusable coffee mugs would make a great gift basket for the coffee lover in your life.

Organic, Fair-Trade Chocolate

Biodynamic Wine

Organic Beer

Organic bath and beauty products made without synthetic fragrances, dyes, parabens, or pthalates.

Jewelry, accessories, artwork or housewares made from recycled materials and/or made by local artisans.

Kids' books with a eco-conscious message.

Eco-Friendly Toys


Once you've selected your green gift, opt for wrapping paper made of recycled paper. Even better, wrap gifts in materials you already have on hand like fabric or the newspaper comics.

November 20, 2011

Give Greener Toys This Holiday Season

When you give a child a gift of course you want to see their face light up in excitement as they beg to play with it right away. If it can engage their imagination and enrich their mind, all the better. But not all toys are created equal and even some of the most popular, highly sought after toys out there this holiday season can be harmful to children and the environment.

Toys considered “greener” pose no health risk for children (especially the very young ones who put things in their mouths), are made of sustainable materials, and are manufactured in way that produces less environmental waste and pollution. Here's what to look for when shopping for greener, safer toys this holiday season.

Start by taking into consideration the toy's durability. What fun is a toy that only lasts a short time? Plus, parts that break off easily can be dangerous. A multi-faceted toy that can be used in multiple ways (think blocks and simple dolls and cars) is more likely to engage a child's imagination and will last longer than a gadget toy that only performs one function.

Crafts are another great way to get kids using their imagination. Give the little artist in your life a few simple supplies like non-toxic paints and glue, scissors, and recycled paper and watch what masterpieces they create.

Avoid toys made with polyvinyl chloride (i.e., PVC or vinyl). PVC releases toxins into the environment through every step of its life cycle – from manufacturing to disposal. Many PVC toys also contain phthalates, hormone-disruptors with strong links to cancer. Opt for plastic-free toys made of wood, cloth, wool, or paper instead.

Avoid metal kids' jewelry and toys with small metal pieces or magnets. These items are perpetually being recalled due to lead content or paint. Despite all the recalls, a study by the Center for Environmental Health found that many of these products still on shelves are also tainted with lead. Even if lead is not an issue, there are still other toxic metals, such as cadmium, antimony and barium, being used to make imported kids' jewelry.

Toys made of wood, on the other hand, are a great idea. Wood toys last much longer than plastic ones and, so long as they are not treated or painted, are safer for young children to chew on. Toys made of bamboo are a particularly good option because bamboo is a fast-growing renewable resource that requires no pesticides and little water.

Thanks to its excessive use of pesticides, cotton is considered the world's dirtiest crop. Not exactly the what you want your little ones snuggling up with. When selecting fabric toys, like stuffed animals, opt for ones made from organic and naturally-dyed cotton, bamboo, or wool.

It's one thing to say avoid toys made with PVC or painted with lead paint and another to actually try and figure out how those toys on the shelves are made. Toys today do not include an ingredient list on their labels, which can make the shopping process difficult, and worrisome when you consider that about one third of the 1,500 toys tested by the Ecology Center contained medium to high levels of toxic chemicals. Fortunately, the site HealthyStuff.org provides a tremendous resource for conscientious toy shoppers.

HealthyStuff.org is an online database created by the nonprofit The Ecology Center. The site provides consumers toxic chemical information on over 8,300 products, including toys and other children's products. Each product tested is given an overall rating, as well as an individual chemical rating for cadmium, chlorine, lead, arsenic, bromine, mercury and, for some product categories, tin.

Today even companies like Amazon and Toys R Us have an Eco-Friendly or Green Toy category. By supporting these toy makers we can help increase the demand for safer, greener toys until the day when all toys are green toys.

Happy Holiday Shopping!



November 17, 2011

Green Tip of The Day

Clean green with a HEPA filter vacuum. A lot of older vacuums kick up more dust than they clean. HEPA (short for high efficiency particulate air) filters are designed to trap very small particles that would normally remain in the air. It is even thought that HEPA filter vacuums can reduce the level of PBDEs (harmful compounds found in many everyday household products) in a home.

A trademarked HEPA filter removes at least 99.97% of particles such as dust, animal dander, smoke, lead, mold and other allergens. True or absolute HEPA filters must be able to trap at least 99.97% of particles of .3 microns to earn the HEPA label and will have a serial number attesting to such a performance level. When selecting a HEPA filter vacuum, check the label for a serial number and air cleaning test results before you buy. "HEPA-type" or "high-efficiency" filters are widely advertised and usually cost less, but can be up to 55% lower in efficiency than true HEPA filters.

A true HEPA filter vacuum is another great tool to have in your green cleaning arsenal.


November 15, 2011

Green Tip of The Day

If you take a fish oil supplement, make sure your omega-3s are truly healthy and not mixed with harmful pollutants like mercury, PCBs and dioxins. The Environmental Defense Fund has investigated the purifying process of 75 of today's most popular fish supplements. Make sure your brand comes from one of the companies purifying their fish oils to meet stringent safety standards.

Don’t take a supplement, but enjoy eating seafood? Check out the Environmental Defense Fund’s Complete List of Seafood Eco-Ratings to learn which options are healthiest for you and the environment.


November 13, 2011

Green Tip of The Day

Keep your heating system properly maintained. Check air filters once a month and clean or replace them when necessary. Oil-fired boilers should be cleaned and tuned annually, and gas systems, every two years. Doing so can save you 5% to 15% on heating and cooling costs.


November 6, 2011

A Green Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. With it comes the start of the holiday season, full of gatherings with family and friends, beautiful décor, and fun gift shopping. As much as I love getting into the holiday spirit, I want to be sure to avoid those post-holiday blues that come from overeating and overspending. Plus, the holiday season is no friend to Mother Earth . . . from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day household waste increases by over 25%.

By taking just a few simple steps anyone can have a fun, budget-friendly, healthy and eco-friendly holiday season. Start by greening up your Thanksgiving traditions. Doing so will leave less of a dent on your diet and your wallet and may even make it more meaningful for you and your family.

First, let's consider travel – a major part of the holidays for many folks. Remember, buses and trains have less of an impact on your wallet and the environment than air travel. You could even avoid the travel crowds and forge a new tradition by celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends that live in your area rather than traveling far. If you are going to be traveling, remember to turn down the thermostat and turn off the lights to save energy while you’re gone.

If you are the brave soul hosting, start off on the right, green foot with your invitations. You can call to invite guests, use an online resource such as Evite or Facebook, or print invitations on recycled paper.

What's the first thought we have company coming? Gotta clean! If you haven't done so already, swap those expensive, smelly, chemical-laden cleaning products for cheap, non-toxic, earth-friendly solutions you can make right at home. With a few simple products, like vinegar, baking soda, and peroxide, you can get your house just as clean as with traditional cleaning products. You’ll save money, keep plastic bottles out of landfills, and avoid harsh chemicals that can cause eye, skin, and respiratory irritations. Click here for details.

For decoration, utilize materials you already have on hand or purchase items you can use again. Bringing the outside in (think pine cones, plant or flower clippings, gourds, leaves, and living plants) is a great way to decorate for little or no money. Plus, Thanksgiving craft making is a wonderful activity the whole family can do together.

Whatever décor you decide on, steer clear of traditional paraffin candles. Despite how nice they may look or smell, these candles and the smoke and soot they produce can contain harmful toxins. The American Lung Association and the EPA have warned consumers that using paraffin candles can decrease indoor air quality. Paraffin is the last petroleum byproduct removed in the refining process (right after asphalt). The fumes released by paraffin candles are comparable to those produced by burning diesel. For a healthier, greener alternative look for candles made from soy or beeswax, scented with essential oil, with non-lead wicks.

When it comes to the food opt for organic and local. Doing so helps ensure that you're getting the freshest, most nutritious food that hasn’t been chemically modified to keep its appearance after traveling half way around the world. Plus, you'll be supporting your local economy. You can find farmers’ markets, farms, and community-supported agriculture programs in your area at localharvest.org. For help planning your meal around what’s in season check out the seasonal produce guide available at sustainabletable.org.

You can make your meal healthier and less costly by swapping out meat with more veggies. Even a slight reduction in meat consumption can have a significant impact. Click here to learn more about how giving up meat just once a week can make a significant difference in your health and your carbon footprint.

Buying food in bulk will reduce packaging waste and save you money, but you don't want to overbuy and waste food. You can cut down on waste by planning ahead and calculating how much food you will actually need. This list of approximate food and drink portions should help:

Turkey - 1 pound per person
Stuffing - ¼ pound per person
Casserole (side dish) - ¼ pound per person
Green beans or Brussels sprouts - ¼ pound per person
Cranberry Sauce or Chutney - 3 tablespoons per person
Pie (9-inch) - 1/8 slice per person

Keeping track of how much was consumed can help you better plan for future holiday meals.

For drinks, consider serving biodynamic wine. Don't be thrown off by the label. Biodynamic , or sustainable, wine-making is nothing more than a return to European vineyard traditions like natural fertilizers and pest management and planting cover crops. Biodynamic wine is a better quality wine with higher levels of resveratrol, the heart-healthy antioxidant found in wine, making biodynamic wine better for your health as well as the planet's. There's a growing number of biodynamic wines available and many are quite reasonably priced. Click here to learn more about biodynamic wine.

When it comes to any type of party, the worst environmental offender is usually all the disposable plates, cups, utensils, napkins, and tablecloths. Americans throw away enough paper and plastic cups, forks and spoons every year to circle the equator 300 times! Instead of buying paper or plastic tableware, offer reusable options. If you don't have enough at home, you can always check out thrift stores for an eclectic mix of tableware. Other options are reusable plastic cutlery and compostable paper plates.

When it's time to clean up, fill the dishwasher to capacity before running it and use unheated air to dry dishes to save electricity and water. Make sure to give away and/or freeze any leftovers, compost food scraps, and make recycling easy for guests by placing clearly labeled recycling bins in a convenient location everyone can reach.

Finally, no matter how inviting that couch may look after the big meal, don't just plop yourself down for the rest of the day. You'll feel so much better if you get outside for some fresh air and exercise. Go for a walk, play baseball or football, jump in the leaves, or hit the local park. You'll take full advantage of this precious time with family and friends, burn some calories, and cut down on home energy usage.

May you have a happy, healthy, and green holiday season!

November 3, 2011

Green Tip of The Day

Only wash full loads of laundry. Cold water rinses detergent out just as well as warm or hot water, so always select the cold rinse option on your washing machine. Most laundry can also be washed with cold water as well, so give it a second thought next time you go to wash something in warm or hot water. Using only cold water for washing clothes would save you at least $100 a year.


November 2, 2011

Green Tip of The Day

Make sure your home is properly insulated. Check the insulation in your attic, ceilings, exterior and basement walls, floors, and crawl spaces to see if it meets the levels recommended for your area. The U.S. Department of Energy offers an online Zip Code Insulation Calculator which provides insulation levels for your home based on your zip code and other basic information about your home.


November 1, 2011

Green Tip of The Day

When shopping for a new appliance, look for the Energy Star label. It will tell you the annual energy consumption and operating cost for each appliance so you can accurately compare both the up front price and the monthly energy cost you'll be paying for the following 10 to 20 years.