Tag Archives: environmental

Vanishing of the Bees: recommended movie

honey_bee_bee_insect_218160

This synopsis is quoted directly from the “Vanishing of the Bees” website:

“Honeybees have been mysteriously disappearing across the planet, literally vanishing from their hives. Known as Colony Collapse Disorder, this phenomenon has brought beekeepers to crisis in an industry responsible for producing apples, broccoli, watermelon, onions, cherries and a hundred other fruits and vegetables. Commercial honeybee operations pollinate crops that make up one out of every three bites of food on our tables. Vanishing of the Bees follows commercial beekeepers David Hackenberg and Dave Mendes as they strive to keep their bees healthy and fulfill pollination contracts across the U.S. The film explores the struggles they face as the two friends plead their case on Capital Hill and travel across the Pacific Ocean in the quest to protect their honeybees. Filming across the US, in Europe, Australia and Asia, this documentary examines the alarming disappearance of honeybees and the greater meaning it holds about the relationship between mankind and mother earth. As scientists puzzle over the cause, organic beekeepers indicate alternative reasons for this tragic loss. Conflicting options abound and after years of research, a definitive answer has not been found to this harrowing mystery.”

For more information:

http://www.vanishingbees.com

 

 

 

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Sustainable Christmas Tree Choices

xmas trees

I have mixed feelings everytime I pass Christmas Tree vendors. On one hand, I love the Earthy smell of pine and the beautiful flourish of evergreen colors filling my vision. On the other hand, I look at the tree trunks cut off abruptly before the roots and  feel a little sad for the trees, once deeply rooted, majestic and bursting with life, that are now destined to wither away after a few festive weeks of viewing pleasure. But don’t let me put a damper on your holiday spirit.  I know decorating and enjoying a Christmas Tree can be a beautiful experience.  That said, there are green options for everyone, even people like me who would prefer a potted tree.

Plastic versus Real Trees: which is better for the environment and healthier for you?

I would vote, hands down, for real trees for multiple reasons:

  • Plastic trees are made from petroleum.  Oil drilling is very risky for the environment (think oil spills).  Oil is a non-renewable resource. And, once your plastic Christmas tree becomes old and ratty,  it is destined for a landfill and will not bio-degrade.  Plus, landfill space is finite.  Do we really need to create more garbage than is necessary?  However, if you already have a artificial tree, enjoy it while it lasts.  If it is still usable when you are done with it, find a local charity donate it to.   There may also be recycling possibilities available in your area. Please know, however, that each time plastic is recycled, it downgrades in quality, until it is un-recyclable and ends up in the landfill anyway.
  • Real trees do not have to go to a landfill (in a landfill they would take a VERY  long time to biodegrade).   Personally, if I had a few acres of wooded land, I would just let my Christmas tree become food for microorganisms.  However, for many urbanites like myself, “treeycling” would be the best option.   According to Earth911, “Recycled trees are most commonly used for mulch, erosion protection, habitat creation and shoreline stabilization.” To find out if tree reycling resources are in your area, go to:   http://earth911.com/news/2011/12/27/how-to-recycle-your-christmas-tree/
  • Several known carcinogens, including dioxin, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride, are generated during the production of PVC (a major component of artificial Christmas trees), polluting neighborhoods and ecosystems located near factory sites. Most of those factory sites are actually in China, where 85 percent of the artificial trees sold in North America are made. Labor standards in China do not adequately protect workers from the dangerous chemicals they are handling.  Not to mention, fake trees often contain lead.
  • Real trees are more pleasurable to look at and also emit phytoncides (wood essential oils) which are beneficial to our health on many levels (think aromatherapy).  More information is available in the book, “Your Brain On Nature”. 
  • According to Earth911, “A single farmed tree absorbs more than 1 ton of CO2 throughout its lifetime. With more than 350 million real Christmas tress growing in U.S. tree farms alone, you can imagine the yearly amount of carbon sequestering associated with the trees. Additionally, each acre of trees produces enough oxygen for the daily needs of 18 people.” 
  • My initial concern about Christmas tree farms was that it could mean the destruction of ecosystems, particularly,  if forests were cleared so Christmas trees could be grown.  However, according to the New York Times, “Christmas tree farms also help preserve farmland and green space, particularly near densely populated urban areas where pressure for development is intense.”  Additionally, Mike Garrett, owner and operator of a Christmas tree farm in Sussex, N.J. said,  “It allows people with land that may not be the best farmland to have a crop that they can actually make a profit on, and not be under pressure to sell out to developers.”   
  • One of the downsides, many green-tip websites are quick to point out, is the carbon footprint from driving to get a real Christmas tree every year, as opposed to once every 10 years for a fake tree.  But really, is one extra errand a year going to make or break your carbon footprint? And, what if, you ran some other errands along the way to your Christmas tree-shopping, making it a very efficient trip?  I think it’s more about all of us  investing in greener transportation modes (the greenest we are able to afford) that reduce our overall impact or are carbon neutral, which has a much larger positive impact, than one less errand. 
  • Another downside is that many Christmas tree farms use pesticides and artificial fertilizers, which are not good for surrounding eco-systems, nor for your health.  However, depending on where you live, you may be able to purchase an organically raised Christmas tree. Here are some green resources websites that can help you in your search for a sustainable Christmas tree or any other sustainable products your heart could desire:
  1. localharvest.org
  2. toxicfreenc.org
  3. beyondpesticides.org
  4. greenpromise.com

Here is a (somewhat) local Christmas tree farm serving the NYC area:

wind swept farm

Buying  a Living Tree

If you want to go uber green or cut trees just make you a little sad, opt to buy a Christmas tree with its roots still intact.  Keep in mind, however, that a living tree can only be indoors for about a week, lest it  “wake up” and begin to grow again in the warmth of your home. If this happens there is a good chance the tree will not survive once it is replanted in the cold winter outdoors. You would also need to gently transition the tree indoors for about two weeks beforehand, inside a garage or enclosed porch.  You would need to put the tree back in the enclosed porch or garage after its week indoors to gently transition it back outside.  For more information on buying and caring for a living tree, go to:

http://www.hgtv.com/gardening/how-to-care-for-your-living-christmas-tree/index.html

A few online articles also mentioned keeping the tree in a pot for a few years so it can be reused as a Christmas tree again.  I assume that they mean a smaller potted Christmas trees that wouldn’t quickly outgrow the ability to fit indoors.  I also assume that the tree would live outdoors in a pot when it is not the holiday season:

http://eartheasy.com/give_sustainchristmas.htm

Last, but not least, I am teleported back to childhood, when we had our first  “Christmas tree”.  Well, it was not really a Christmas tree in the traditional sense; it was my mom’s potted Norfolk Pine houseplant that was suddenly transformed into an exotic, four foot Christmas marvel.   Needless to say, Peanutbutter, our fluffy tan and white cat, could not resist climbing the Norfolk Pine, which bowed under his robust weight,  to retrieve Christmas ornaments dangling off it.  We later found the said ornaments floating and sparkling in the toilet.  On that note, may your holiday be warm, wonderful, magical and perhaps, even a little bit playfully mischievous!

Corn Plastic: Pros, Cons and Inspiration

corn plastic

A small obsession of mine has been the quest for truly environmentally friendly packaging and eco-friendly ways to deal with it once its use comes to an end. I hate plastic and everything being so darn landfill-bound or down-cycled (recycled into lesser materials until it eventually turns into trash). I always choose minimally packaged goods when possible. For example, there is a soap brand at Whole Foods that comes without any packaging, which I think is awesome.

I try to create as little trash as possible in the world. I would like to be able to bring my lunch to work every day in reusable containers or eat at sit-down places where food is served on real plates and bowls so that packaging isn’t an issue. However, like many busy adults, that ideal may only happen 50% off the time (at best). That is where pre-packaged food comes in.

How do I know it’s corn plastic?

For one thing, I look for the Greenware logo, a major purveyor of corn-based packaging. Next, if you look on the bottom of the container it will have the number “7” on it. This is the code for miscellaneous plastics that do not fall under the other number codes for plastic. You must also see “PLA” underneath the number so you know it is the corn-version of miscellaneous plastic. PLA, as defined by Wikipedia, is an acronym for Polylactic acid or polylactide. It is a thermoplastic aliphatic polyester derived from renewable resources, such as corn starch (in the United States), tapioca roots, chips or starch (mostly in Asia), or sugarcane (in the rest of the world).

Is corn plastic a solution?

Is corn plastic good? Is it bad? Does it really remedy our petroleum polluting, non-biodegradable plastic dependency? After some heart-felt contemplation and some research, I say corn plastic or PLA is a step in the right direction, but needs to evolve much more to make it truly earth harmonious.

Potentially, plant-based plastics can be an enlightened approach to our petroleum problem. There is something beautiful about a product that is designed so that once its use is finished, it can be returned to the Earth and nourish it. Wouldn’t it be great to give back to the Earth that gives us so much, in a dance of co-creation and reciprocity? Granted, human habits are a far cry from this kind of thing, but I believe, the potential of plant plastic holds the seed.

However, our current way of sourcing corn plastic and lack of eco-friendly disposal pose problems. Here is a list of pros and cons for corn plastic:

Pros of Corn Plastic (PLA)

• Corn plastic uses corn, a renewable source, while the petroleum that creates conventional plastic is a finite source.

• Corn plastic is compostable at industrial facilities.

• Corn plastic is competitively priced with regular plastics like PET and, perhaps, will get more cost effective as petroleum prices continue to rise.

• Corn plastic production uses 65% less energy and creates 68% less greenhouse gasses than conventional plastic.

• Corn plastic contains no toxins.

• Shifting away from petroleum use means shift away from devastating oil spills and non-biodegradable petroleum plastic.

Cons of Corn Plastic (PLA)

• Corn plastic is most often made from GMO corn – an environmentally damaging way to grow corn.

• Conventionally grown corn is a monocrop, which depletes the soil, among other ecosystem maladies.

• Corn plastic is only compostable (in a reasonable time span) via industrial composting facilities, which tend to service businesses and are not open to the public.

• Corn plastic takes an estimated 100-1000 years to biodegrade in a landfill. Landfills are so tightly packed and sealed that no light and little oxygen are available to assist in the process.

• Consumers will unknowingly dump corn plastic containers in with their regular PET recycling which can contaminate the PET recycling stream if it happens in large quantities.

• Commercial Composters use microbes to break down organic material. Large amounts of corn plastic in a composter would cause problems because it breaks down into lactic acid which is wetter and more acidic. It can be broken down but it requires more oxygen for the microbes to consume. Commercial facilities would have trouble providing enough oxygen for large amounts of corn plastic to breakdown.

I am an innovative idealist at heart and I believe the cons of corn plastic all have solutions. Hopefully, as the collective green consciousness evolves, new solutions will be implemented.

The future of non-GMO corn plastic:

Just as organic, fair trade coffee is now making its way into mainstream places like Connecticut Muffin (victory!), I believe non-GMO corn plastic may also become popular in the future. It was difficult to find non-GMO corn plastic companies in my research, except a few companies such as Novamont in Italy, Plantic in Australia (who produces corn plastic medical equipment, no less) and the repeated, inspiring mention of Stonyfield ’s efforts to create their corn plastic from as much non-GMO sources as possible.

Solutions that speak to the con’s of corn plastic:

I believe through increasing public awareness and consumer demand, industrial composting could be made available to consumers. Currently, I return my corn plastic containers to the garbage of a retailer that I know composts them (I get most of my corn plastic from them so it is convenient), but I seek to minimize my use of corn plastic, knowing its downsides. Intuitively, I feel that even if all our corn plastic were to be non-GMO, we should still minimize our use of it, as it is an energy intensive process to create and compost.

Another potential solution to corn plastic’s monocrop GMO-ness is to use other plant sources such as switchgrass. Switchgrass has the added benefit of not cutting into the food supply. Not to mention, there is a way to industrial compost large amounts of corn plastic that do require any oxygen at all: anaerobic digestors. These are microorganisms that do not require oxygen to sustain themselves..

I offer these solutions not as the ultimate solutions, but as brain teasers to open our consciousness to new possibilities and potential. Perhaps, there are even better solutions than what I have mentioned. Don’t settle too easily in your green journey for win-loose, compromise scenarios. They may be steps in the right direction and bridges to new frontiers, but let’s keep expanding on the idea of what is possible and spreading the awareness with love!

No Synthetic, Please

I read the book, Your Brain On Nature, which totally rocked my world.  In this book, the authors mention numerous studies on the effects of nature on the brain and also the effects of urban scenes  on the brain.  This was both tested with photographic representations of both scenarios and actual immersion in a natural or uber urban setting devoid of plant life. Clearly, nature is better for the brain by:

  • decreasing stress
  • elevating mood and positive outlook
  • increasing empathy
  • boosting the immune system
  • sharpening cognitive function

Urban scenes, on the other hand, increase stress, anxiety, aggression and decrease cognitive capabilities and immune response– yikes!

That said, I made a *unique* connection in light of this scientific research.  It’s purely anecdotal, so humor me.  In the past decade or so, I have shunned synthetic furniture (plastic, pressed particle board, etc.)  in favor of  solid wood and other natural materials that look and feel earthy.  I know it’s personal taste, but I think I am onto something.  Not only is my favoritism for natural products probably better for the planet in some ways (less petroleum used, less synthetic chemicals released into the environment and less toxic crap for us to breath in), but heck, it may be better for my brain!

Perhaps, my brain doesn’t like looking at plastic and other fake stuff.  To be honest, it may not even be in it’s evolutionary biology.  As “Your Brain On Nature” expounds, we are hard-wired to notice, more quickly, the threat of a tiger than the threat of a machine gun.  This difference may only be a few milliseconds, but it says a lot:  all this synthetic stuff is very new to our brain’s evolution, while awareness of large, predatory animals has been embedded into our brains since the beginning of our hominid existence.

From my perspective, clay pots, baskets,  wooden furniture and other simple, timeless home and hearth items have been with us for much longer and much more resemble the raw materials from which they were made.  This may also make them more recognizable to our brains.  Not to mention, they probably still emit aromatherapeutic chemicals and other beneficial properties.  Have you ever smelled a cedar chest or enjoyed  the sweet smell of a straw basket? If you have ever sculpted clay, perhaps, some of the mineral-rich content of the clay seeps into your skin, nourishing you (they do say what you put on your skin goes into your bloodstream.)

Taking it further, I wonder if synthetic items create a stress response, decrease the immune system and all those other things that urban scenes did in the previously mentioned scientific study.  Not to get OCD (that is probably even worse for your immune system than having synthetic items in your house), but let’s consider that surrounding ourselves with beautiful, natural household items (when possible),  like an unfinished solid wood shelf, may at least be neutral on your brain.  Add plants and  some sort of nature view out your window, whether it be a single tree or a lush garden or a lake, and, voila!  Your brain is going to feeling pretty good.   Plus, you will not  have purchased something that toxically off-gasses in your home.

For more information on non-toxic, brain-loving and sustainable furniture choices, please see by two blog posts here and here.