There it is, hanging limply

Hanging limply (and let’s face it, rather messily) in the laundry room are several dry clean only items that I’ve been staring at for several months. Since my journey into green started, I’ve heard about the perils of conventional dry cleaning, though the solutions weren’t as readily known. So I’ve waited until I can wait no longer to deal with them.

It’s finally time to clean-up my dry cleaning pile with greener options!

As usual, I’ll provide a little background on why the dry cleaning shop around the corner may not be the best choice in terms of my health or the environment:

  • Perchloroethylene (commonly known as “perc”) is a commercial cleaner used in most dry cleaning shops. A liquid solvent, it has been implicated in many health problems: nausea, headaches, kidney and liver damage, and even cancer.
  • Most “finished” dry cleaned clothing comes home in a plastic bag and on one of those wretched wire hangers. I won’t keep the wire hanger so that’s wasted resources and the plastic is basically useless as well.
  • Bringing home prec-infused clothing pollutes my indoor air as it off-gases, which isn’t good for my family or the animals living with us.

Three potential alternatives to perc include a silicone solvent called GreenEarth, decamethylcyclopentasiloxane (known as siloxane or D5), and hydrocarbon solvents, which go by names like DF2000. So I could look for a dry cleaner that uses one of these chemicals, though it seems like that would be a slim possibility in my neighborhood.

Instead, I’m going to opt to dry clean my clothing at home. There are a couple of options now—Dryel and Dry Cleaner’s Secret—neither of which contain perc. You’ll pay more to buy the kit than to dry clean a few things commercially, but the upfront investment should pay for itself, since the kits do many sets of cleaning and last for a good long time. They’re cheaper and they’re greener!

And for future reference, I’m going to be looking out for the “dry clean only” tags on new clothing, steering clear of those options if I can to save the expense and the hassle of cleaning.

– Lucy goes green

Heat, Thou Art My Enemy

“Ouch! That’s HOT!!” I exclaimed.

I’d attempted to unplug my cell phone the other day and in so doing, nearly scaled myself on the hot power adaptor that was plugged into the wall to provide my cell phone with power. It got me thinking: where does the heat come from?

And sure enough, it comes from the power that is being drawn from the outlet, even when my cell phone isn’t plugged in! Apparently many cell phone chargers are to blame for some unnecessary energy waste. Some even claim that in many cases, only 5 percent of the energy taken by a cell phone charger from the grid actually goes to charging up the cell phone. The rest is wasted to heat and used by and large when your cell phone is unplugged. Good grief!

A simple way to reduce this waste is to unplug the charger between uses or plug it into a power strip so that you can just flip the switch to stop the flow of energy.

But I’m thinking there must be another way—my memory isn’t very good so I need something more convenient. How about renewable energy? I can’t really afford to put solar panels on my roof right now, but I may just be able to use green energy to juice-up some of my smaller devices, right? That seems a bit more realistic.

I did a search and found a boundless selection of solar chargers for portable devices. Some that stuck out were:

  • Solar Tree
  • Hymini
  • Eneloop Universe
  • Solar Style
  • GotWind.org

All in all, the choices are becoming fairly numerous it would seem, as well as more stylish and more efficient. It’s a good time to get into mini, portable energy chargers that use the power of wind, the sun, or your own two feet.

– Lucy Goes Green

Teaching Green with this Renewably-Powered Transforming Solar Toy

Want to give your kids a great gift this Christmas that is not only fun, it’s powered by renewable energy? Seems like a perfect combination to me, and thanks to the 6 in1 Solar Robot Kit, it’s actually a very achievable dream, and for a very reasonable price. Education and play in one? Perfect!

The 6 in 1 Solar Robot Kit is actually six toys in one. It comes with 25 parts that can be used interchangeably to transform from one toy to another. It goes from doggie to boat to car to windmill to two types of airplanes by snapping the different parts together, all without screws or tools. Thankfully, it’s also easy to use. It comes with large, easy to understand instructions so you don’t have to spend hours on the floor Christmas morning putting it together. It can even be assembled by older children.

And because it runs on solar energy, it’s a great teaching tool. Remind your kids to “power-up” by placing the toy in a sunny window to get it charged and ready to play with later in the day. Get them to try leaving it in the sun for different lengths of time to test out how much charge it needs to run the various toys, each of which requires different amount of energy: (milliamps required: airboat: 30, windmill: 100, puppy: 50, car: 60, plane: 20, revolving plane: 20).

They’ll learn all about building things while gaining knowledge about powering things renewably. And who knows, your son or daughter may even be inspired to become solar engineers someday.

And think of all the money you’ll save with this energy-free toy—no electricity, no batteries. Now that’s green playing. It’s available through a number of online vendors, including PVPower.com for under $20.

– Lucy goes green

Gift idea: Nontoxic Kids Arts and Crafts

When the paint brushes and crayons stray from the paper and veer toward the walls, floors, and funiture, I often find myself asking why in the world I bother to encourage the artistic endeavors in my children. Yet I know that creative activities like arts and crafts are important for their development and so on a daily basis, I attempt to get them involved in all sorts of artsy activities, whether it’s finger painting, easy sewing projects, making homemade cards, or folding paper.

And as habit would have it these days, I’ve recently started to consider how arts and crafts activities effect the environment. Are there ways to green-up the craft room?

Greener paper
Conventional paper is far from lily white in terms of its environmental consequences. Made from dead trees (our key to carbon sequestration), paper is manufactured by bleaching (with chlorine) the pulp, which creates dioxins (which are carcinogenic) that then leech into our soil and water systems. So not only do we lose the climate benefits and wildlife habitat provided by trees, we poison the rest of the planet in making the paper. Better alternatives: repurpose scraps of paper from the office, buy FSC-certified papers, or look for a high post-consumer recycled content in all other options.

Healthier writing utensils
The pens, paints, and pencils that we use for drawing and painting are not always healthy, and once they run out they add to the growing waste problem. Plus, those scented options can contribute to indoor air pollution. So though it may be fun to sniff watermelon felt markers, they could be adding to respiratory problems in our family. And pencils are most often made from virgin trees (there go the forests again!). Better alternatives: get refillable pens and pencils, opt for writing utensils made from biodegradable materials (think corn plastic!), and look for felt pens and crayons made from natural components like beeswax, vegetable dyes, and nontoxic inks.

So there you have it. Those are my best options for creating a more eco-friendly craft room for the kids. But I’m sure there are other solutions and I’d love to hear your best ideas. Please share!

– Lucy Goes Green

Seafood Sustainability On The Go!

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I’ve been attempting to cut more and more animal protein out of our diets. It’s been a slow process, but we’re getting there and I think it’s going really well! I’ve discovered some wonderful new recipes, we’re feeling more energetic these days, and our food bills have actually gone down slightly, so those are all good things.

But finding healthy choices to eat while at a restaurant can be a bit of a challenge, especially if I want to maintain a balanced diet with some good quality protein. We don’t eat out much, but when we do, we often go with friends, and many big chain-style restaurants lack good vegetarian protein choices, so I’m often left in a quandary. These days, I’d rather steer clear of beef or chicken (especially given the deplorable living conditions they endure), so if there’s no tofu on the menu, that leaves me usually with fish or seafood.

Now shrimp, though tasty, is one of the most unsustainable ocean foods around. Shrimp trawlers scrape the bottoms of the ocean – including coral reefs – until they’re unrecognizable. And they’re responsible for huge quantities of bycatch – unwanted sea life, including turtles and dolphins, that are killed in the process and simply thrown back into the ocean. How cruel, and what a waste! Shrimp is therefore off of the menu, too.

That leaves seafood, but how do you know if its been caught sustainably? Well, here are some resources you can use when dining out to determine whether your fare will be good or bad for our ocean ecosystems:

– Lucy Goes Green

A Potted Christmas: Getting the Real Deal

“Your really want that one?” the tree lot manager asks me. “It’s a bit lopsided and sparse.”
What can I say? I’m a sucker for the Charlie Brown Christmas trees. My heart goes out to the one that gets overlooked again and again, and inevitably I go home with the strangest looking specimen in the lot.
But my concerns for the trees go beyond misfit left-behinds. Every year for the past few years I’ve contemplated the impact my Christmas tree-buying habits are having on the planet, not sure which way to go.
As I suspected, artificial trees aren’t really great for the environment, despite masquerading as green guys. They’re most often made of polyvinyl chloride, a nasty plastic that contributes dioxins (carcinogenic compounds) to the environment. And they’re not recyclable, nor are they biodegradable (in our lifetime).
Yet real, lot-grown trees have downsides, too. Sure, they add to the artificially-planted forests around the country that are helping to absorb carbon dioxide, but really, if they replace lush, diverse, natural forests, we can’t be better off, especially if they require artificial irrigation and chemical support.
I’ve gathered some alternatives:

  • Harvest a tree sustainably from a local forest that’s managed well.
  • Get an organically-grown tree from a local farm to reduce transportation emissions and chemical fertilizers and pesticides. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to find a grower in your area through Green Promise or LocalHarvest.
  • Buy a potted tree or grow your own and then plant it in your yard the next spring. You’ll be doing your part to re-forest the planet.

Here’s a kit from Organic Bouquet, or you could start from scratch with wisdom from the experts: Christmas Trees: Growing and Selling Trees…

I think this year, we might just try one of the grow-your-own options. It’ll be a good educational experience for the kids and will give us a seedling that we can then plant in the spring. Should be fun.

– Lucy goes Green

End the Trunk Shuffle: No more junk in your trunk

After a long day of running errands, chauffeuring people from one activity to another, picking up groceries, and so on, I was in the process of doing the trunk shuffle once again. You know what I mean: shifting the stuff that’s been sitting in your trunk perpetually for months trying to make room for the things you’re attempting to bring home. My trunk is full of all sorts of things: the windshield scraper, the reusable bags, an emergency kit, and things like that. It all takes energy and sure does have the potential to create aggravation when I’m short on time and energy and just wanting to get home. Banging my head on the hatch hood in my re-gigging efforts didn’t help any either.

Later that evening, after I got home and was emptying out the trunk, I decided to take a few minutes to clean up the mess and remove the things I don’t really need. Among the necessities that need to stay in the car (reusable bags being chief among them), here’s what I found:

  • Golf clubs for my husband who hasn’t golfed in months and likely won’t be golfing for several more given the snow around here. Umbrellas were another casualty of my cleaning frenzy—don’t need those until the seasons change again.
  • A large CD and DVD collection that was supposed to be for on-the-road tunes and entertainment but which is never used.
  • A box of miscellaneous items we were supposed to deliver to my Mom’s house several months ago but keep forgetting about.

It all went back into the house. I now have more space in my vehicle’s storage space and my mileage is the better for it. According to FuelEconomy.gov, removing 100 pounds of weight from my car can improve my fuel efficiency by as much as 2 percent. Now that’s easy money.

– Lucy Goes Green

Cry Over Spilled Mercury?

What started out as an innocent dusting job using the broom to reach the high recesses of my ceiling soon ended in tragedy. Well, it wasn’t as dramatic as all of that, but in the end I had a broken compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb on my kitchen floor and didn’t know what to do with it. My spidey senses knew that most (if not all) CFLs contain mercury, and that mercury = bad news for my health and that of my kids and cats, but how do you safely clean up a mercury spill? Was it anything to really worry about?

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the breakage of a mercury-containing light bulb like a CFL shouldn’t be taken lightly, although the amount of mercury in the average CFL is quite low. In fact, the average CFL contains about 5 milligrams (the same size as the tip of a ballpoint pen) of mercury. Compare that to the 500 milligrams in old-style thermometers, and that’s not much. Or consider that a typical dental filling contains up to 200 times more mercury than one of these bulbs. And of course, there’s the mercury that’s spewed into the atmosphere every day by coal-fired power plants.

But enough about that. The point here was to find out how to clean up the bulb, and the US EPA site recommended the following:

  • Have everyone leave the room, including pets.
  • Air out the room for 15 minutes while being sure to shut off air circulation devices (central air, for instance).
  • Using a stiff piece of paper or cardboard (not your broom or your vacuum!), brush up all of the glass shards, powder, and mercury you can and place it all in a plastic bag and seal.
  • Then, using tape, pick up any remaining debris.

It is also recommend that you throw away any clothing or bedding that comes in contact with the mercury directly.

– Lucy goes green

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