Green Your Routine: Shower Time

Water makes the world go round. What you save in the shower will (eventually) make its way all around the globe. Photo by Alex Harris.

Water makes the world go round. What you save in the shower will (eventually) make its way all around the globe. Photo by Alex Harris.

The next time you’re busy getting steamy, it may be a better idea to make it just a quickie.

I’m talking about showering, of course. And unless you’re all about inviting another person into your moment of zen, these tips will help you cut your water bill and ecological footprint by quite a bit.

Chances are, if you’re already showering instead of soaking in a tub, you’re congratulating yourself on how much water you’re saving. And you’re right! Sort of.

See, no matter how you stay clean, you’re still using water (unless you’re trying the whole “dry bathing” thing), and water is a pretty precious resource. Using less water not only saves you money on your water bill, but it saves energy. Conserving water bypasses the lengthy extraction, purification and transportation process all of our drinkable water has to go through. Bottom line: less water is better.

“But I’m good!” you may say. “I take 15-minute showers every day, that’s practically nothing. Right?”

Actually, wrong. The average shower head uses 2.5 gallons of water per minute, which makes your innocent 15 minutes of clean not-so-green  at all. That quick rinse uses 37.5 gallons of water, enough to fill two kegs with some to spare. When you shower daily, that adds up.

So how can you green your hygiene?

  1. Shorten your shower: The simplest way to avoid wasting precious H20 is to just spend less time in the shower. Try timing yourself on your phone and making it a goal to beat your “best time”. Do you really need to spend that extra 20 minutes debating what you could and couldn’t have said to that cutie in line at the coffee shop today? Didn’t think so.
  2. Try turning the water off: If you’ve never heard of a military shower, it’s a method of bathing that involves using the water from the shower head in bursts, and doing activities like soaping up, shaving and washing your hair while the water is off. Those dry minutes add up to save you big-time on water.
  3. Do less things in the shower: The first time you brush your teeth in the shower, it feels like an epiphany. It feels so productive. You feel like a multitasking god. But actually, those few minutes you take to brush your teeth, shave, or what have you, can be done in the sink with significantly less water than the sink.
  4. Start the water once you’re already in the shower: This one is simple. Running the water while you’re not even in is just waste. That cold water blast can be invigorating, and just think how good the hot water will feel once it warms up!
  5. Adjust your temperature and pressure: Showers that feel like a fire hose are just plain uncomfortable, as are those that feel like a light summer drizzle. Try and aim for a low-pressure middle ground. But a word to the wise on cold showers, leave them for teenage boys. You’ll probably spend more time ducking the freezing cold water than actually bathing. But a lukewarm shower can be a relaxing way to cut down on energy without sacrificing too much.
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How to Use a Paper Towel, or: Simple Tricks

If you can take five minutes out of your day to watch a simple TED talk about how to be more sustainable, then this is the blog for you! Green Gator Girl is a resource for busy people who want to learn more about how to lessen their impact on the planet. It’s sustainability in simple, relatable posts. Changing the planet is easy, if everyone works together and makes simple, conscious choices every day. 

To find more information, check back through the archives. Don’t forget to subscribe for weekly tips on how to go green and stay that way.

 

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5 Apps to Green Your Phone

With all of the information out there about how to “go green”,  it’s easy to think that the only ways to save the Earth involve moving backwards in time — biking instead of driving, gardening more, using less electricity — but in fact, technology sometimes makes sustainability simple. We’re attached to our cell phones all day, every day, so why not try some apps that will educate you on making more sustainable decisions?

All of the apps are free to download and (almost) all of them are available for both iPhone and Android. Check them out and let me know what you think!

1. Locavore

Availability: App Store and Android Market

What is it? The app is super simple. It has you set up a free profile (find me if you’d like, I’m GreenGatorGirl), which gives you access to a map plotting out all the local farmers’ markets, farms and CSAs. It also includes a handy chart showing which fruits and vegetables are in season right now, which are peaking right now and coming up soon. There’s also a section devoted to recipes that you can make using your newfound fresh, local produce. The “local locavores” section allows you to find other active locavores in the area and connect with them. You see which farms and markets your followers have “liked”. You can also share pictures of your latest local finds.

Why should I download it? I like it for plotting out exactly how close every farm and market is to me. So the next time I head to Union Street, I can tell which farms are closer than others. The recipes section is nice, but there are better places to find recipes, as the selection is limited.

2. Good Guide

Availability: App Store and Android Market

What is it? As the promotional video puts it, we “vote with our dollar” every time we make a purchase. Many people strive to make better decisions in the grocery store, but knowing every little thing about every product can be a herculean task. The Good Guide app helps you determine the background of all kinds of grocery store goods, just by scanning their barcodes. You can sort by issues that are important to you, including if the item in question is organic, fair trade or meets any animal welfare certifications. It also connects with the Good Guide website, which is even more comprehensive.

Why should I download it? This is a cool one. If you want to know the social and environmental responsibility of a product, this is a great way to find out in the store. I don’t yet know exactly how detailed it is, but I see a decent enough number of products represented.

3. iRecycle

Availability: App Store and Android Market

What is it? This app makes recycling a breeze. Simply select what you’re trying to recycle, and the app will suggest local spots that accept whatever you’re getting rid of, even the tricky stuff like batteries and cell phones!

Why should I download it? If you ever need to recycle anything, this app makes it so easy. It’s definitely worthwhile to keep this on your phone for when you need it.

4. Green Genie

Availability: App Store

What is it? This is the most comprehensive green living app I’ve ever seen. With Green Genie, you have a world of information about any eco-friendly subject you desire. It has lists of companies, organizations, projects and blogs for your perusal. There’s also a glossary to define all the words that are casually thrown about in the sustainability community. There are hundreds of projects, sorted by size, difficulty, location and how much good they’ll do. This is a fun app to explore and learn from.

Why should I download it? If you’ve ever been curious about something in the sustainability community, this is the app to sate that curiosity. Plus, it’s free!

5. Lightbulb Finder

Availability: App Store and Android Market

What is it? Knowing that using CFL and LED lights is more sustainable is simple. However, finding the exact replacement bulb sometimes isn’t. Lightbulb Finder is a free app that helps consumers find the better lightbulb to replace their old one. It’s highly customizable and comes with a host of recommendations. It even lets you name and save your specific lightbulbs so you can easily re-find the bulbs when the time comes to replace them again.

Why should I download it? If you have plenty of lamps with many strange bulbs, this app comes in handy, especially if you own your own home.

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Recycling Tips

Alachua County is great at recycling, but what about you?

The numbers are in! Alachua County  has had the highest recycling rates in the state of Florida two years running. That’s a whopping 50% of all solid waste recycled. Even the next runners up, Lee, Brevard and Marion counties, are a whole five percentage points behind.

That effectively makes Gainesville one of the most sustainable counties in Florida. Pretty cool, right? What’s even cooler is knowing that the state of Florida has even bigger dreams.

Florida has a goal to recycle 75% of all waste in every county by 2020. Impossible? Maybe. On the right track? Absolutely! Lofty goals like these push everyone involved to act aggressively to meet them, and that’s exactly what’s going to help our county, our state and our world become more sustainable.

But why is recycling important? For one thing, by reusing materials, we cut down on how many new materials we need to harvest, including trees, water and oil. By recycling, we lessen groundwater leaching from landfills and air pollution from incineration. Recycling literally makes the planet a cleaner place to be.

You can help Florida reach this goal by recycling as much as possible at home, at school and work. Recycling just one ton of paper saves  17 trees, 6953 gallons of water, 463 gallons of oil, 3.06 cubic yards of landfill space and 4077 kilowatt hours of energy. UF recycles over 2,000 tons of paper annually from campus. So next time you go to toss an old exam, aim for a recycling bin and let that scantron live on to terrorize someone else.

If recycling still confuses you, or you just need a refresher, here are some helpful hints for what goes in the bins:

In the blue bin:

  • Glass Bottles and Jars
  • Plastic Bottles, Jugs, Jars & Tubs 
  • Steel/Tin Cans (empty aerosol included)
  • Aluminum Cans
  • Gable top and Aseptic Cartons (milk and juice containers, with or without the screw-on tops)

But what about the caps?

In order to get your recyclables in perfect condition for the bin, remove all caps from plastics. Plastic bags, trays and styrofoam are not accepted in the bins, so try and use less of them in general. Jars, bottles and aluminum cans should be rinsed and have the lids removed. Put the aluminum can lids inside the can for safety.

In the orange bin:

  • Newspapers/Magazines/Catalogs
  • Telephone Books/Manuals/Paperback books
  • Paper Bags/Wrapping, Packing & Shredded paper
  • Corrugated Cardboard & Pasteboard (including clean pizza boxes)
  • Office Paper & Junk Mail

For paper products,

Place the blue bin on top of the orange bin to protect your paper from the wind and rain. Remember not to include any plastic bags or foil wrappers. Please put shredded paper in a bag so it doesn’t fly away.

However, pizza boxes are a special case. College students go through a fair lot of them, but most people have no idea that they are not recyclable if there’s any food contamination on them. So if your pizza box is a bit too greasy for the streets, why not try something more fun?

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What is sustainability?

The other day, I had a revelation that changed the way I’ve always thought about sustainability.

And to think, it started out like a thousand other totally mundane conversations. You know the drill. Your parents drag you to a social event and ditch you, leaving you to answer the same question to the same smiling, polite and utterly unmemorable adults ad nauseum. “How’s college?” Yikes.

After the umpteenth conversation of the night, someone broke the script. When I explained that I was a journalism and sustainability major, I was met with something other than a blank stare and a head nod. This gentleman actually looked at me, puzzled, and asked, “What’s sustainability?”

I was thrown. I’d grown up in such a sheltered bubble that the idea of someone who had no idea what sustainability was seemed unfathomable. But I was also thrilled. Here’s my chance! I get to explain something so important, so overwhelming linked to our daily lives, to someone for whom the concept had never even registered. It also sprang to mind that trying to be as politically neutral as possibly would probably help my case as well. So, drawing on my best journalist skills, I gave him as unbiased and simple an answer as I could muster.

Sustainability, I said, is a big word for a simple concept. There are a finite number of resources in this world, and sustainability teaches you how to be the most economic with what you’ve got.  It’s not abut politics, it’s about people, and making sure that there’s enough energy and resources to sustain everyone. It’s about being efficient with your materials, and in the long run you usually end up saving some money and the environment as well.

Family friend nodded and smiled. But not the usual, vapid reaction you’d expect, he actually lit up and showed interest. And that’s the story of how I ended up talking to a 50-something lawyer about sustainability for half an hour at an otherwise dull event.

Sustainability isn’t just something that you study in class and talk about with other sustainability majors. It’s an intrinsic facet of our lives that is interdisciplinary. The knowledge you learn applies to much more than just the examples you cover in class, it applies to every part of the world around you. If people had talked about sustainability more, shared it with everyone they met, then there would be a greater awareness of the subject, one that isn’t linked to politics or politicians.

I encourage everyone to come up with their own “sustainability elevator speech” for those occasions when you talk about it with someone outside of the college. I encourage people to start talking about it with someone outside the college. You’re learning about it for a reason, so why not start applying it to your life now?

Here’s another, more professional explanation, courtesy of the EPA, that might give you a little inspiration.

“Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.  Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.

Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have,  the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment.”

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5 Tips to Make Your Turkey Day More Sustainable

The holiday season is upon us! Now there’s an extra five-day weekend putting some much needed space between you and your next exam. Even better? The weekend is filled with a regular smorgasbord of savory snacks and delectable dishes. Suffice to say that Thanksgiving is a holiday a lot of college students look forward to.

Freshmen and seniors alike are returning home to see friends and family, and to maybe impart a little of the knowledge they’re picking up back in Gainesville. So how about coming home this year with some knowledge that will actually make a difference? Here are five tips to help you make your family’s feast a little more sustainable.

  1. Go local. By now you’ve realized that I’m all about the local food. It has so many benefits, the least of which is the opportunity to connect with your agricultural community. Since you’ve been informed about how great farmers’ markets are and visited the Gainesville one (right?) why not make a fun family event out of it and check out your local farmers’ market? Check online listings for the one nearest you.
  2. Go organic. Again, I believe I’ve made my point about how organic is a good choice for you and your family. Check out my earlier post about which produce is better organic for the most budget friendly choices.
  3. Go meatless. I know, I know, what blasphemy on the most hallowed of meat-eating days! But seriously, meat production makes a big impact on our planet (greater than transportation) and by eating a little less, you can lighten your impact. But coincidentally, turkeys are one of the most sustainable livestock to farm and produce. Try sticking with just the turkey, and keep the rest of your sides carb and veggie focused.
  4. Watch your waste. Americans waste a tremendous amount of food (40% of what we make annually, to be exact). Save your leftovers by giving them to friends and relatives or taking them back to school with you. Give away extra canned and pre-packaged food to nearby shelters, or maybe prepared food if they allow it. And if at all possible, compost what’s left. A more realistic method to reduce waste, however, is to use cloth napkins and actually use plates and silverware at your event. Washing dishes later is worth it compared to having needless plastic sit in a landfill for a few thousand years.
  5. Recycle. All those bottles, cans and boxes that went into preparing and serving your food have to go somewhere. Why not the recycling bin? Making an effort to save the recyclables is a great step to reducing waste as well, and saves overall time and energy to create new products further down the line.

This info-graphic is a great resource for checking to see what you can do to follow these tips, and more. Have a happy, fun and sustainable holiday!

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What’s Wrong With What We Eat?

TED talks are awesome. If you’ve never heard of them, TED is a non-profit with the motto of “ideas worth spreading”. It gets its name from the original conference in 1984 that brought together talented people from three disciplines: technology, entertainment and design. They host a variety of conferences around the world and post the best videos on their site. If you have time to kill and want to find all sorts of fascinating stuff, check their website out.

I’m talking about TED because today I wanted to share a bit of a long post. This video, clocking in at just over twenty minutes, is a concise summary of many of the challenges facing America today in the culinary world. Mark Bittman, a renowned New York Times food writer and bestselling author, explains in a simple and entertaining way the issues with our diets.

He speaks from a position most of us can relate to, a meat lover who also cares about the planet. Without being pretentious or preachy, he explains the argument against meat. He relays the astonishing fact that livestock production generates over 1/5 the greenhouse gasses on our planet, even more than transportation, and follows it up by promising he’s not “anti-cow”.

Most of the time, bringing up topics like this causes people to scoff. What could be healthier than a thick-cut steak and a cold glass of whole milk? Unfortunately, almost anything else.

Bittman doesn’t advocate that everyone on the planet should become tempeh-chomping, kombucha-swilling vegans, but he does advocate a more responsible food production system. Considering that the United States consumes ten billion animals per year (enough to string from here to the moon and back six times), Bittman does not live in an idealistic world where animal consumption will ever stop completely. But neither does he deny that livestock production is seriously harming our environment. A happy medium does exist, however. Eating more vegetable and less meat and dairy is a budget friendly way to make a difference in the world, and to be more sustainable.

This video is entertaining and informative, if you have free time, I highly recommend it.

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Seasonal Food

What does it mean to be seasonal?

When you walk into the produce section of your local grocery store, chances are that it looks the same as it did yesterday. And the same as it did last week, last month, last year – you get the idea. The produce display at major grocery stores is static. It doesn’t really change all that much throughout the year. The most “seasonal” a store ever gets is offering pumpkins in October and November. So what’s wrong with that?

It’s simple – it doesn’t reflect the natural world. In today’s society, modern technology has made it possible for us to have any type of produce at any time, from anywhere in the world. This is a fantastic step in globalization and international trade, but it isn’t very sustainable. The natural world has a rhythm, and every fruit and vegetable has a certain time when it should be planted and harvested, depending on the weather and time of year. However, technology has enabled us to take produce that might have originally only been available in the summer, grow it halfway across the globe and ship it back to our stores in the middle of winter. Other tactics include genetically modifying a plant to lengthen its growing season.

Certainly this is a great thing for keeping up a varied diet and for the ability to make your favorite dish at any time of the year. Though the costs of producing food outside of this cycle are not immediately visible, they are significant. Produce not grown in season just doesn’t taste as good as naturally in-season food does. Tomatoes become watery red globes devoid of flavor, apples become mealy and bland ,and we lose the opportunity to enjoy our food at its peak of freshness and flavor.

But if flavor alone doesn’t sell you, take into account that produce grown halfway around the globe has quite a journey ahead of it. This journey requires produce to be harvested way in advance, pumped with preservatives and then artificially ripened when they finally arrive. Choosing foods in-season minimizes your exposure to pesticides and allows your food to spend more time ripening naturally.

Last but not least, eating food along with their seasonal rhythms affords us a connection to our natural world that can be difficult to find today. We experience the seasons and the flavors to which they are intrinsically linked. Spring has the most mouthwatering strawberries. In summer, sweet corn is king. Fall brings hearty pumpkins and squashes, and of course, winter is when Florida’s famous citrus ripens to perfection.

For more information about seasonal food in Florida, this chart is a great resource.

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The Dirty Dozen and The Clean Fifteen

Fresh, local produce at a farmers’ market in Orlando, Fla.

Other than sounding like the tagline for a cheesy superhero B-movie, these silly-sounding terms actually have meaning in the green community. The “Dirty Dozen” are so named because they represent the foods that are most affected by pesticide use. If you’re going to buy anything organic, this is the produce on which you should splurge.

The reason they’re more “worth it” to buy organic than other products is that these fruits and vegetables are more affected by pesticides used in production than other types of produce. The list includes produce that were tested and shown to have high pesticide residue, or found to have multiple types of residue – in some cases greater than 80 types of pesticides were discovered on a single sample!

It’s understood that the higher prices of organic produce can often drive consumers away, especially college students on a budget. The general consensus is that it is better to eat non-organic fresh fruits and vegetables than to simply skip them altogether. However, if you make a habit of eating fresh produce, it is suggested you trade in for organic for at least these twelve products.

In an effort to educate the public on the importance of organic food and to make it more budget friendly, the non-profit Environmental Working Group analyzes the Department of Agriculture’s data about pesticide use and puts together these lists every year. They estimate that by switching to organic for just these dozen products, you can reduce your exposure to pesticides by 80%.

The Dirty Dozen are listed in order of most pesticides present in the sample. Take a look!

The Dirty Dozen

1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Sweet Bell Peppers
4. Peaches
5. Strawberries
6. Nectarines (imported)
7. Grapes
8. Spinach
9. Lettuce
10. Cucumbers
11. Blueberries
12. Potatoes

Now, on the other end of the spectrum we have “The Clean Fifteen”. This is the produce with the lowest amounts of pesticide traces found.

The Clean Fifteen

1. Onions
2. Sweet Corn
3. Pineapple
4. Avocado
5. Asparagus
6. Sweet peas
7. Mango
8. Eggplant
9. Cantaloupe (domestic)
10. Kiwi
11. Cabbage
12. Watermelon
13. Sweet Potatoes
14. Grapefruit
15. Mushrooms

I hope that the information provided in lists like these will help you make better, healthier and more sustainable decisions in the grocery store. Keeping informed is a simple way to make smarter decisions for the earth and you.

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Ward’s Independent Grocery Store

Ward’s offers a myriad of grains and dried goods for sale.

The only independent grocery store in Gainesville, Ward’s is a mecca for all the local and organic goodies this community has to offer. They’ve been in business for over 60 years and have become a fixture in the community due to their dedication to quality products and services.

Walking in the door is like entering a foodie’s wonderland. The produce section is expansive and well stocked – I counted at least four different types of sweet potatoes! Juxtaposed to this vegetarian paradise is a butcher section with excellent prices and an array of delectable looking meats that would warm any carnivore’s heart.

My favorite part of the store, however, is the row of grains and other dried goods. Offering products like quinoa at the astonishing price of $3.99 a pound, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the many healthy, inexpensive choices. I suggest trying a tiny bit of anything that looks good. Who knows, you may discover a delicious and healthy new addiction.

The store is stocked with a variety of brand name goods in addition to their own brand. I have found that the Ward’s brand is usually cheaper and fresher than the competitors. One of their more popular products, the honey roasted peanut butter, has quickly become a must on my grocery list. My roommates and I love Ward’s for its low prices and wide selection of local produce and meats; we try to shop there as often as possible.

Ward’s is a great way to stay sustainable because they go to great lengths to stock their store with the most local products possible. Supporting a local business like Ward’s keeps the money within the community, thus nurturing a community of small businesses dedicated to high quality goods and services.

Become a part of your local community and help your planet at the same time with Ward’s Supermarket. You can visit them at their location at 515 NW 23rd Ave. Gainesville, FL or check out their website.

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