Posts Tagged With: sustainability

Rethinking Recycling

This video shared by Treehugger’s own Margaret Badore is a simple and excellent look at the changing landscape of recycling over the years. This 3-minute video discusses the switch from refillable to plastic bottles, and the actual source of the  American anti-littering campaign.

Towards the end of the video, she brings up the idea of “Product Stewardship,” which is a topic that has been generating interest lately. One of the more notable takes on the idea is within the book, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. Written by Micheal Braungart, a renowned German chemist, and William McDonough, a famous American designer, the book explores the system of waste and product generation in the world today, as well as possible solutions to each of the issues presented.

Personally, I highly recommend the book. It was one of the first I picked up in my search for continuing environmental education, and it was an awesome introduction into the world of greater thoughts on sustainability. Do you have any picks for some green reading? Let me know!

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Simple Tips for Greener Groceries

“Bus or car?”

“Publix or Trader Joe’s?”

“Chicken or beef?”

“Organic or imported?”

 

Decisions, decisions.

 

“Paper or plastic?” isn’t the only choice at the grocery store. In fact, it’s only the beginning, and like all of the questions above, none of these scenarios are black and white. Thinking outside of the box bag gives you more options and more opportunities to flex your brain and put those newly learned green-minded skills to use.

Here are some simple tips to save you time, money and plastic at the grocery store:

  1. Making good choices at the store goes far beyond simply using reusable bags, but they are certainly a great start. Cloth bags hold more than a  plastic or paper bag, and using them prevents your would-be disposable bag from entering the waste stream. But if you’re in a pinch, paper is a (slightly) wiser choice than plastic. For an in-depth analysis of that debate, check out this excellent Treehugger piece.
  2. If you’re only buying one or two things of produce, don’t use a plastic bag. Just rest the item gently in your bag or cart. This was the biggest revelation for me, because most people use a plastic bag even for something as simple as a single apple. Skip that and buy your snack plastic-free!
  3. However, if you are buying enough produce that it would look silly rolling around in your cart, try paper bags. Some stores have them near the mushrooms, or you can always bring some from home. They can be recycled or thrown into a compost pile when you’re done.
  4. Whenever you can, buy products in bulk.  Bulk products, which include things like nuts, grains and flours, can be purchased as some stores in great quantities. The larger the quantity, the less plastic you use to bring it all home. Pro tip: avoid single-serve anything whenever you can. It’s a complete waste of plastic.
  5. Try carpooling with friends, or making your grocery run just one stop on your errands. The most economical use of your car or bus trip means less fossil fuels wasted for your trip to stock up on snacks.
  6. And as always, remember to be on the lookout for The Dirty Dozen and The Clean 15 and to be seasonal!

Some of these steps can be accomplished by choosing to source your products as locally as possible whether it be at farmers markets or independent grocery stores (hint: Ward’s is a great Gainesville choice!)

Good luck grocery shopping!

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So, what’s a BPA?

Labels you might see when purchasing plastic products. (Pro tip: Just avoid plastic all together!)

Labels you might see when purchasing plastic products. (Pro tip: Just avoid plastic all together!)

If you’ve ever paid attention to plastic products for sale, you’re bound to have seen at least a few companies advertising their goods as “BPA-free”. Seeing that on a label leads most consumers to immediately believe that BPAs must be bad for them, but the truth in this situation is a little murky, so here are the facts:

Bisephenol A (or BPA) is an epoxy used to make clear, hard plastics. You see this kind of plastic every single day, whether it be in the grocery store, in vending machines or in the tupperware you use to store your food. It’s often used as coating inside plastic bottles or tin cans. At high-dosage levels, BPAs have hormone like properties. They are endocrine disruptors, and some studies show that they can cause possible negative effects in animals and fetuses, causing birth defects. Some of these effects are stronger when BPA filled plastic is chipped, broken or heated.

In a historic move, Canada has recently declared BPAs toxic. This is upsetting to the American Chemical Council, which says that their product, Bisephenol A, is perfectly safe. One quote from that article said that, “last week, Statistics Canada disclosed that 91 per cent of people tested positive for BPA in their urine, with higher levels for children aged 6 to 11 than for adults over 40. The highest concentrations were in children.”

Most world governments, including the US,  Australia and the EU, have declared that BPAs are mostly safe for human consumption at low levels. However, several countries (even the US) have banned BPA use in products such as baby bottles.

But there are many, many studies supporting both sides of the debate, with the main issue being that studies showing harmful effects of BPAs (even at low does) are hard to reproduce. Scientific American covers the controversy surrounding the issue pretty well.

Wherever you fall on the argument, limiting exposure to possibly toxic chemicals is just another reason to use less plastic. But a life without plastic can be pretty tough. The stuff is ubiquitous! What’s a green-minded consumer to do?

The best way is the simplest, use alternatives.

Whenever possible, refuse plastic, single-use, disposable items. Choose glass, aluminum or paper over plastic whenever you can. Why? Because when items like these are recycled, they can be turned into new and equally useable products. Plastic, not so much. Keeping plastic out of the waste stream is just one more way to make a smaller impact on the Earth, and if it means being a little healthier in the process, even better!

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Greener Eats

Healthy food is currently making a resurgence in popular culture. Even the all-mighty villain of good eats, McDonalds, now offers apple slices as a side choice for their kids meals! As food trends go, I think this one is here to stay. But why exactly are your eating habits so important from a sustainable standpoint?

Whether or not you go fully vegetarian/vegan or remain omnivorous, eating less meat is a cheaper, healthier and more environmentally friendly way to go. Livestock and meat production is highly land, energy and resource intensive. If you’re in for a long read, the Vegetarian Society has a very in-depth piece on the environmental benefits of going veggie. One of the main points is that worldwide, farmed animals produce more greenhouse gas emissions than the world’s entire transport system (18% of the total vs about 13%).

If that number doesn’t jump out at you, then don’t worry. You don’t need an environmental justification to enjoy vegetables! Cooking without meat (or dairy, if you so choose) allows you to be much more creative. Instead of relying on fat and meat to flavor everything, you get to experiment with the whole rainbow of spices and natural flavors. Plus, cooking your own vegetables means you can make them exactly the way you like them best, whatever that means to you.

Or, if you’re not ready to fully commit to a meat-free lifestyle, you can follow in the footsteps of one of the most famous food writers, Mark Bittman, who writes for the New York Times. Bittman is a member of the growing movement of people who define themselves as “flexitarians”. Not vegan/vegetarian all the time, just more often than not. He sums it up perfectly in this article, titled “Going Vegan, if Only for a Day”.

While I am not personally a vegetarian or vegan, I try and live a little lighter on the planet by choosing more vegan options. One of my favorite ways to do this is by exploring food blogs. There are thousands on the internet, but I’ve found a few vegan/vegetarian blogs that I’m just obsessed with. I’ve shared a few below, I hope you check them out and enjoy them as much as I do!

Produce on Parade

I list her first because Katie, an Alaskan vegan with a healthy sense of humor and adventure, is quickly becoming one of my favorite food blogs – period. She lists tons of comfort food, vegan style. I guess it comes with the territory when you live somewhere that cold! Her awesome recipes come complete with beautiful photographs, so I highly recommend you check them out!

Rockstar Recipe: I have yet to try any of hers yet, but her Coconutty Cinnamon Roll Pancakes look out of this world!

 

Cooking Stoned

No, he isn’t really stoned. However, Jerry James Stone is an EXCELLENT chef. A vegetarian, Stone often dabbles in vegan or gluten-free recipes, all accompanied by cute instructional videos and recipes.

Rockstar Recipe: Everything I’ve made by his recipes has been great, but his Balsamic-Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Crushed Pine Nuts and Parmesan are a hit among all of my friends, and they’re so easy to make!

 

The Vegan Stoner

This website is downright adorable. Every recipe is illustrated by cute, cartoony depictions of the ingredients that look, well, a little high. Sarah Conrique and Graham I. Haynes are the designers behind the recipes and drawings, and their mission is to offer vegan recipes that don’t require an extensive kitchen of ingredients or complicated instructions to prepare.

Rockstar Recipe: I’m a big fan of their Cashew Ambrosia Salad. It’s creamy, nutty and sweet. They even have a cookbook in select stores, with even more doodles and cheap, easy vegan recipes.

Oh She Glows

Angela Liddon’s vegan blog is one of the most popular and established in the genre. She has hundreds of popular recipes, and updates frequently. In addition, some of her recipes are gluten-free, soy-free or free of processed foods. There’s a ton of recipes to choose from, so get ready to fall down the rabbit hole of vegan cuisine.

Rockstar Recipe: I love her Tex Mex Spaghetti Squash with Black Bean Guacamole for a hearty and flavorful meal. I recommend plenty of her desserts as well, for those with a sweet tooth.

 

Budget Bytes

While this food blog may not be particularly vegetarian or vegan themed, this is my all-time favorite food blog. Beth caters to those with good taste and slim wallets. She does a price breakdown of every recipe for the budget-concious readers, which is great. She has a drop-down menu on the side that has vegan, vegetarian and vegetables categories.

Rockstar Recipe: I’m currently working my way through her recipes, but Beth so far has not disappointed. Recently I made her Island Rice Pilaf  for my roommates and they ate up every bit. Although, to be fair, it’s like that with every one of Beth’s recipes.

 

Bon Appétit!

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What’s an Ecological Footprint?

Your ecological footprint is a measure of how much land it would take to produce the resources necessary to sustain your lifestyle.

Your ecological footprint is a measure of how much land it would take to produce the resources necessary to sustain your lifestyle.

Maybe you’ve started to dip your toe into the waters of the sustainability movement, and you’ve heard some chatter about footprints. Carbon footprints, global footprints, ecological footprints — any kind of footprint, really. “What gives?” You may ask. Well, I’ll tell you.

The most accepted”footprint” these days is an ecological footprint. An ecological footprint is “a measure of how much biologically productive land and water area a human population requires to produce the resources it consumes and to absorb its wastes, using prevailing technology”. It’s also another way of expressing carrying capacity, which is the total population a certain set of resource sources and sinks can sustain and absorb. The USA has the largest carbon footprint of any nation on Earth, which means that even though we may not have the largest percentage of the global population, we use the largest percentage of resources.

When you fill out a footprint calculator, it asks about certain behaviors, including how much you spend on your electricity bill, how often you eat meat and how often you use fossil fuels. It takes these behaviors and gauges how much land is necessary to produce all the food, fuel and power to keep you at your standard of living. It then tells you how many Earths it would take to produce all the resources needed if everyone on the planet lived the exact same way you did.

When you fill out this quiz, you may be alarmed to find that your footprint would take 3, 4 or even 7 Earths to sustain over the long run. While you can lower this through making more more sustainable life choices (i.e. conserving water, eating less meat or using alternative transportation) there is a certain amount of this calculation that is immobile the second you click “USA” as your home nation. The US uses resources to produce crops, maintain an army and basically do things every government does. We just happen to do it more wastefully than most.

FInding out your personal ecological footprint is a great way to put your lifestyle choices in perspective, and to see what kind of an impact your lifestyle and choices make. Interested in finding out how you score? Check out this handy calculator to find out for yourself.

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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.

 

Thanks for following!

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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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