Category Archives: living green

5 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day

5 ways to celebrate earth day

Earth Day is next Wednesday, April 22. We certainly try to treat every day as earth day, but it’s always nice to have a reason to celebrate. So here are 5 ways to celebrate Earth Day, especially if you’re just getting into living a more green lifestyle.

1. Start a Compost Pile

Have you been putting off starting a compost pile? Well, what better day to start than Earth Day? Composting can keep hundreds of pounds of kitchen waste (and more) out of landfills, and can be used to increase the health of the soil in your garden or potted plants.  And it’s very simple to get started.

  1. Dedicate a space for your compost to go – a plastic or metal bin can be good enough to get started.
  2. Start saving your kitchen scraps from the trash and put them in the compost bin
  3. Add some sort of “brown” material such as dried leaves, torn up newspapers or paper bags, or torn up egg cartons (not the Styrofoam kind!)

2. Don’t Use Your Car

Can you go an entire day without using your car? Give it a try. Maybe you can use public transportation or a car pool to get to and from work. Ride a bike. Or, if you’re lucky enough to live close to where you work, head out a bit earlier and walk! And you might be surprised to find out how many restaurants and shops are within walking or biking distance of your home or work place. You’ve got a whole week to work out the logistics, so I’m challenging you to figure out how to give up your car for the whole day.

3. Plant Something

Celebrate Earth Day by planting something

Chances are your local grocery store or hardware store has a display rack of seeds right now, because ’tis the season for planting. Why not pick up a pack of seeds for you favorite veggie or flower and start growing something this Earth Day.

Not much of a green thumb? You’ll only make it greener through practice. Start with something that sprouts quickly – like peas! The quick reward will help keep you motivated to keep it growing, plus they have pretty, sweet smelling blossoms.

Don’t have much outdoor space? Tomatoes grow well in containers – but do need to be outside when they flower in order to be pollinated. Lettuce grows well in containers, and you can grow it inside in a sunny window.

4. Participate in a Park Clean-Up

Many communities host park clean-ups to celebrate Earth Day. Participating in a park clean up can be a great way to meet your neighbors, get some fresh air, and help make your local park a bit more beautiful. If you’re in Madison you can check out this Earth Day Challenge for more information on park clean-ups. Or check out your local park board website and see if they are hosting a similar clean up.

5. Be Inspired by an Episode of Earth: A New Wild

PBS recently aired this documentary mini-series that is focused on how humans and nature can interact for the good of both. And it’s truly inspiring to learn about the situations where mankind and nature are thriving together. The show is a great reminder that we are not separate from nature, but a part of it. And we need to work with it for the good of all. You can find the first episode on youtube.

Keep up with building earth by following us on facebook, pinterest, or on @buildingearth on instagram

reuse: A Twice Review

Clothing is a prickly subject.

We need it as protection from the elements.  We use it to convey a lot about ourselves.

But fast fashion – cheap, low quality, clothing sold at the majority of retailers – is resource heavy, often produced under poor working conditions outside of the US, and its production generally not environmentally friendly. Cotton crops in the US account for nearly 25% of the pesticide use in this country. And many synthetic clothing materials are made from petrochemicals or through harsh chemical processes, and are not biodegradable.

Husby and I have the goal of purchasing the majority of our clothing from US manufactured, high quality brands. However, financially, it’s not feasible at the moment to source all of our clothing this way. So in the meantime we are purchasing second hand clothing whenever possible. These choices, combined with choosing sustainable clothing materials and practicing minimalism in our wardrobes, are how we are lessening the environmental impact of our clothing.

So when I found myself needing to replace some of my wardrobe this spring, I decided to look into a couple online consignment shops for second hand clothing. The first of which is Twice.

clothing from Twice

About Twice

Twice describes itself as a “hybrid between traditional online retailers like Amazon and peer-to-peer marketplaces like eBay.” Basically, people send in their gently worn, high quality, brand name clothing and Twice pay them for it, they then list it and sell in on their website, along with thousands of other pieces of clothing that they have purchased.

The Twice Buying Experience

Twice allows you to filter their selection by type of clothing, size, brand, and style. They also provide the garment’s care instructions, materials, and measurements. They also provide free shipping on orders over $49.

For my first order I purchased a pair of pants and a t-shirt. They were shipped quickly, and arrived in the mail within a week. Each piece of clothing was individually wrapped, clean and pressed, and in excellent condition. Unfortunately neither fit perfectly, and in order to successfully maintain a minimalist wardrobe, I need to really love an article of clothing to keep it in my closet.

Twice provides free shipping for returns, and accepts clothing returns proved the tags are still attached. I printed out the return slip, put the clothing in a shipping envelope, and our mail carrier picked it up from our apartment. The return was processed within about a week of my shipping the package, and I had the option to either receive store credit for the total purchase price, or receive a refund minus a processing fee. I chose the store credit.

For my second purchase I paid more attention to those measurements provided for each article of clothing, rather than just the size. This definitely made my selection more successful. This time around I bought a pair of pants and three shirts. Again, everything arrived very quickly and in excellent condition, and this time fitting well.

My only criticism of Twice is that each article of clothing is individually packaged in a sealed plastic bag, which seems like a lot of unnecessary packaging and trash.

If you’re interested in trying Twice to buy second hand clothing online, you can get $10 off your first order by using my referral link!

 

The Energy Efficiency Project: Month 2

January 13th – February 12th, 30 days

This month we mostly spent our time picking paint colors, getting started with the painting, figuring out where our stuff should go, and getting our compost started. As far as energy efficiency initiatives went we:

  • Replaced a dead CFL light bulb with an LED bulb
  • Turned the thermostat down from 68° F to 66° F
  • Checked the air filter on our furnace to make sure it was new/didn’t need to be replaced. It was still clean, so we didn’t replace it.

This month’s upgrade cost: $8.82

Total upgrade cost to date: $8.82

So, we didn’t expect too much of a difference in our energy usage this month. Now let’s look at the numbers!

Over 30 days we used 427 KWH. Which comes out to an average of 14.2 KWH/day. This is actually slightly higher than the 14.0 KWH/day we used during our last billing period. Womp womp.

I’m guessing this is due to putting up some post-Christmas holiday lights which are not LEDs. I know, I know, but here’s the thing. We still have these strings of working fine holiday lights, and I can’t bring myself to replace them until they no longer work. Use what you have, right? We also started some citrus tree seedlings, and had them germinating on a heating pad 24/7.

We are part of the Alliant Energy Second Nature renewable energy program, at the 100% level. (In this program you can choose the amount of your energy use that you want to be matched in renewables, and we chose 100%.) So the cost of our electricity is $0.13 per KWH, for a total of $55.90.

We also used 80 Therms of natural gas heat energy. Which averages out to 2.7 Therms/day. Definitely less than the 3.1 Therms/day we used during the previous month! Dropping the temperature on our thermostat made a difference, and really the only way it affected our lifestyle is we that we wore slippers around the house more often. Also, looking at degree days this month compared to last month: 1286 vs. 1211. Even though this months number is a bit larger than last month’s, this month’s bill was for 30 day and last month’s was for 27 days. This means that our furnace didn’t have to work quite so hard to heat our house this month, which also helped out with reducing our gas use.

The natural gas market fluctuates in Wisconsin, so there is not an easy dollar per Therm number to give you, but during this billing period we paid $65.99 for our gas use.

Our energy bill also provides these numbers for helpful comparison:

Electricity used this month last year: 744 KWH

Gas used this month last year: 97 Therms. Average temperature this month: 22° F. This month last year: 10° F. So last year was quite a bit colder than this year.

Degree Days this month: 1286 vs this month last year: 1652. Degree days are the number of degrees below 65° F in one day, all added together for the total 30 days of the billing period.

Want to previous months of the Energy Efficiency Project? Here is Month 1.

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for helping to support building earth!

Melting Ice

As another wave of sub-zero temperatures weaves its way through the northern parts of the country, I thought it might be a good time to write about ice. And in particular how we deal with melting ice on roads and sidewalks.

melting ice

Salting the Roads

If you live in an area that experiences cold winter months, you probably are familiar with the go to method of dealing with ice on the roads and sidewalks: salt. Salt is an effective method of dealing with the ice for a number of reasons. It’s cheap, it provides traction on the ice, and it helps the ice melt.

Salt lowers the freezing temperature of water to about 15° F. So for us here in Wisconsin, where the average winter temperatures are in the teens and twenties, salting the ice on the roads and sidewalks gets them to melt, providing safe walking, running, biking, and driving surfaces for many months of the year.

However, salt is quite harsh on the environment, both man made and natural. It contributes to car rust and damages footwear (my poor boots!) and has a habit of getting everywhere. As the ice and snow melt and the water runs into the street drains, that salt is carried into our waterways. Increased salt levels in lakes, rivers and streams affect fish and aquatic plant life. Increased salt levels in the watershed affect drinking water quality, having both taste and health effects.

As you’ve probably experienced, too much salt makes you dehydrated. Well, it’s the same for plants. The salt that doesn’t wash down the drain after melting ice (or get tracked into your house) stays on the soil and dehydrates the grass, trees and shrubs living there. In addition to making the plants thirstier, salt can also cause root growth damage, making it more difficult for plants to get the water they need in the first place.

You can learn more about the environmental effects of salting the roads here.

Use Salt Smarter

Based on the amount of salt my apartment management uses to salt our sidewalks, one would think that you need enough salt on the ground to completely cover the ice. However, a little bit goes a long way. A handful of salt is enough to melt a square meter of ice coverage. And using more than that doesn’t speed up the melting process.

Sprinkling salt on your walkway before the snow falls can help the ice melt faster (or not form) while using less salt in the process.

Mixing the salt with water and spreading the slurry on the ice will help keep the salt where you want it, and also allow you to use less salt to melt the ice.

Alternative Options for Melting Ice

So what can be used instead of salt that will have less negative effects on the environment?

Sand  is good for traction on the roads, and sidewalks. It also absorbs sunlight, which can aid in faster ice melting.

Clay granule kitty litter can also be good for adding traction to icy surfaces. Be aware that clay is frequently strip mined, and that carries a whole other set of environmental consequences.

There is also a product called EcoTraction made from volcanic material that is supposed to be extremely effective at providing traction on the ice and is eco-friendly enough that it can be swept right into your lawn after the ice has melted.

This post contains affiliate links

Choosing an Environmentally Friendly Paint

Probably one of the easiest and most affordable ways to refresh your space is to slap a coat or two of paint on the walls. However, walking into your local hardware store or big box home improvement store and coming to aisles full of paint cans can be overwhelming. I’m certainly no expert on all the types of paint and what exactly you should choose for your particular application, but I can tell you how to choose an environmentally friendly paint.

choosing an environmentally friendly paint

Oil Based vs. Latex (Water Based)

The first question to address when choosing and environmentally friendly paint is whether to go with an oil based paint or a latex paint.

Oil based paints are slower drying which can provide a smoother finish, as any pools or ridges will have a chance to settle before the paint is completely dry. Oil based paints also can have better coverage, which means fewer coats, and can hold up better over time. However, oil based paints require more harsh chemicals to keep the colors suspended in the paint. Not only do oil based paints require special disposal at a hazardous material collection center because of these harsh chemicals, but they also give off a lot of fumes. These fumes are dangerous to breathe in. Oil paints also require harsh chemical solvents for clean up.

Latex, or water based paint, dries faster, can be fairly easily cleaned with water, and resists yellowing over time (another common issue with oil based paints). Latex paint contains fewer hazardous chemicals than oil based paint, but still contains some and can release harmful fumes. Latex paint should not be dumped down the drain, or just put in the trash in its liquid state, but if it needs to be disposed of, it can be dried up by soaking it up with kitty litter, newspaper, or sawdust.

When given the option between oil or latex paint, the more environmentally friendly paint is latex paint.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

The harmful fumes given off by paint are due to volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. VOCs are emitted gases that can cause a variety of health problems when breathed in. VOCs can be found in paints, household cleaners, adhesives, pesticides, and building materials among other things. In paint, the chemicals that make up VOCs are used to hold the dyes suspended in the paint. After the paint is spread, the VOCs evaporate out, and the color stays in the dried paint. The US government has created a standard of 250 grams per liter of VOCs for flat paints and 380 g/l for other finishes. However, California, a state that frequently enacts stricter environmental regulations, has capped VOCs at 50 g/l for all finishes. Paints that adhere to the California regulations typically label themselves as Low-VOC. (It’s important to note that in order for a paint to be labeled low VOC, it only has to contain less than the government standards. You should read the label carefully to see the reported number of VOCs each brand and finish of paint contains.)

More recently some paint brands have advertised certain paint lines as being no VOC. In order to do so, they must contain less than 5 g/l of VOCs. Some paint brands have also opted to get evaluated by third party certification programs such as Greenguard or Green Seal to set themselves apart as environmentally friendly paint choices. These certifications evaluate the paint on more than just VOC levels as well and award their labels to paints that meet their environmental standards.

To choose a more environmentally friendly paint, look for low- or no VOC paint options, or paints that have received Greenguard or Green Seal certification.

 Natural Paints

There are some paint options that do not contain the harsh solvents used in oil or latex paints. These paints are instead pigmented with naturally occurring materials such as clay, lime, linseed oil, or chalk. Natural paints do not contain VOCs, but they do come with drawbacks. The color choices are limited, drying time can be long, coverage can be not great, and they are typically significantly more expensive than latex paint. You can find information on making your own natural paint and a list of natural paints here.

If you want to make the most environmentally friendly paint choice, and your needs can be met by the limitations above, look for natural paints.

 

Related: Tell Me More About Greenguard Certification