Join Us At the Squidfire Spring 2010 Art Mart!

Please join us and over 50 amazing artists for another fabulous Squidfire Art Mart. It will be held from May 8th from 11am-6pm at 801 S Broadway, Baltimore, MD 21231, right in the heart of in the heart of the funky and vibrant Fells Point area. Hope to see you there!

Making Earth-Friendly Practices Second-Nature

Earth-friendly practices can become second-nature if you set up your home to make it easy. Over the past 40 years (since the inception of Earth Day), a whole plethora of products and services have appeared to help make it easier to live a greener lifestyle. Following are some solutions I use that I think look good and do good (for the earth and your family). As a result of these simple practices, my family produces very little actual garbage each week, and our water bill is very reasonable. Hopefully they will inspire you. And please share your ideas with me — I am always up for suggestions of new and better ways to green my home and business.

Compost A couple of years ago, our friends gave us this ceramic compost pail for Christmas. It was an awesome gift that gets continual use. I keep it on the kitchen counter, where it serves as an attractive and practical accessory. It has a charcoal filter in the lid so that smell is never an issue (I run the filter and the pail through the dishwasher after each use), and the handle makes it easy to carry out to the compost pile.

aesthetically pleasing kitchen compost container

Make your own cleaning products. You can insure the purity and safety of the ingredients in your household cleaning products if you make them yourself. Plus it’s a money-saver. Last month I posted an article on the safety of Borax, which contains a recipe for an all-purpose household cleaner. To make your own glass/window cleaner, simply mix 1/4 cup of vinegar with 1 1/2 cups of water. Spray onto windows and wipe immediately with a clean cloth. You just need to make an investment in a good spray bottle (I’ve found that some of the cheaper ones can break with a lot of use, so it’s good to pay a little extra for a sturdy one).

aluminum spray bottle for storing your homemade household cleaners

Use cloth napkins and towels instead of paper I keep a supply of these in my kitchen drawer. I love fabrics in different colors and textures, and not being very handy with a sewing machine, this is a practical and green way to enjoy them. The napkins in the photo were purchased from two of my favorite individually-owned stores – The Muse, an artisan shop in Frederick, MD and Olive Market, a gourmet artisan restaurant and gift shop in Georgetown, CT.

an assortment of cloth napkins and towels

Recycle paper products Although I reuse most of the packaging I receive, I still end up with unwanted paper products each month. So, I keep a wicker basket near the front door where we can easily toss any paper that we have designated for recycling. We are very fortunate that our municipality takes all types of junk mail, chip board, cardboard, magazines, and more.

strategically-placed paper recycling bin

Recycle glass and plastic I have a very small kitchen, so there is no room to keep a recycling bin for bottles cans and plastic. So, we installed a pull-out drawer that contains a built-in trash can with two bins. I use one for garbage (I use biodegradable trash bags) and one for recycling.

Even though my municipality takes number 5 plastic, I feel more confident that it is truly going to be recycled if I take it to the Preserve collection bin at my local Whole Foods. I’ve been a fan of their toothbrushes for several years now.

built-in trash/recycling center

Re-use paper If I make a mistake when printing something out, rather than just throwing the paper into the recycling bin right away, I put it in a stack of paper that I keep next to my printer for use in test prints and drafts. My husband also brings home paper from work. It saves us a lot of paper.

stack of used copy paper ready to be re-used

Use 100% recycled paper When I do need to print on a clean sheet of paper, I only use 100% post-consumer waste paper. Staples offers their own store brand 100% pcw paper that is processed without chlorine. Even though they don’t tout it, Staples does the most of any national office supply chain in terms of green practices.

Staples brand 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper

Replace your incandescent light bulbs Compact florescent bulbs are good investments and they also save you from the hassle of changing bulbs all the time. I have a couple of bulbs that I bought from Real Goods that have lasted me for over 15 years! Make sure that you purchase quality flourescents, which will last a long time. One drawback is that you have to be careful about the disposal of  your used flourescents (they contain mercury), so check your local Home Depot or municipal waste collection website for information.

compact florescent inside a regular lamp

Install a programmable thermostat Programmable thermostats are easy to install and can save a lot of energy over the course of a year. By setting your heating and cooling systems to turn on and off/up and down by themselves, you avoid wasting energy during times when you are out of the house or sleeping. For more information, including an energy savings calculator, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s programmable thermostats page.

programmable thermostat

Install a rain barrel About 40% of total household water use during the summer goes to watering lawns and gardens. By installing a rain barrel, you can assure your own free supply of water for your gardens, flower pots and other outdoor uses.

According to the EPA, using water collected in your rain barrel can save you approximately 1,300 gallons of water during peak summer months!

55-gallon rain barrel

I ordered the rain barrel for my house in Connecticut through Real Goods, back when they were hard to find. Real Goods still offers some great rain barrels, but now they are also available from many online stores, as well as Home Depot and Whole Foods.

And that’s something that has changed in many areas over the past 20 years. Being green has become easier as products and resources have become more readily available. There is always more than each of us can do to help insure the health of our planet and its inhabitants, but it’s never too late to start with some easy steps, like these.

Happy Earth Day!

Team EcoEtsy’s Handmade for Earth Day Auction!

The details have been announced for Team EcoEtsy’s Handmade for Earth Day Silent Auction. The auction, which runs from April 19th to May 3rd, will feature t-shirt bags filled with eco-goodies that the talented Team EcoEtsy members have donated. There are six bags up for auction, each filled with over $100 worth of eco-goodies, representing the following themes: Baby, Health and Beauty, Home, Paper Goods, Fashion and Jewelry.

The proceeds from the auction will be donated to the World Wildlife Fund. For a full list of the items being auctioned and auction details, please visit the Team EcoEtsy website.

The auction will begin on Monday, April 19, 2010 and end on Monday, May 2, 2010. Winners will be announced on Monday, May 3, 2010.

Mmmmm…Yard Salad: As Local As It Gets

The Salad, before dressing was added

Yesterday I created a salad made from ingredients that are as local as they get. Each of the ingredients originated on my property – either our month-old garden, or from wild plants.

I was able to harvest a cup full of arugula from the garden, and a few marigold flowers. For the bulk of the salad, though, I turned to the wild plants in my yard.

My newly discovered favorite, garlic mustard (Alliaria Petiolata), provided a very nice mustard-green-and-garlic flavor to the salad. I included both the heart-shaped leaves and the petite white flowers in the salad.

garlic mustard - a very yummy weed

It is a highly invasive plant, which can be harvested throughout the year. It grew in abundance on my property in Connecticut – if only I had known then how delicious it is!  In my area of the country, garlic mustard will flower from April to June. After that, the plant goes to seed.

Besides being delicious, renowned ethnobotanist Jim Duke (in his book, Handbook of Edible Weeds) points out that it is a highly nutritious plant, containing twice the betacarotene of spinach, as well as the cancer preventive constituents of both garlic and mustard.

I also included some young dandelion leaves. I have long avoided eating dandelion because I disliked the bitter taste, but I found that including a small amount of young leaves added a nice bite to the salad, along with plenty of nutritional value. Euell Gibbons, in his book Stalking the Wild Asparagus, recommends using leaves from dandelions before they have produced flower stalks.

Garden herbs

I topped off the salad with a delicious vinaigrette, made with a blend of fresh herbs from my herb garden, and a few violets for color. Here is the vinaigrette recipe:
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (I used rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano and parsley)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon of prepared mustard
2 garlic cloves, crushed
a pinch of sea salt
a dash of freshly ground pepper

Whisk all of the ingredients together, then pour over salad. It tastes best if prepared a couple of hours ahead of time to allow the flavors to blend.

our nascent garden

Please Note: Make sure not to use any plants that have been exposed to chemical fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. And if you are harvesting wild plants, only use those that are at least 8 feet from the road in order to avoid potential chemical runoff.

Team EcoEtsy’s Online Earth Day Auction: April 19-May 2, 2010


Update: Team EcoEtsy’s auction details were announced on April 18th. Here is our updated blog post.

In honor of the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, Team EcoEtsy is sponsoring the Handmade for Earth Day Silent Auction. The auction will feature t-shirt bags filled with eco-goodies that Team EcoEtsy members have donated for six different categories (Baby, Health and Beauty, Home, Paper Goods, Fashion and Jewelry). Bidders can bid on as many categories as they want.

The proceeds from the auction will be donated to organizations that work tirelessly to preserve the Earth and people’s well being (check the Team EcoEtsy site for a list of the charities).

The auction will begin on Monday, April 19, 2010 and end on Monday, May 2, 2010. The winners will be announced on Monday, May 3, 2010.

The auction page will be posted on the EcoEtsy team’s blog on April 19, 2010 where bidders can post their bids in the comment section for different bags of eco-goodies.

The Make It Green! Initiative

photo copyright Arbor Day Foundation

Last week, I received an email from a German company, Kaufda, introducing an initiative they have created called “Make it green!” They said that if I write a short blog post about their program and include one of their “My blog is carbon neutral” buttons on my blog, they would plant a tree in my blog’s honor – for each participating blog, they will plant one tree. The trees will be planted through the Arbor Day Foundation in Plumas National Forest in Northern California. For more information about how and where the trees are planted, you can visit Kaufda’s website.

According to the email I received, Kaufda’s Make It Green initiative’s goal is “to contribute our part in reducing the carbon footprint by raising awareness of the severe environmental damage caused by carbon emissions. One of our activities is to raise awareness of the carbon emissions resulting from the use of the internet – specifically of blogs. A blog with 15,000 visits a month has a yearly carbon dioxide emissions of 8lb. To neutralise these emissions we have created “My blog is carbon neutral” buttons so bloggers can demonstrate that they care about the environment and the carbon footprint of their blogs. We present them a small but nontheless worthy solution to contribute to environmental issues. Our idea is to show possibilities to make a contribution to protect the environment.”

I had a few questions about this, since I have never heard of this company, nor this initiative — who are they, why are they doing this, and is it for real? As they explain on their website, they are “a German based company called kaufDA, which provides advertisement brochures of local stores online to help consumers search for specific products and find good deals in their neighborhood. This reduces the amount of brochures printed and so the project helps the environment by reducing unnecessary paper in mailboxes,” so if they can get the word out about their company through bloggers’ word-of-mouth, I expect that is worth the cost of each tree. Plus, the promotion appears to be a good tie-in with their paperless, online approach.

Then I did a search to see if I could find out if other bloggers were participating, and I came across a reassuring post on Recyclebills.com. It appears that RecycleBills’ Mr. Jones did his homework and actually wrote to the Arbor Day Foundation to verify Kaufda’s claims. The Arbor Day Foundation’s response is posted on his website — it appears that Kaufda’s claims are true.

While I cannot verify that planting one tree will make my blog carbon neutral, I am happy to support an initiative that helps with reforestation. So, I have added my button, and am passing along the word about this interesting initiative. If you have a blog, and would like to participate, you can visit the Kaufda’s website.

How to Green Your Packing and Shipping

As an online retailer, shipping is an integral part of my business. And as a sustainable company, I am acutely aware of the impact that shipping (and the accompanying packaging) can have on the environment. I have struggled with this issue from the beginning, trying to find the best way to keep my impact to a minimum. So, in order to make my shipping as green as possible, I have implemented a few different tactics.

Packing
First, I reuse packing materials whenever I can (the exception is those horrible Styrofoam packing peanuts, which I pass along to a neighbor who uses them for shipping his products), as it is always best to reuse existing materials whenever possible. However, during busy times, such as the holiday shopping season, I find that I run out of materials and need to purchase them.

I have always made it a priority to purchase recyclable and recycled packing materials for my business. Plastic bubble wrap, non-post-consumer boxes, and any kind of plastic materials were out. Staples has a decent selection of recycled shipping products, and I had been using their recycled mailers, boxes and shredded paper fill.

However, I was thrilled to discover Salazar Packaging, which offers a huge range of very green packing supplies through their company Globe Guard Products. I am a huge fan of their corrugated boxes. Most corrugated boxes contain 25% to 35% recycled material, but Salazar offers boxes all made with 100% post consumer waste, and they have just about any size you need. Their boxes are very well made, and feel sturdier to me than any other boxes I’ve used. And more recently, I have become devoted to Salazar’s new bubble wrap. It is recyclable as a #4 PE (polyethylene) material and it is oxo biodegradable as well. It has the advantaged of being lighter than paper wrap, so has cut down on my shipping weights, and consequently, my carbon footprint. For the full story on Global Guard’s biodegradable bubble wrap, see their blog post on it.

Globe Guard biodegradable bubble wrap - photo copyright Salazar Packaging

Dennis Salazar, owner of Salazar Packaging and Globe Guard Products, is committed to sustainability and is an active member of the Green America community. And they are members of 1% For the Planet.

In a recent conversation, Salazar offered his thoughts on the state of green packaging. “The world of packaging materials is evolving very rapidly and fortunately changing for the better, in terms of their short term and long term environmental impact,” he said.

However, he pointed out the current reality that “Almost any shipping container, regardless of style and construction is very likely to exist only for a few months before it is used and, in most cases, discarded. That container is very likely to last for years or decades if it happens to wind up in a landfill.”

Companies have started to recognize the impact of this reality, and “that is why today in 2010 we see plastic- and paper-based products that are 100% recycled content, which also happen to be much lighter in weight compared to comparable 2004 products. There is also a whole new field of bio-plastics that are designed to breakdown in a matter of a few months, even in landfill conditions.”

Unfortunately, as Salazar points out, the use of such materials is not necessarily the norm yet. “The majority of people, even those with the best intentions, are not using the best or most economical product for what they do. They buy what they use out of habit or convenience, based on price rather than cost, and rarely consider the long term impact of their choices.”

However, once you have made the concerted decision to go with the most environmentally sound and economical packing options, the choices still aren’t always so straightforward. Salazar says that “the ‘best’ product for any specific application or customer will vary, based on what you ship, how many you ship, where you ship it and even how you ship it.”

Since there is no one right answer to all shipping situations, Salazar recommends the following simple steps companies can take to minimize their environmental impact:

• Use as little packaging as possible by weight and volume
• Assume most of what you use (60% or more) will unfortunately wind up in a land fill
• In most cases, paper is still better than plastic (but not all)
• Use recycled content products because they encourage recycling by creating a market for the waste
• Reuse everything you possibly can

Shipping
As far as shipping services go, I exclusively use the U. S. Postal Service (USPS). For one, it’s very convenient since I can use Click-n-Ship and ask for pick-up, or easily drop off my packages at my local station.

In addition, they are the greenest option I know of for shipping. USPS is the only mailing or shipping company in the nation to achieve “Cradle to Cradle” Certification at the Silver level from MBDC (McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry) for human and environmental health. They achieved this certification in 2007, but I feel they haven’t done a lot to tout it.

Anyway, in order to achieve certification, all 200 suppliers contributing to the manufacture of Postal Service envelopes and packages completed a demanding series assessments of materials for human and environmental health. All materials were examined using 39 criteria for human and environmental health, including toxicity, renewable energy, water stewardship, recyclability and other manufacturing attributes. You can read the original press release to learn more about what their certification entailed.

Besides it being green I find USPS to be an economical and convenient way to ship my customers’ orders, both within the US and overseas. If you sign up for their Click-n-Ship service, you not only have the convenience of printing postage and shipping labels from your computer and printer (which also looks professional), but you also receive a discount of up to 14% by creating your postage online.

Borax: Safe or not?

Last weekend, I had the good fortune of viewing Frog Chemical Water You, one of many wonderful films that were part of the DC Environmental Film Festival. Frog Chemical Water You is a 17-minute film on how chemicals affect our environment. I liked the film because, even though it is quite clear regarding the harsh facts of the impact of our use of chemicals on the environment, it includes simple steps we can take to reduce our chemical footprint. One step is to create our own kitchen cleaner (the recipe is included at the end of this post).

As a member of Team EcoEtsy, a group of crafters with Etsy stores who are dedicated to following sustainable practices, I have been privy to several discussions on making your own household cleaners. Recently, the topic of Sodium Borate (Borax) came up, along with the issue of how safe it is.

According the Mountain Rose Herbs’ data sheet on Borax, it is a mineral, which “naturally occurs from the repeated evaporation of seasonal lakes.” While it is natural, Mountain Rose Herbs does warn that Borax is “Not to be ingested, large doses may be fatal. May cause irritation if exposed to the skin, eyes, or if inhaled. Handle with caution, and keep away from children and pets.”

A report published in the International Journal of Toxicology stated that “Sodium Borate and Boric Acid, in concentrations of ≤ 5%, are safe as cosmeticingredients when used as currently recommended (not in food products). However, cosmeticformulations containing free Sodium Borate or Boric Acid atthis concentration should not be used on infant or injured skin.”

And a post on the EcoEtsy team listserv listed one article that advises caution in using Borax, while another says that it is safe to use in your home. Not having a chemistry background, I was not sure how to weigh and balance all of this information.

So, when two producers of Frog Chemical Water You offered to take questions after the film, I was the first one to step up to the mike and ask them about the safety of Borax. Dr. Shirlee Tan (a biologist who specializes in environmental toxicology, wildlife toxicology, and cellular and molecular biology) and Dr. Christiana Grim were very helpful. They said that overall Borax is pretty safe and has a low toxicity profile.

Because of the conflicting information I have come across in trying to determine the safety of various ingredients, I asked them for definitive sources of scientific information on chemicals. They suggested I search the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database, which I already use all the time as a resource. They also recommended looking at the Materials Safety Data Sheets for any given chemicals (here is one for Borax). Being unfamiliar with the nomenclature of Materials Safety Data Sheets, I found this resource helpful in deciphering the information.

After sifting through all of this information, I have come to the conclusion that Borax is safe to use in homemade cleaning products, as long as you use common sense in handling it. Don’t handle it if you have cuts, abrasions, or burns on your hands, don’t ingest it, and definitely don’t let your kids and pets get into it.

Recipe for Homemade All-Purpose Household Cleaner

  • 3 cups of hot water
  • 2 Tablespoons of vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of Borax (sodium borate)
  • 1 Tablespoon of phosphate-free dishwashing liquid (like Seventh Generation)

Mix well and store in a spray bottle. Use as you would any commercial cleaner.