Sustainable Donations


April 8th, 2014

Environmentalists are generous by nature, desiring to share our good fortune with others. Like me, most of you probably make monetary contributions to a number of causes. I suspect that, like me, your mailbox (at your door or post office) is probably overflowing with requests. Sadly, they come monthly or more and with lots of letters, explanations, envelopes that fill up our trash.

Here are some possible solutions:

1) MY  solution,  is in this letter which your are welcome to copy and send to your favorite organizations. If  many of us do this, perhaps these well-meaning organizations will move in the right direction:

Dear ________,

Please help me be a better contributor and supporter by removing me from your mailing list. Huh? You may ask.

I feel overwhelmed to face a mailbox of multiple ‘begging letters’ each and every day (on top of adverts, bills). I have no time to read yours, much less those from the 25 other organizations to which I regularly contribute.

It is now December and I have received XX requests by mail and countless emails from your organizatin. I have been donating since ____  contributing an average of $__ each year.  Endless letters remind me only that the organization has no idea of who I am. Once or twice year I pull out an envelope and payment form and toss the rest of the contents. The rest of the mailings from you go directly to the recycling, what a horrible misuse of time & resources. Most of my friends will not take the time to audit the charitable requests as I do but I know from speaking to them that they feel the same way and become resentful of constant requests, larger trash bills and wasted trees.

I am a busy person, heavily involved in my family, work and community. At some point in my life I decided that your organization was worthwhile and effective in using my funds wisely. I have continued to contribute without reading any of your subsequent nicely-crafted letters whose stories were ingrained over a lifetime – I no longer need to read them.

This is the computer age. You DO have the ability to track which of your contributors donate and how frequently – if you truly value them, you will care about their contribution patterns, ask them how frequently and in what form (paper or electronic) they would like to receive communications and respond appropriately.  Yes, a few very old ladies have endless hours to read every piece of mail but I, and most others like me, am not one of them.

I, as most contributors, have limited financial resources to meet endless requests. I plan & spread my giving throughout the year; I don’t respond to special or year end pleas. I expect that the organizations to which I donate to do the same financial planning for the year. You must  trust that your thoughtful contributors will not give less because they are asked less frequently. Many of us are donating smaller amounts electronically on a monthly basis so that your budgets (and ours) are less lumpy.

BTW, I am not swayed by name stickers, note pads, medals or member cards – I am trying to simplify my life in many ways –  no one has ever asked to see any of my members cards and my wallet is full already.

This is not a negotiable request.  If mail did not decrease to quarterly or less by ____ ( date 1 year in advance)

This also serves as notice that you may not sell my name, address, email  to any organization for any purpose.

(USE WHEN APPROPRIATE) ( You may not split your organization into two parts to collect twice as much. I am not gullible just because I have a heart.  I give to the original organization, not the offshoot.)

Sincerely,

Someone who thinks highly of your cause


2) Charity Watch has a simpler notice:

FUNDRAISING REDUCTION NOTICE

I am sending this note to reduce the waste and invasion of privacy caused by unwanted mail solicitations and telemarketing calls. If you would like me to consider contributing to your organization in the future, please agree to the following checked items:

___ Remove my name and address from your mailing list.

___ Do not sell, rent, exchange, or give my name or contribution history to any other organization or business without first receiving my approval.

___ Do not send me direct mail solicitations more than ___ times a year.

___ Do not telephone me to ask for money, or…

___ Phone me no more than ___ times a year, and only on the following day(s) and times:

Name and address labels from your solicitation(s) to me are enclosed.
Thank you for respecting a donor’s wishes.


3) Sandra Block at USA Today  suggests intent giving sites such as Network for Good and Just Give which allow you to donate anonymously (there is a 3-4.75% processing fees so your charity doesn’t get the full amount) but that won’t get existing requests to stop.

4) Catalog Choice.org is known as a website that allows you to lower your paper footprint from catalogs but they also work with some of the larger charities to get remove your name from their mailing lists.  It won’t help with smaller and local charities, and not all charities have joined, but it’s a start.

Poop in Your Food? The circle of life


March 12th, 2014

Recently an email came through decrying that produce was grown in human poop and that Chinese suspend chicken wire crates over the fish ponds and the fish with their shit. While this sounds sensational, in truth, human manure was a standard farming nutrient prior to the flush toilet.

I am not overly concerned about chicken poop or people poop – where do people think dirt comes from? it’s worm & bug poop (also known as castings).  The “Circle of Life” is not just a cute song from the Lion King – creatures eat predominantly other creatures – bones, stomachs, poop and all.  Cows & horses poop on the land that grows the grass that they soon graze on.  Human poop starts as food and is simply food that has been burned as fuel or excess nutrients that cannot be fully absorbed at the time.  Allan Savory in his TED presentation establishes how new deserts have been re-established as verdant grasslands by re-introducing traditional cattle herding whereby the droppings both enrich the soil and contain the grass seeds for reseeding.

We need those excess excreted nutrients over and over again each day and they need to return to the food stream through the soil, though a diet entirely of poop is probably not very well balanced and should be mixed with veggie matter for a full-bodied compost.  Composting and percolation through the ground to underground aquifers  (except those exposed to fracking or other underground toxins) exposes excrement to the pro-biotic bacteria necessary to cleanse it for eventual safe reabsorption into plants. The Rich Earth Institute in Vermont does just that with collected urine (rich in nitrogen, phosphorous & potassium) in a [rpcess they  call “peecycling” which is used after it is pasteurized !

That being said,  excrement of sick humans and animals should be contained and kept out of the food stream.

No less an authority than our founding father, George Washington, considered people and horse casting to be more valuable than gold. Though he was many things to our nation, he considered himself, first and foremost a farmer. He studied it, saved seeds, used crop rotations, fertilizers, was intimately knowledgeable about the micro-climates of Mt. Vernon & the 8,000 acres he maintained for his wife’s family around Virginia.  He built lovely “necessaries”, outhouses, throughout his estate from which the proceeds were harvested regularly and encouraged everyone to use them. The farms were extraordinarily prolific and provided all the food for the family and 300 workers.

 

Amish have been recycling their refuse regularly though some municipalities are now requiring them to put in leach beds. 

Columbus GA will soon be selling human waste biosolids to farmers.

 

Sew and Sew: Where to Buy Ethically Made Fabrics


February 14th, 2014

As a sewer, quilter and fabric consumer I’ve always paid close attention to waste and using up scraps is part of why I like quilting. Lately I’ve been choosing many organic fabrics because of the many toxic chemicals that go into the farming and production of cotton that affect not only the consumer but the farmers and manufacturers. Likewise, reading about the slavelike conditions & wages in many low wage overseas factories, I’m reluctant to buy a lot of new fabric and am paying attention to where they are made.

Though, not generally a JoAnns fabric shopper, I happily learned that they have just introduced a new MadeInAmerica fabric line from FabricTraditions. Online chatter indicates they have always carried some Made in USA fabrics but you have had to search for them.

Most of Liberty of London fabric is still woven in England as seen in this video.

By my research Japanese prints are indeed made in Japan, they are even milling high quality denim!

FabricWorm carries a large selection of organics and I just discovered Organic Cotton Plus.

Of course there is always repurposing fabric, buying at thrift shops & yard sales and, of course fabric swaps!

Sustainably Spicy


December 30th, 2011

One thing that still remains in my brain from calculus is that the smaller the container, the higher the ratio of container to contents. Once upon a time I could calculate the most cost and weight efficient sized can – who said calculus has no real world applications?

Herb & spice containers jars are low on the container-to-contents sustainability scale. That being said, spices can last many years and they often come in lovely shaped jars and cans. I could not bring myself to throw out the darling A&P spice cans,  a  favorite wedding-shower gift appropriate for newlyweds on a tight budget. I am quite thrilled that there are now so many options for re-filling these containers and the choices are usually less expensive, as well.

Penzey’s (some stores & online) offers 4, 8 and 16 oz bags of their spices with discounts for the larger bags (again less packaging per oz of spice) plastic bags can be recycled at your grocer with other bags; foodies appreciate their quality and wide variety.

Whole Foods and some health grocers offer the Spicely line of boxed (totally bio-degradeable paper & cellophane) spices that fit perfectly in your jars ;(they also donate a % of sales to a children’s charity). Ethnic groceries and the international aisles in the supers offer authentic bagged spices at excellent prices.

Looking for sustainably & ethically harvested Ceylon cinnamon? Enjoy the photos and stories of  La Cannelle plantation.

Sea salt is all we use in our house both because of reduced sodium content and variety of flavors including an option to go local with Pacific sea salt. Celtic Sea Salt was at the San Francisco Green Festival where they offered a special on their salt grinder with purchase of salt.

I’m blessed to live in a climate where I can harvest fresh rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme and bay leaf year round – also blessed that they are hardy as I am not the most attentive gardener.

Wine & Weeds: Weed Barrier Tip


December 1st, 2011

We enjoy our California wines and watch pennies buying by the case. Those nifty cardboard dividers are useful for storing glassware of all sorts but I just found a new use in the garden. In dry climates, such as ours, many of us are transitioning to drought tolerant landscaping with native plants. Still, in order for the individual plants to stand out, we need to discourage weeds. Pulling weeds out of dry soil leaves the roots intact so, instead, we can create a light/weed barrier of cardboard boxes topped with wood mulch. (Weeds won’t grow because they lack light). Still, cardboard  is broken where we put in new plants. Watch the video to see how to solve this problem:

You can do a variation with the 4-prong pieces. Break into 2-prong pieces. Fold back one prong on each . Place the center of the inside “V” shape on either side of the plant. Cover with mulch. Voila!

 

Sustainable Dishwashing Part II: Reduce, ReUse, Recycle Plastics


November 26th, 2011

Nothing gets my anxiety level higher than petro-plastic bags & wraps. Plastic takes hunreds of years to decompose while  it does nothing but ensconce a loaf of bread or piece of meat that will be digested in days. Even organic foods comes wrapped in it – ouch. I am trying to let go of that which I cannot yet change so I breathe deeply and re-use and recycle.

Mine is a real and not ideal household. Cooking is not my forte and I buy a fair amount of frozen food rather than let paper wrapped foods go bad; using petro oil bad, killing animals needlessly, worse. Not all family members are as committed to zero waste as I am, so I attempt to keep damages to a minimum, thusly.

If you have identifiable containers or spaces for each, the process becomes easy for you and family members.

Flexible plastics triage (quatrage?).

  • A) GROCERY/DRUGSTORE/TAKEOUT bags, BREAD & other hole-less bags of suitable size. Place with dog supplies for dog poop on walk or with cleaning supplies to line trash cans.  IKEA sells a handy durable dispenser  to attach inside a cabinet door for.
  • B) XL/UNUSUAL shaped bags: Keep a few for future storing/protecting/carrying needs. I keep these with large handled paper bags.
  • C) ZIP-LOC style bags (purchased or that foods come in): Put in sink for washing. See below for more details
  • D) RECYCLE @ GROCERY: Every other flexible PETRO-plastic. More details below.
  • E) Is the plastic CRUNCHY & CRINKLY? Chances are good that it is actually a bio-plastic i.e. made of cellophane, corn, etc. See below.

Drying set up for recently washed zipper-style bags

CATEGORY C: Zippered plastic bags. I pay more for the heavy duty kind with good zippers that work more than once; I probably get at least 10 uses out of each bag. Wash with soapy water, cold rinse (germs thrive in warm but not cold water; boiling temps that would kill germs will melt the bags). I have a couple sets of wooden upright plate racks that I keep just for bag drying as well upending them on my knife block when I run out of space. As I wash them I check for leaks and mark leaky bags with an X in permanent marker so I don’t reuse for airtight situations. I put them back in the boxes they came from.  I feel comfortable re-using mine for food; others may not. I use the newer looking ones for food, the sadder ones for myriad uses. It feels like a lottery winning when I take in an XL zipper bag from frozen chicken pieces. Great for storing camping supplies or other large items in dirty places such as garages or attics. Keeps dust out of craft supplies.

CATEGORY D I store in the largest plastic bag in the collection. I can recycle at Safeway, Whole Foods and many other markets. They use these to manufacture composite porch wood, bender board, picnic tables and many other products. Included in the category are:

  • Rigid frozen food bags (quick-rinse for stuck food)
  • Produce bags,
  • Air filled bags used as packing material (kids love poking holes to deflate these),
  • Category C bags past their prime,
  • Dry cleaning bags,
  • Shrink wrap from warehouse store purchases
  • Almost any kind of soft flexible plastic that comes my way

CATEGORY E: CRUNCH OR CRINKLY. I haven’t been able to find a definitive way to distinguish petro- from bio- plastic, so this is the best I can do if there is no marking on the plastic. These are eventually biodegradeable but probably aren’t appropriate for your compost heap. If you have compostable waste collection with your trash, put it in that container. If not, ask your city government or waste management company to add compostable separation as part of the next contract period. Otherwise, it goes in the regular trash for now 🙁

 

Shells, Sand & Gardens


September 13th, 2011
NY Museum of Nat'l Science

Crustacean Exhibit @ NY Museum of Nat’l Science

Grains of sand are as numerous as the stars in the firmament so it would would be a fruitless task to assess the source from which each grain was ground over the eons.  Their origins could be from  stone, bone, shell or sea detritus worn down by time.

We do know that sand is wonderful for many gardens as both a soil amendment and landscaping aid or element.

Being an inveterate recycler and composter, I was considering the possibilities for shells of the beer-steamed mussels we had just finished enjoying. I had considered offering them on Freecycle to a crafter that might have a creative idea but decided to try to take responsibility for our trash on my own property.

Always starved for inexpensive path and working area materials I’ve added them to the chunky stones and brick where I keep my planting supplies. As they get crunched to pieces, dust flys in and fall leaves crumble between the stones, new dirt is forming. Next year I can pick up the stones and gather that soil from the weed barrier to add to my compost.

Another form of sand is in those little silica packets that come in many electronics. While still sand, we have no idea where they come from or what they have been exposed to. I toss these in my stone pathway but Laura of “Make Life Lovely” has many other great ideas, so check them out!

To Mother Earth, With Love on St. Valentine’s Day


February 10th, 2009

St. Valentine was a priest in Rome in the 1rst Century CE. “He was caught marrying Christian couples and aiding any Christians who were being persecuted under Emperor Claudius and subsequently imprisoned, then beaten, stoned and beheaded for trying to convert Claudius, himself. One legend says, while awaiting his execution, Valentinus restored the sight of his jailer’s blind daughter. Another legend says, on the eve of his death, he penned a farewell note to the jailer’s daughter, signing it, “From your Valentine.”

Popular customs “associated with Saint Valentine’s Day had their origin in a conventional belief generally received in England and France during the Middle Ages, that on 14 February, i.e. half way through the second month of the year, the birds began to pair. the day was looked upon as specially consecrated to lovers and as a proper occasion for writing love letters and sending lovers’ tokens.”

Forest Ethics suggests that Valentine’s Day is the perfect opportunity to get creative. In the spirit of the holiday, send your loved ones a handmade card out of the very junk mail clogging your mail box.

Making your own valentine is easy. Check out our facts about junk mail page for quick facts to share with your friends, and start cutting up those glossy mailers sitting in your recycle bin. With a pair of scissors and a little glue, you’ll have a valentine in no time.

And don’t forget to tell your valentine to sign the petition at http://www.donotmail.org!

If you have the time, they’d like you send them a picture of your valentine on Facebook, Flickr, or just attach it in an email. (If you send an email, please make sure it’s under 8 mb.)

Resolve to be less “Consumed” in 2009


December 11th, 2008
The holidays bring out the consumer in us even as we try to scale back. In addition to the waste we personally produce, there is a tremendous taxation of our earth in the farming, mining, manufacturing, transportation and sale of most every item we purchase and use.           

Despite my rantings about sustainability, I’ve discovered I have a long, long way to go even though I’ve made much progress. One of the best websites to find a good overall look at your personal & family sustainability footprint is Consumer Consequences . After you input your information you have the ability to compare yourself with others in different categories: house, energy, transportation, food, etc. It helped me identify which areas I should make more efforts in the coming year.

I’ve been reading online the NPR special report “Consumed” that was broadcast November 2007 and highly recommend checking it out:

Its goal is to answer the question, “Is the consumer economy sustainable?” in a serious way. They tackle the question in a comprehensive manner, with a lot of breadth but, if you don’t want to be overwhelmed, just choose one or two that most interest you.

A partial list of the featured topics: ecological footprint, landfills and the waste disposal sector, consumer debt, air pollution, freegans, marketing, junk mail, energy independence, the effect of consumer culture on mental and emotional well-being, carbon tax, food miles, fashion obsolescence, the green economy, e-waste, clean tech, globalization, Bhutan’s happiness index.

Interesting things to ponder as we consider resolutions for 2009.


The Compact: Adventures in Simple Living


July 18th, 2008

Several months ago I discovered and, sort of, joined the Compact. A group of environmentally concerned friends in San Francisco made a compact not to purchase any new, non-essential items for a year i.e. a compact lifestyle. They did give themselves a little leeway though to buy underwear, socks, and safety items new. They started a Yahoo! group to refine the rules, record their journeys, give each other tips and support each other.

Joining is not rigid -you are more making a compact with yourself – and is more about reconsidering you personal relationship with “stuff”.I’m now more likely to repair something or borrow something. I usually buy tops secondhand but have a difficult time finding pants that fit so I go straight to the stores I depend on for fit.

Soon so many others discovered the Compact that the original group was helping the world and had little time to help each other. To make it more personal again, geographical Yahoo!group offshoots have started because many shopping sources and ideas for free entertainment tend to be local.

Even teens can be tempted away from the mall and make it their own cause as Marta Marano in Toronto has.

Some other links:

Some local groups: San Francisco/Bay Area
Seattle
Los Angeles
Chicago
New York City

GOOD

Not All Buy into Black Friday

What Would Jesus Buy? asks us to reconsider what Christmas is all about.