The Benefits of a BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) Habit

bagmonsterThe following post is by Katie Peige, Herban Lifestyle’s Sustainability Associate.

You are sitting in a park enjoying a lovely picnic. You are taking in the peaceful moment: the birds are chirping, children are playing on the nearby swings, a butterfly flitters by, and then you look up and your stomach lurches. It’s the lurch you feel when you see a plastic bag stuck amongst the highest branches of the maple you are sitting under. You start thinking about the birds that could get tangled in the plastic, the turtle that thinks he is about to chow down on a jelly fish, and your mind starts flashing images you have seen of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and all you have your mind set on is how long it would take for that bag to eventually break down and where can you find the nearest ladder.

Plastic bag pollution is a serious problem the world over. It is estimated that 1 million plastic bags are used every minute of every day worldwide. Plastics in the ocean is a terrifying situation as today there are more pieces of ocean plastic than plankton (you know the little guys who are responsible for our every other breath). Of the 100 million tons of plastic that are manufactured each year, ten percent finds its way to the ocean, and only 20 percent by means of ships and platforms. That means that 80 percent of the plastic in the ocean comes from the land. With all of this plastic floating in the ocean that does not go away but rather break up into smaller bits (46,000 pieces per every square mile according to the United Nations Environment Program), it is no wonder that a million sea birds and 100,000 sea mammals and turtles die each year from plastic bags and other plastic pollution.

Some quick facts about plastic bags and the environment

Some quick facts about plastic bags and the environment

So what can you do and what should be done? The first thing you should do is bring your own bag to the store. It is estimated that one reusable bag can replace 1,000 plastic bags in the reusable bag’s lifetime. Keep a small foldable bag with you in your purse or on a keychain, so if you are out and about and decide to do some impromptu shopping, you are prepared. ChicoBags makes some really cute ones that fold up super small. Next, keep a stack of bags in the trunk of your car so you have them with you when you head to the grocery store or any other store where you would need more than one bag.  For the non-car owners keeping a stack by the door is a helpful reminder as well. For the ladies, you can get a little drastic and stuff them in your bra, however, I am not exactly sure what the most lady like method of removing the bags would be when you actually need them. Once you have the BYOB habit down, start bugging your friends to remind them as well, you have a vast, powerful network, use it to help the planet out (and while you are at it, get your friends to start a campaign to ban plastic bags in your city!).

If you have a ton of plastic bags under your sink, try to reuse them as trash liners or packaging material. And if you have a desire to get creative, check out these crafts that all use plastic bags! You can also take them to most grocery stores and Staples to recycle them.

Just remember, for every bag you refuse to take you are taking a direct action to help stop the plastic pollution problem and subsequently saving resources, animal lives, and keeping those plastic bags out of our trees and waterways!

Editor’s Note: For more information on the issue of plastic bags, presented in a fun, entertaining way, we highly recommend Bag It!, the movie.

A globe made of plastic bags, as seen at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

A globe made of plastic bags, as seen at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

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Trashionista: On a mission to save the world, one trash can at a time!

The following post is by Katie Peige, Herban Lifestyle’s Sustainability Associate

Let’s be real, trash is probably the least sexy of all sustainability topics, especially when we are talking about hospital waste (biohazard anyone?!) I’m not going to lie; it’s been gross. And let me tell you I have weird, funny, shocking, disgusting, heartbreaking, inspiring, and just plain odd stories about having my first full-time sustainability job revolve around hospital waste, but those are stories for another blog post so, I digress.

Anyway, this Sustainababe had persevered through all the craziness of setting up three primary waste streams and teaching hundreds of nurses (and a variety of supporting staff) what is considered infectious, non-infectious, and recyclable. Sustainasnob Rant/Confession: I hate WASTE unless you can feed it back into the materials economy. As William McDonough, father of Cradle to Cradle design says, “Pollution is a symbol of design failure.” Waste causes pollution from all the hauling, burning (waste incinerators!), and rotting of the stuff (that is, if it ever breaks down in a landfill!) Additionally, dealing with hospital waste means that I either have to promote diversion from the incinerator or the landfill (not good environmental options either way you look at them) or recycling (which, at 30% recyclables for 3+ million pounds per hospital, comes out to 1 million pounds per year!) This problem drives me nuts! My school and life training taught me to believe that the best way to solve a problem is to prevent it from happening in the first place. My mantra is “Reduce, reuse, recycle.” And at work, it really bothers me that I cannot address the huge waste issue using the first two steps. I am an idealist and dreamer to the core, so this blog post is not going to be completely negative. On the contrary, it is about the blast I had tackling the second R – reuse. [Quick side note, check out Annie Lenord’s Story of Stuff, to fully understand the complete cycle of our products including disposal].

So now to the fun stuff! I have been working a lot in the Operating Rooms (ORs) lately (no smelling salts were ever needed, to my surprise!), stressing the proper waste guidelines and tackling the oh-so-annoying problem of blue wrap!

What the heck is blue wrap you ask? Basically, it is like wrapping paper for surgical instruments to keep everything sterile. It is the consistency of a paper towel, but made from plastic. A plastic that can be recycled. Yay! So I spent a few months getting the proper ducks in a row and now my ORs are recycling the stuff. The excitement from that project had me bouncing around the hospital for weeks knowing the blue wrap was not going to spend hundreds of years breaking down in a landfill, or worse, being burned!

The hospital where I spread the green love, received an award for their “Greening the OR” efforts and in celebration I was inspired by this video (the kids are so adorable in this video), to make my own dress from blue wrap!

I started with two different colors of blue wrap since this hospital is fazing in the darker color over the lighter color. I wanted to make a dress but had no idea how, so I got some help from Charlotte, the Sustainability Coordinator at the hospital. And later, my mom helped with the sewing, which wasn’t easy since we had no pattern. I started with tracing out panels from my favorite summer dress and things just kind of morphed from there. I had once seen a girl on Halloween sport a globe dress (her costume was Global Warming), and ever since I wanted my own Earth Mama dress (why yes, even my ideas are recycled!) So the dual colors of blue wrap presented the perfect opportunity to pull this off. To achieve realistic looking continents, I cut up an old National Geographic Map of the World poster and used the pieces as a template, traced those out onto the dark blue, cut those out, and glued the dark blue continents onto the light blue dress (while using the middle seam as the prime meridian, can you say Geography Geek?!)

I also added earrings made from fans that came from an old towel warming unit provided by my favorite Tinkerer (a mechanic who fixes broken medical equipment in the Biomed Department).

The Celebration Day came, and I put on my dress and safety pinned myself in and prayed that my dress would not fall apart. I walked into the ceremony and was swarmed by the attendees. “Oh my goodness, Katie!” “That’s made out of blue wrap!” “How did you do that?!” “Can we get your picture?!” “Look,it’s the Earth!”

I felt like Miss America! To my embarrassment, I was just getting over laryngitis so all I could do was squeak a few yeses and thank yous. Yet through it all, I had a blast playing with blue wrap and creating the coolest piece of Trashion, I own ☺. It’s all about perspective! Here’s to rocking the Creative Reuse! So glad this dress is made of plastic, it will last FOREVER and will be required attire for every Earth Day for the rest of my life!

Clare and Don’s Beach Shack: Good Food, Gators and Going Green in Falls Church City

Recently, when I was feeling under the weather and craving some homestyle soup, I headed over Clare and Don’s Beach Shack in Falls Church City. I have ordered lunch there a few times, and their nice selection of from-scratch comfort food was perfect for my mood.

When I arrived, I found out that the soup of the day was a homemade chicken noodle, brimming with big chunks of fresh celery and carrot. Just what the doctor ordered!

The restaurant has a Florida beach shack theme, which is colorfully carried throughout the décor and menu selection, which even includes fried alligator tail (really!). In the summer, my family and I often head over there for an early dinner on the outdoor patio, where live music plays in a fun, lively environment that really makes you feel as if you are at the beach. And their location next to The State Theatre, makes them a great pre- or post-concert restaurant.

Besides being a great place for good food and entertainment, Clare and Don’s Beach Shack is doing a lot to be a sustainable business. While I was waiting for my soup, I spoke to Dave Tax (who co-owns the restaurant with his sister, Rebecca), about their green initiatives. He told me that they had installed solar panels on the roof of their restaurant to generate 15% of their power usage.

solar panels on the roof of Clare and Don's

Their used cooking oil is saved then collected by Free State Biofuels, who then turn it into biodiesel. And, according to their website, their recycling far out weighs their solid waste! This is extra impressive given that Falls Church City does not have a mandatory business recycling program, so Clare and Don’s has to pay to have their recycling collected.

mural inside Clare and Don's

They also have a nice-sized vegetarian menu, many items of which are vegan. Manager Susan Anderson told me, “People love our vegetarian selection. Even non-vegetarians like our buffalo tofu and other non-meat items.” Their offerings including Phish and Chips, Uncrabcakes and Tofu Sandwiches. My favorite vegetarian items are the Cluckless Tacos, and Tofu and Grits.

When I received my order, I was delighted to see that it was in a compostable container. Apparently all of their “To-Go” containers are made from recycled materials. Yay, no styrofoam!

Clare and Don’s was established in May 2005 in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington (the inspiration for the restaurant’s clever name!), then moved to Falls Church City in 2007.  I remember being thrilled to find that they offered whole belly clams, a rarity in the DC area, and a dish that has been part of my spring dining ritual for as long as I can remember. They are my go-to restaurant whenever I am in the mood for any kind of seafood.

Or, if you’re in the mood for homemade ice cream, or a New York style deli sandwich (with a Dr. Brown’s to wash it down and black and white cookie for dessert), check out Mike’s Deli/Lazy Sundae, their sister business.

As you can probably tell by now, I highly recommend Clare and Don’s for good seafood in a fun, casual setting. And, if you’re brave enough to try the fried ‘gator tail, let me know how it is!

Clare and Don’s Beach Shack is located at 130 North Washington Street, Falls Church, VA 22046

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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!

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Miss ShoeBooty

The following post is by guest blogger, Kia Guarino.

After coming across a fun website with detailed instructions yesterday, we decided to use old wool sweaters to make boots! The slouchy sweater material boot is in style – UGG® makes a few cute designs. However, my budget currently doesn’t allow for purchases in that price range, so we decided to make our own following the directions provided by Urban Threads. The Urban Threads site is mostly focused on embroidery and the boots she made had an adorable embroidered emblem. However, given our inexperience and impatience with sewing machines, we decided to skip that part and just add buttons for embellishment.

We started out by going to Target and picking out cheap flats (mine were a large kids’ shoe) and then to Michaels craft store to pick up a little glue gun. All in all, it cost a total of about $14: $6 for the wool sweater (found at Goodwill),$3 for the pair of flats, $2 for buttons (which we had on hand from a past visit to The Button Emporium in Portland, OR), and $3 for the glue gun. I picked out a cranberry red wool sweater and my mom chose a dark gray ribbed sweater.

Following the directions, we made it pretty seamlessly through the first part. There was a little glue showing on the rubber soles and my sewing was a little lumpy, but overall nothing too horrible. We did have trouble figuring out the last step when the cuff has to be attached, but after a few snafus, we were able to figure that out as well!

In the end, after about 3 hours of manual labor and some trial and error, we produced our very own wool boots!! The cost was much lower than the department store versions, plus they are custom fit!! Since we are both petite, this was a huge bonus. I definitely recommend trying this out, even if you aren’t skilled at sewing, especially if you have an old sweater and pair of flats that you’d like to repurpose!

A Bunch of Rubbish…

zerowasteThe following is a guest post by blogger Julia Guarino

Although I attempt to be green in as many aspects of my life as possible, I have to admit that, despite my efforts to reuse and recycle all that I can, I am completely guilty of producing my share of trash. So many things are disposable, and those sandwich bags are just so convenient…

Convenience, however, does not assuage my guilt, so I was thoroughly impressed when I came across the story of a New Zealand couple, Matthew and Waveney, who spent the year producing no more than one small grocery store bag – just a kilogram each – full of trash. Their website contains their story (in blog form), as well as a “Rubbish-Free Guide” that provides strategies for reducing trash in every room of your home, as well as in many different scenarios such as take-out and parties. They even detail the items in the final trash bag for their readers in their last blog post

The couple managed this impressive feat firstly by choosing not to purchase anything disposable or in disposable packaging, and requesting that family and friends not send or give them anything in disposable packaging. For packaging that couldn’t be avoided, they chose to reuse and recycle as much as possible. Thrift stores also acted as a great resource, as they chose to “rehome” items as an alternative to disposing of them, as well as purchase items second hand in order to avoid packaging. At home, they began to garden, compost, and make items themselves (such as granola bars) that usually come in packaging.

The thing about this incredible story that most struck me, however, is that although the process certainly takes thought and effort, in reality their strategies were neither foreign nor difficult. I believe that the most important step is, as Matthew and Waveney put it, “exercising our consumer power,” and being conscious about the trash we produce through the purchases we make!

Mary’s note: Herban Lifestyle’s favorite supplier, Mountain Rose Herbs, practices Zero Waste as part of their business practice. On their website, they list several of the things they do to achieve this — many are things that individuals can do in their homes to reduce their rubbish. And, to learn more about the implications of our rubbish production, I highly recommend you take a look at the wonderfully presented Story of Stuff!

Thank you, Team Eco Etsy!

listing-promoI am a brand new member of the Eco Esty street team, a group of artisans who are committed to using green practices in their products and packaging. The Eco Etsy Team’s Statement says: “Our members are just as dedicated to using recycled materials in their creations as they are about recycling packaging. We take the safety of the environment in mind in the way that we run our small businesses and create our sales items. During our team’s growth, we have become heavily focused on promoting eco-living as a whole; every facet of our lifestyle can be more eco-friendly, and our team has come to focus strongly on this all-around outlook.”

And, within my first couple of days of being a member, I had the honor of being chosen as one of the three winners of their Themed Nomination, which was announced on the Eco Esty blog yesterday. This week’s theme was “It’s Your Time,” in honor of the 10th annual National Women’s Health Week. This initiative encourages women to take simple steps for a longer, healthier and happier life, such as taking time to pamper themselves! So, they were looking for products that reflected the idea of self-care and self-nurture. My massage oil was chosen, along with LaPomme’s lavender sachets, and My Name is Muddy’s French green clay bath.

The Eco Etsy blog is a wonderful resource for eco-tips, information on eco-friendly creations, how-to’s and much more, all written and posted by EcoEtsy members! Eco Etsy team members’ products can be found by doing an Etsy tag search for “teamecoetsy“.

Thank you for the warm welcome, Team Eco Etsy!