June 30, 2008

chocolate as biofuel

A few weeks ago I finally managed to read my Spring edition of On Earth published by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).  A blurb titled "Godiva's Lastest Ride"written by Wendee Holtcamp caught my eye. She explains how in November 2007 two British guys, Andy Pag (award-winning investigative journalist, filmmaker and vehicle-based Africa traveller) and John Grimshaw (experienced desert traveller and truck/diesel mechanic) drove a Ford Cargo truck with recycled parts from Spain to Timbuktu, Mali. The amazing part is they using factory-discarded chocolate and recycled cooking oil to drive the 4500 miles to Mali.  

The BioTruck Drive to Timbuktu website details how the company Ecotec is using leftover chocolate that would end up in landfills to replace the ethanol traditionally sourced from petrochemicals.  Pag and Grimshaw hope their biotruck expedition will bring alternative biofuels back into the public eye in a postive light.  

Holtcamp's article states that "the highlight of their visit to Timbuktu, Pag says, was finding out about research being done locally on jatropha, a hardy pest- and drought-resistant plant that was recently singled out by Goldman Sachs as one of the world's most promising sources of biofuel". 

Now when I don't have a toddler hanging on my leg I plan to research jatropha and post my findings.  

June 25, 2008

jetta wagon TDI


I know that mom go green has been busy researching new cars lately and is considering the VW TDI models.  We are also looking to replace our older subaru outback with something more fuel efficient.  My husband's car, that he commutes with, is the Jetta wagon TDI.  He gets about 48 MPG on the highway.  It has good storage for our family of four, since it is a wagon, but we are wondering if it will be the most comfortable for long car trips when the kids get older and taller.  Otherwise we are really happy with the car's performance and reliability and are thinking we will buy a new wagon when they become available in the fall.  But there are so many sides to this big purchase that we want to be sure we are making a good decision.

One of those issues is the fuel we use.  When we first got the car in 2006 my husband was able to get B100 biodiesel in Tacoma, Washington for about $2.69 a gallon.  The station was even subsidized by the state.  He was also able to get B20 at a Seattle gas station for about the same price as regular diesel.  The state of affairs for biodiesel in our area has changed quite a bit in just a few years time.  The seattle station has since closed and our local station is often out of biodiesel when we go to fill up.  My friend who has a Passat TDI sedan called with sticker shock the other day when it cost her nearly $6.00 a gallon for biodiesel from the local station.  

We are now in the process of determining what it means to use biodiesel.  I have heard so many conflicting reports on it use and whether it is a green choice at this time.  I believe initially biodiesel proponents were using only recycled vegetable oil so it wouldn't have any bearing on food prices or grain shortages.  But the biodiesel we buy is not recycled as far as I know.  I have also heard of several folks where we live that just buy there own tank and fill up at home.  I plan to research the biodiesel options and I will post my findings.

Since 2007 emission standards require the use of clean burning diesel this has become a much cleaner option.  Still not ideal but at least better than before.  I have heard that the worst environmental impact a car has on the earth is its initial manufacturing.  So we still have a lot of unanswered questions.  Maybe once the new Jettas start coming out we can actually find a used TDI that doesn't cost what it did when new.  

June 24, 2008

bring on the bees



On vacation last summer I was attacked by a wasp and stung for the first time since I was a kid. My arm swelled up like a zucchini someone missed under a leaf in the garden.  I am not a fan of anything wasp related so when my husband came home and told me that his company, Herman Miller, has been using organic bees since 2000 instead of pesticides to get rid of wasps at their manufacturing plant in Michigan I was intrigued.  I also have been reading about the disappearing bees for a few years now which made me even more excited about this information.

Herman Miller is well known for its environmental approach to furniture design and manufacturing.  And they make really cool furniture.  Their manufacturing facility in Michigan is called the "Greenhouse" because it was developed as a model for green building practices. So not only has this facility become a model for other companies to build green it also produces honey and encourages bees to thrive.  According to TreeHugger only organic beekeepers are reporting no losses of bees from their hives.  

Keep up the good work Herman Miller and let's hope my husband gets his hands on some honey as they only give it away.  If you want to read more on this, go to the Inhabitat website.

And two fun facts about honey: it is the only food that never spoils (just crystalizes which makes it yummier) and it can be used as a natural antibacterial for wounds.  

June 23, 2008

going green in the northwest


Thanks mom go green for your kind introduction.  I am honored to be filling in for you while you are on your wonderfully deserved vacation.  

It is a joy living in the Seattle area as it is so green (literally).  And even though we have access to a pretty green lifestyle here, there is always more to learn and ways to do better.  Mom go green is an awesome resource and I'm excited to be able to share my research on several topics that I'm jazzed about.

And now that the weather is finally cooperating I have my clothesline (Clothesline Shop) up. I'm sure I'll be dashing outside more than a few times this summer to rescue my clothes from some drizzle. At least it stays light out until 10 p.m., so we have that going for us.  Happy summer solstice to all!

June 20, 2008

another mom is going green

The time has finally arrived for our big family vacation. We are so excited to be going on an adventure (out of the country!) But let's not talk about carbon offsets right now.

While I'm away my dear friend, Pauline, will be posting on the blog. She is so wise and knowledgeable about green issues. She has lots of great ideas of topics to share. I am excited to hear her perspective since she lives in a different area of the country. Plus, I'm willing to bet her grammar is better than mine.

Hooray for Pauline! Gotta go pack now. . . .

June 19, 2008

one can a month


The fabulous women at Enviromom are planning an exciting challenge for the month of July. Their One Can A Month Challenge aims to encourage households nationwide to reduce, reuse and recycle their trash. The goal: reduce curbside garbage service to one can per month. The strategy: we'll go room by room through the typical household, looking into the trash can and identifying opportunities to decrease its contents. Less trash means greater investment in durable goods, which means fewer toxic emissions that contribute to global warming.

What a great idea! I would love to get some tips on reducing our trash even further. While composting and recycling has drastically reduced our waste, getting it to one can-full per month would be amazing.

Join me in participating in the challenge. Visit EnviroMom and post a comment to join the challenge AND be entered to win a package of green goodies valued at $250! What have you got to loose (besides heaps of trash?)

June 17, 2008

sigg is bpa free


I am a big fan of the Sigg bottle and my whole family uses them daily. With the recent developments about new concerns over bisphenol A safety levels, I was curious if Sigg had tested their bottles for leaching BPA.

I've read about how canned food is leaching it, sometimes in larger quantities than the plastic bottles do. The cans which leach have a food-grade epoxy lining, which sounds very similar to how Sigg describes their lining. It would be so ironic if Siggs were leaching BPA after we have steered away from plastics. So I wrote to the company and asked to see the results of their testing.

They wrote back with concrete info and assured me that the Sigg bottles are indeed safe. Whew! So glad. They told me:

• The SIGG “internal protection lacquer” (a.k.a. - the bottle liner) meets and exceeds requirements outlined by the USA FDA regulations (175.300). The liner is micro thin and still allows for the bottle to be 100% recyclable.

• Based on multiple tests (both in-house and independent), the SIGG liner does not impart any taste or odors into the liquid. The liner is resistant to fruit juice acids, isotonic/energy drinks, alcohol and virtually any consumable beverage. Due to the finish/porosity of the liner, SIGGs outperform polycarbonate #7 (Lexan) and other plastic materials at reducing bacteria build-up and ease of cleaning.

• SIGG’s bottle liner is totally inert because it is baked on at extremely high temperatures. The liner is flexible and remains intact and fully functioning no matter how dented the outside of the bottle becomes due to rough use.

• SIGGs are safe to be placed in the dishwasher with no harm to the liner. The Swiss believe the bottles can be washed more thoroughly by hand in hot soapy water. Dark spots which materialize in the bottle are sugar deposits and can typically be cleaned by baking soda or SIGG cleaning tablets.

• In addition, SIGG’s liner protects from any migration or leaching of the liner & container into the liquid. All tests of the liquid reveal no trace (0 %) of any of the following chemicals: Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), Bysphenol A (BPA) and Bysphenol B (BPB).

“While the polycarbonate bottles we tested leached a significant amount of BPA, the SIGG bottles – both new & used – showed no detectable BPA.”- Jonathan Chun, PhD, Alliance Tech, USA 2007

They also sent the actual test results of the leaching tests, but I didn't ask for permission to post them (sorry). Now I can relax and drink up!

June 16, 2008

laundry is up!


I am feeling some serious green guilt. I signed up for the clothesline challenge and never got my gear in place. Yes, I know I've been talking about it for over a year, but I couldn't figure out the best outdoor drying method for our little yard. I wanted to be sure the kids could still play out there!

After my husband saw the show that has him saving electricity, he volunteered to purchase and install the retractable clothesline I had decided on. I also picked up a drying rack in case I couldn't fit a whole load on the line or if I needed to dry some indoors. I can pull the line across the yard when I need it or put it away when I don't. I need to get more clothespins, though.

I've never dried clothes outdoors before, so I actually consulted my go-to book (thanks to Laura) called Home Comforts. It is like the Joy of Cooking for keeping house. There is a page on how to best hang various clothes so as to minimize clip marks or line marks.

I wanted to fess-up and come clean on my slow progress. The original challenge is running for 3 months and I hope to do that and more. Luckily our weather is pretty predictable year-round, so I should be able to line dry most of the time. I need to work the kinks out of the routine so that it becomes second nature.

Are you a clothesline expert? Email me photos of your clothes drying on the line and I'll make a gallery of all the variations.

June 15, 2008

30 days of coal


My husband told me about an episode of 30 Days he watched (online, for free) on hulu.com. You know, that awesome series from Morgan Spurlock? This episode was about coal mining. My husband said that it has completely motivated him to reduce our electricity as much as possible. You can watch it here and see for yourself.

Coal powers 50% of the electricity we use in the US. You might live far from a coal mine, but you are very connected to them. Mining coal is incredibly dangerous for the people who do it as well as bad for the environment. We don't have many alternatives in place, though.

Seeing what it takes to produce the coal which powers electric plants definitely makes me want to take a closer look at energy usage.

Thanks for the tip, Peter! I hope you had a happy Father's Day.

June 11, 2008

ecobunga!


I am very excited to tell you about a website I just discovered called Ecobunga! Ecobunga! is a website directory of giveaways and deals on green products and services. They list all kinds of eco sweepstakes, contests, coupons, rebates, sales, free shipping and more. They link shoppers to great bargains and prizes while helping companies get the word out about their eco-friendly products and services.

For instance, on the homepage there is a listing for a contest to win a Prius. Sign me up! Hey, a free hybrid would really make all the research and decision making a lot simpler, wouldn't it? Gotta love a good deal, especially on pricey eco products.

Ecobunga! was started by 2 Bay Area women who met while working at TechTV. I only mention that because my husband LOVED loved loved TechTV and everyone associated with it is highly regarded in our house.

Check out Ecobunga! and see what you can find. I think I'm going to sign up for the email newsletter so I can get "red hot green deals right to my inbox every week."

June 10, 2008

1,4-Dioxane is still a problem


Last year I wrote about how many shampoos, soaps and bubbles baths contained something called 1,4-Dioxane, which is a carcinogen. Because it is a contaminant produced during manufacturing, the FDA does not require it to be listed as an ingredient on product labels. In my last post I wrote about how it was found in many children's products and yet there was no easy way to know which was safe since it isn't listed as an ingredient.

You would think then that buying body products at a natural health store would keep you safe, right? Wrong! The Organic Consumers Association has tested several natural products and found they, too contain carcinogenic ingredients.

In fact, the Attorney General of California has filed a major lawsuit against body care household-cleaning product companies whose products recently tested highest for the carcinogenic contaminant 1,4-Dioxane. Under California's "Proposition 65" consumer products that contain toxic levels of 1,4 Dioxane must have warning labels stating they may cause cancer. 1,4-Dioxane is typically produced as a byproduct when ingredients are ethoxylated with the petrochemical ethylene oxide, a process which has become standard practice for many cleansing and moisturizing products.

The suit, California v. Avalon Natural Products (manufacturer of the Alba brand), also names Whole Foods Market California (manufacturer of the Whole Foods 365 brand), Beaumont Products (manufacturer of the Citrus Magic brand), and Nutribiotic. It is unclear exactly which products manufactured by the aforementioned companies triggered the lawsuit, but all named companies have sold products that tested close to or in excess of 20 parts per million for 1,4-Dioxane in the OCA study. You can read the full press release here.

I was surprised to see the results of the products they tested. My favorite dish washing soap is full of it, not to mention a soap and shampoo I had bought for me and my kids. The Organic Consumers Association website has a link to learn more about 1,4-Dioxane, but as of this posting the link wasn't working. I'll include it in hopes it is a temporary server issue.

I'm not sure how to choose products without the 1,4-Dioxane, other than selecting things that were tested and have no trace of it. Wouldn't it be great if the lawsuit and other actions helped to improve the labeling of cosmetic and body products?

June 8, 2008

dream car


I've always known fuel efficiency is not the best feature of my car. My car is helpful in many ways, but the MPG is shameful. Unfortunately, it isn't worse than other cars in it's class and there are many of them on the road. I have kept the car because I use all the 3 rows of seats to carpool across town. I also have been anticipating bigger advancements in hybrid offerings and was biding my time to switch cars when I could find one that is significantly more efficient than mine. With the price of gas skyrocketing, I thought I should start my search sooner rather than later.

I started by looking up some models that had caught my eye on Yahoo Autos to see how they compared. I looked at MPG, how many kids it could seat (using boosters), cargo capacity and the Yahoo Green rating. I ended up scraping the cargo capacity findings because I wasn't sure they were accurate. For instance, they claim the Honda Fit has more cargo capacity than my Chrysler Pacifica. In reality, I wouldn't be surprised if the Fit could fit in my Pacifica!

Keep in mind that I didn't expect all these cars to be green choices. They were just cars I see often and I wondered how they fared. Here is what I found, in no particular order:

Mazda 3 hatchback: 22/29 mpg, 3 kids, 66 green rating
Mazda 5: 22/28 mpg, 4 kids, green rating not available
Volvo V50: 19/27 mpg, 3 kids, 62 green rating
Ford Escape Hybrid: 34/30 mpg, 3 kids, 76 green rating
Toyota Prius: 48/45 mpg, 3 kids, 84 green rating
Mini Cooper: 26/34, 2 kids, 71 green rating
Honda Civic Hybrid: 40/45 mpg, 3 kids, 84 green rating
Honda Element: 20/25, 2 kids, 62 green rating
Honda Fit: 28/34/ 3 kids, 73 green rating
Toyota Camry Hybrid: 33/34 mpg, 3 kids, 76 green rating
Chrysler Pacifica: 15/23 mpg, 4 kids, 53 green rating

Personally, if I were to replace my car at this point I would really want the MPG to be as high as possible (35+, but over 40 is even better). You can actually search for new cars by MPG very easily on Yahoo Autos.

As I research car options I have learned that there are some exiting things on the horizon and perhaps I will wait a little bit longer. For instance, here in the Bay Area it is expected that Prius sales may start to have wait lists again soon. Plus, I read on hybridcars.com that "according to an inside company source, Toyota dramatically reduced production of the Prius sedan when it began retooling its production line for the 2009 model year. The new model is expected to be slightly bigger, faster and more efficient than the current version. In addition, company sources confirmed that Toyota is preparing to offer a wagon version of the Prius in either 2009 or 2010." A wagon version?! Hurry up, people!

There are also some new clean diesel cars that are promising impressive results, such as a Mercedes Bluetec or a VW TDI engine. Hybridcars.com reports, "VW says the Jetta will get more than 50 miles per gallon on the highway (40 mpg around town), and can go over 600 miles between fill-ups." It's not a hybrid, but the TDI is a clean diesel which is promising excellent MPG.

So for now I will drive as efficiently as possible and hope that new options come sooner than later.

June 6, 2008

gas help


While I am still researching more fuel efficient cars than mine, I was tipped off to this cool tool. You enter your zip code and it will tell you the cheapest gas stations in your area.

It also lists the top 5 fuel efficient vehicles:
1. Toyota Prius
2. Honda Civic Hybrid
3. Toyota Camry Hybrid
4. Ford Escape Hybrid
5. Toyota Yaris

In my research I am looking for good fuel economy, capacity for as many kids as possible (I often have to drive 4 at a time) and safety. It would also be great if the was convenient cargo space (not big, but maybe a hatchback vs. a trunk). Of course little perks like satellite radio or bluetooth for hands free phone would be good options. I have found researching on Yahoo Autos is helpful because I can search by fuel economy and they also have a system of green ratings for cars.

Hopefully my next post will have all my findings!

June 5, 2008

sleepy post

I am researching some cool things to post about soon, but tonight must get to sleep. My eyes are closing as I look up the MPG of many cars. A post about that will be soon! I don't think my hybrid minivan will get here soon enough—so I'm thinking of going smaller with my car. Gas here is climbing close to $4.50 and not showing any signs of slowing down.

June 4, 2008

eat local america


I was so glad my sister sent me this link to share with you. She found this website which is organizing a local eating challenge this summer. What a great motivational idea! Here's the scoop:

"This summer, you can kick-start your quest to eat more local by joining the “Eat Local America” challenge, presented by co-op grocers nationwide. This national challenge celebrates and supports the growing interest and passion to eat (mostly) locally grown or produced food - inviting individuals to try to consume 80 percent of their diets (or 4 out of every 5 meals) to local foods for a select amount of time during the summer months. To participate, check out our map to find your nearest participating co-op and stop by to learn when and how long your challenge will last. Or, click here to join the Challenge. Because peak harvest time varies throughout the nation, the Eat Local America challenge duration may vary from a one-week to one-month period. Even the definition of "local" varies by community, based on area agricultural patterns. Eat Local America celebrates the uniqueness of our regional food supplies, as well as a our nation's collective and emerging passion for eating more local, organic foods."

Eating local is healthier, eco-friendly, and good for supporting the people who produce these healthier, eco-friendlier foods. For some reason, there are no co-ops listed in my area (even though we have them). I signed up for the challenge anyway since I do eat mostly local from our amazing farmer's market. Looks like there are many in the northeast and upper mid west to join. See if there is one near you!

June 3, 2008

how do i green clean the....

I've received a few inquiries lately as to how exactly to green-clean some specific things. Since I am such a newbie (I just squirt vinegar on everything) I consulted with my pile of green-clean books for some advice. I have also found that Martha Stewart has green cleaning recipes on her website (thanks to hapa_lee at the green guidess for the tip). Lots of good info, so here it goes:

H wants to know about cleaning a toilet.
Borax is a natural disinfectant. I buy it at my natural market. The Clean & Green guide suggests an easy thing to do is to pour some into the toilet at night. Stains should be gone in the morning! You can scrub with brush if needed. Another option is to pour 1C borax and 1/4C vinegar into the bowl. Let it rest a few hours and then scrub with toilet brush.

P wants to know how to clean her beautiful new dining table after the kids spill on it.
Most of my resources give solutions for polishing wood, but I don't think that is what you are looking for. I also have a new dining table, so I can relate to your hesitation and concern. I think for cleaning up the messy part (liquids or foods) I would do a damp sponge. I have one that I am using that cleans really well and doesn't leave much moisture behind. I wet it with water, wring it dry and then wipe away. It is made by Twist and is biodegradable and reusable.
If you do want to polish a little afterwards, you can try many variations on oil and vinegar (varying both the types and quantities). The Clean & Green book has many recipes on page 81.

You can try 1/8C food-grade linseed oil (from health food store, not a hardware store, since those use petroleum ingredients) 1/8C vinegar and 1/4C lemon juice.
Another simpler recipe is 1/4C olive oil, 1/4C vinegar and a drop of lemon oil.
Mix ingredients in a glass jar and apply with a cotton cloth.

The book also has a recipe which includes whiskey, but I'd be afraid you might drink it up, P!

June 2, 2008

sf greenclean


It isn't very often I need to have clothes dry cleaned. Seems like an annual occurrence, sometime after the Memorial Day wedding season (see my post from last year, when I had the same exact clothes cleaned). As I wrote about then, I found some cleaners in my area that have better alternative processes.

Not only that, I seem to have found the coolest dry cleaner on earth. Seriously.

SF GreenClean
not only uses safer cleaning practices to meticulously care for your clothes, they go a few steps further. They invested in reusable wooden hangers and reusable garment bags instead of using all that plastic and wire hangers (which cannot be recycled).

They also are willing to make it a no-brainer to choose them by offering free pick up and delivery, in their Prius, of course.

The other cool thing (and I don't know if this is green exactly...maybe because it saves paper?) that they offer is online account management. Each of your clothing articles has a digital "mug shot" taken and is uploaded to a website where you can track your orders, make payment and schedule delivery.

If you're in San Francisco, I suggest giving them a try. For those of you not in the area, SF GreenClean has really addressed many levels of their environmental impact. They call it a revolution:

"A staggering 98% of all dry cleaners in the United States use petroleum, siloxane, or perchloroethylene, all of which are hazardous pollutants. If the personal health effects and environmental impact of dry cleaning weren't bad enough, consider that every year, 1 billion metal hangers and 25 million pounds of plastic bags end up in landfills across the county. SF GreenClean is cleaning up the industry with its proprietary "Environmentally Sustainable Multi-process Wetcleaning", a revolutionary process that combines recyclable garment packaging, state-of-the-art equipment, and environmentally tested, biodegradable soaps to keep you and the planet clean."

Hopefully their success will inspire other companies—in any industry—to do the same.

June 1, 2008

green-ish bunk beds


I would do just about anything to get our kids to sleep well through the night, and that is how we came to buy a new bunk bed for them. They sleep better together in the same room and since the room is small, bunks were the way to go. But it couldn't be any old bunk - we were suckered for a gorgeous and fun design that is durable and well made.

We chose the Argington Uffizi. I liked that it is made from sustainable hard wood and birch ply. All materials, glues, stains and finishes are 100% non-toxic and are low VOC. I find that buying furniture that is completely eco-friendly is really challenging. You have to wonder if the materials sustainable, are there any components, glues or finishes that are toxic or off-gas? If it is an upholstered item there is the big problem of fire retardants (also a problem in mattresses).

Speaking of which, we had to get new mattresses for the bunk bed. The requirements were for a mattress that is thinner than the one we owned. We didn't want our little guy too high up on a huge mattress poised over the safety railing! I took this opportunity to invest in healthier, more natural mattresses. I've written before about the choices in finding an eco-friendly mattresses for children. I chose to purchase from a local company, European Sleepworks, since I was in a hurry and they had what I needed in stock.

It all sounds like an ideal purchase, but one of the unforeseen surprises was the amount of packaging waste delivered with our new bed. It was shipped flat in 5 enormous boxes. Luckily my husband was clever enough to put it together. When he finished, we had so much leftover styrofoam and cardboard that our garage was full! You know how I despise styrofoam. Since there is no way to recycle it I drove it to the dump (sad as I was to do it). We have a big minivan and it was loaded to the gills with it! And it pains me to say that I later realized I could have taken it all over to Scrap, a creative arts reuse center where they accept all kinds of materials and artists find ways to use them. The next day I filled the minivan once again with piles of cardboard, which I lugged over to our recycling center.

I understand that companies must ship the products to arrive without any damage, but I really had to wonder if there could be a better way. I felt like any good eco aspects of the bed were negated by all the packaging. Did I mention the boxes indicated the bed was produced in China? I'm not trying to insinuate that we are not loving the new bed. It is just that I am not familiar with buying "real" furniture (more of an Ikea home, here) and am surprised by the packaging that goes into making sure it arrives in good condition.

In the end, the bed is a hit and the kids love it and are sleeping pretty well. We love it, for sure. I just think I will have to repent for the waste for a long time.



Check out all this styrofoam! It's packed back to front
in a big minivan. The cardboard was just as large a load the next day, if not larger. Good grief!