Sustainability for the holidays is a goal many of us have. Here are a few ways to achieve it: Increase a child’s curiosity about the natural world by giving an ant farm or science related kit, a museum membership or a visit to a farm. For adults and teens, instead of material gifts purchase a service, tickets to an event, camping trips, dance or other lessons, dinners out, massages or a gift certificate for locally produced products. You might make a gift of food or write a poem or decorate pottery. Equal Exchange, Ten Thousand Villages and SERRV are socially conscious gift companies. Gifts of farm animals, portions of a well and many other types of charitable gifts are available from Heifer International (www.heifer.org/gift) and World Vision. When stuffing stockings you can use nuts and fruits, and for wrapping gifts use newspaper, cloth and saved ribbon. Holiday lights should be LEDs and/or used in moderation. It’s possible to send electronic greetings (Hallmark.com or Bluemountain.com) but if that is not your taste consider cards from recycled paper or postcards. There are many choices for recycled and eco-friendly gifts online. You may even end up repurposing something yourself and reducing what goes into the waste stream.
Virtually all food we buy comes with a date: sell by, use by, best before, etc. Did you know that none of those dates are required and don’t indicate when a food is no longer safe to eat? So, if there is a date on a food package, how can we know what is meant by it? The only product whose expiration date is required by federal law is infant formula, which must list a date guaranteeing the nutritional value listed on the packaging.
A British study has shown that approximately 20% of all household food that is wasted is done so because of these confusing food labels. What can we do to stop this expensive and wasteful practice? Buy local, fresh food. You can tell when fresh food goes bad. Use the date as a general guideline but not as a rule. Use your five senses: if it smells or tastes strange don’t eat it.
Most of us have installed compact fluorescent bulbs, maybe even LED bulbs, because that reduces our carbon footprint, is easy, and saves money in the long-run. We all know that it also saves energy to turn down the thermostat when at work or at night; to turn off lights when leaving a room; and to unplug electronic devices that are in “standby” mode while still using electricity to look for messages from your remote. If we were vigilant about these latter activities, we could easily save more than 15% on our energy use, but if you are like me, you often forget to do these simple actions. There are three technologies that will do these routine actions for you.
Programmable/Smart Thermostats can be inexpensive (<$40), but still specify different temperatures for four time periods unique to each day of the week. More expensive models can be controlled over the Internet and/or will learn by observing your behavior over time. Before buying you should (1) know the key features of your heating and cooling systems– perhaps recording the number and colors of the wires leading to your current thermostat–and (2) read the on-line reviews given at Amazon. com, Lowes.com, or HomeDepot.com. Smart Light switches use detected motion and/or ambient lighting to control lights. They generally cost less than $20, but check online reviews and make sure it can handle your lighting, e.g., some switches have trouble with fluorescent lights. If you install it yourself, don’t forget to cut power to the switch at the fuse (or circuit breaker) box.
Smart power-strips not only protect your appliances from voltage surges, but can cut power to some plugs when the appliance plugged into the “master” plug is turned off. For example, if your computer is plugged into the master plug and you turn the computer off, the strip could cut power to monitors, printers, speakers, etc. Prices seem to start at about $30. If your phone service is from a DSL or cable modem, be sure the power-strip has an outlet that is always on.
Eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all because the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. However even if your budget prevents you from buying 100% organic, you can lower your pesticide intake by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables (the “Dirty Dozen™”) if conventionally grown. This year’s Dirty Dozen: Apples, Celery, Cherry Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Grapes, Hot Peppers, Nectarines-imported, Peaches, Potatoes, Spinach, Strawberries, and Sweet Bell Peppers. Those are the ones you should always buy organic if you can.
For the second year, The Environmental Working Group has expanded the Dirty Dozen with a “Plus” category to highlight two crops – domestically- grown summer squash and leafy greens, specifically kale and collards. These crops did not meet traditional Dirty Dozen criteria but were commonly contaminated with pesticides exceptionally toxic to the nervous system. These you should also buy organic.
Now for the “Clean Fifteen:” These conventionally- grown crops may not be squeaky clean, but they are the least contaminated: Asparagus, Avocados, Cabbage, Cantaloupe, Sweet Corn, Eggplant, Grapefruit, Kiwi, Mangos, Mushrooms, Onions, Papayas, Pineapples, Sweet Peas, Sweet Potatoes. Learn more at www.ewg.org.
Ah, those wonderful fresh
veggies of summer!
Enjoy them for their fresh flavor, healthy nutrients, and best of all, their low carbon footprint. When you grow your own or buy local produce you keep tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere because so much of what you find in supermarkets is shipped in from all over the world. Take it a step further and look for recipes with no animal products. It takes ten times more fossil fuel to produce a calorie of meat than a calorie of plant food, so you can make a big difference by eating plant-based meals just two or three times a week.
Find Connecticut farmers’ markets, farms, farm stands, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture,) as well as restaurants and retailers that source from local farms at: www.buyctgrown.com. To find Connecticut’s organic food and farms go to www.ctnofa.org.
Can you grow veggie crops on your septic leach field?
Your first thought might be this seems like a good idea b cause the ground will have lots of “nutrients”! Or maybe your first thought was “No way, the soil is polluted!” However, your first thought should be how to protect the field itself. This requires that it not be eroded—so you should have something with a shallow root system growing on it. You also want it to have good air circulation through the soil, so do not use mulch or raised beds on it. To protect the piping you do not want to pound stakes into the soil—some leach field pipes are just 6 inches down—and do not grow deep rooting plants on top. (Most trees, such as maples, should be 2-3 times their canopy away from the field.) Given these rules, can you grow veggies? An examination of a number of website indicated the following advice: play it safe and grow them somewhere else. However, some websites indicated that it was possible to do so, if your veggies avoid contact with the soil—the bacteria and viruses do not travel inside the plants. So you might focus on veggies that grow above ground level, such as peppers or tomatoes, and elevate ground vines, such as cucumbers, so that their fruit is off the ground. Wash all of these before eating. If the latter ideas sound attractive, search the web and make your own decision.
This tip is for you if you are feeling like you throw out most of the mail you receive. If you want to reduce or eliminate certain mail, you can contact The Mail Preference Service (MPS), a consumer service sponsored by The Direct Marketing Association (DMA). You register to have your name put on a list, available to advertisers, to not receive advertising mail. The list does not stop mail you already receive from a company you do business with and from charitable or commercial organizations who choose not to use MPS. A written request should say “activate the preference service” and include name, address and signature and be mailed to DMA Mail Preference Service, Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512-0643. You will still need to contact many organizations individually to tell them to stop sending mail and also not to rent your name. To keep the rental of your name from happening in the first place when ordering on line or making a donation, write on the order form or check, “do not rent my name to other companies or organizations”. Another useful place to try is catalog choice.org. This site lets you choose the businesses and catalogs you do not wish to receive. Other opt out choices can be found with a simple on-line search for stopping junk mail.
By now you probably know that eating more veggies, fruits and grains, while at the same time reducing your intake of meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy is a more sustainable and healthy way to live on our fragile planet. There is no better time to begin your healthier lifestyle than during the summer months which are fast approaching. There are more farmers markets now than ever before, as more and more of us are demanding locally-grown fruits and vegetables. If you grow your own, that’s even better. Or both!
Just know that when you purchase supermarket produce that has been shipped in from faraway places you are buying food with a high carbon footprint. Consider buying or growing (organic!!) your favorite veggies in bulk and putting them up in the freezer or canning for use throughout the winter….better for you and better for the Earth.
There are many reasons for not wasting food. In 2009 in the US we wasted more than one quarter of the food available for consumption. It mostly ended up in landfills creating methane emissions. And did you know that methane traps 25 times more heat per molecule than CO2, thereby contributing that much more to global warming? According to the EPA, food waste is now the largest component of municipal solid waste. What can you do?
You place your food waste in a bin and let it magically turn itself into rich soil. Unlike the anaerobic process of decomposition in a landfill, composting is aerobic — it uses oxygen and doesn’t release methane. You don’t have to be a gardener either; anyone can do it. It’s the best strategy we have for keeping food out of the waste stream. If this is new to you, here is a helpful link to get you started: Composting for Dummies. Have fun!
The Sustainable Living Committee
It was about one year ago that we published a green tip on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs, also referred to as Genetic Engineering or GE), briefly explaining what they are and why we should be worried. Folks, in our opinion, this technology is threatening our planet in many ways. This is not the same as hybridization. It is the forcing of DNA from one organism into another using viruses or bacteria to “infect” animal or plant cells with the new DNA. The Food and Drug Administration says these GM foods are safe, but they can’t back up their claim — no feeding studies on humans were done. So what are the problems? They are many. Various feeding studies in animals have resulted in pre-cancerous cell growth, damaged immune systems, smaller brains, livers and testicles, partial atrophy, higher death rates. There is also a huge environmental impact, for one, the excessive use of Roundup on crops. This is only the “tip of the iceberg.” To learn more, go to http:// www.responsibletechnology.org/
What can you do? Here are four simple tips to help you avoid GMOs:
1. Buy organic
2. Look for “Non-GMO” labels. (Labeling is not required, so we love those companies who have joined the Non-GMO Project, a non-profit organization committed to GMO avoidance.)
3. Avoid “at-risk” ingredients. The eight GM food crops are corn, soybeans, canola, cottonseed, sugar beets, most Hawaiian papaya, and a small amount of zucchini and yellow squash. About 85% of processed foods containing these ingredients are genetically modified. Dairy is also to be avoided if it does not contain the “No rBGH” or “No artificial hormones.”
Download the Institute for Responsible Technology’s Non-GMO Shopping Guide. There is currently a campaign to create a bill requiring labeling in CT. The more people who write their elected officials the better, because Monsanto will spend huge amounts of money trying to stop it. Hand-written letters via the USPS are much more effective than email. Your letter can be short. Make it personal; ask them to support a GMO labeling bill. We have a right to know what is in our food! Website to find your local officials: http://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/cgafindleg.asp