Shop Locally First

December 5th, 2011

As an investor I look for companies that return a part of the profits to me by means of dividends. I’m wise enough to know, though, that before I get my share, the top executives and board members have taken a cut of the action. I try to vet my investments for companies that compensate their top management well but not outrageously and that treat their employees fairly.

I  direct my purchases to those companies I invest in but only if there exists no local alternative. I invest in Proctor & Gamble (P&G) yet I purchase my bath soaps at farmers markets and craft fairs.  Why?

LocalFirst found that for every $100 spent, local businesses put $73 back into the local economy, while other businesses put back $43. Keeping money in the community keeps jobs in the community.”

P&G makes plenty of products I can’t find locally but I keep looking for more. I try and make the biggest impact by finding products I buy regularly: foods & toiletries. In the San Francisco Bay Area I can find many local olive oils, a variety of dried beans, and tasty cheeses in addition to our renowned wines; specialty grocers are good at finding local specialties.

When on vacation I’ve found local wines in New York, Pennsylvania & Texas;  every region seems to have its favorite BBQ sauce or marinade; and produce. We try to eat at local hangouts with regional dishes rather than at a chain.

Check out ShopLocalSF or my link for the Bay Area. If you live elsewhere, do a search on “shop local [your city or area name].

If you’d rather shop online, is one portal for finding handmade goods from local people.

Start now!

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 🙁


Sustainable Dishwashing: No More Plastic Scrubbers

October 31st, 2011

Have you scrubbed a pot using one of those green scratch pads lately? Most of us have. Did you know that they are made of oil-based plastic that breaks down as you scrub and those small pieces go down your drain, into the municipal water treatment, are filtered out and end up eventually in the Bay and ociean? Along with microscopic broken bits of plastic bags and bottlecaps they become part of fish and crustacean diets. Plastic has now become a defacto part of seafood flesh – yum, yum.

Solution? Loofah & agave scrubbers. Loofah (my sister grew some in LA one year) & agave are plants. Loofah can be purchased as a yarn if you have time to knit or crochet your own scrubber. As for me, 3M recently introduced scrubbers from agave (found some at Target) but there are probably others (let me know in comments).The sponge part of the old double-sided scrubbers has been natural sponge but with chemical dyes (bye-bye purple, orange, blue). The new sponges are made of recycled paper and natural fibers and have no chemical dyes.

Loofah, natural sponge, paper, yarn are components of these manufactured and handmade scrubbers.

I’m less enthusiast about the 3M soap loaded scrubbers. Soap is phosphorus free and scrubbers are from recycled plastic, but, again, plastic bits into the water stream. Their wipes are from bamboo, rayon (pulpy part of cotton plant), cotton & corn, presumably new material since recycled isn’t mentioned but all are compostable. Read labels & go online for details.

Remember, you don’t need to see scads of bubbles for a dish detergent to do its job. Though it seems counterintuitive, rinsing with cold water is best because bacteria thrive in warm (i.e. temperatures that our hands can handle) water but not cold.

Absorb grease and other food stuck to plate with old napkins, paper towels and put in garbage. Keep a strainer in the sinkhole. The more grease and food particles that go through your municipal water plant, the more energy they must use to clean your water.

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!

Polystyrene at The Fish Market

August 8th, 2011

We went to The Fish Market in San Mateo last week after a long hiatus and I was frustrated to find that they still use styro for takeout.  Since they have 6 California locations and do a large business and I feel they should be a  market leader in sustainability and set the bar.

If you agree, please take a few minutes to go to their website and write them (choose “Contact Us” from the top menu).

Below is my letter which you are free to plagiarize (but please personalize and change it up a bit).  Forward this to others you know who go there so we can have a big impact.

“I am very frustrated that you still used Styrofoam/polystyrene takeout containers; not only that, the container was much larger than was needed for a small amount of food. I am especially surprised because the fish & shellfish on which you pride yourselves are the animals most impacted by the Pacific Garbage Sworl and the breakdown of plastics that become part of their flesh. It is time for Fish Market to take a lead in this environmental initiative.

I am making my restaurant choices based on sustainability practices and share my findings with others folks I know that have the same concerns.  I am looking forward to hearing about a change in this practice so I can become a regular customer again.”

Recyling Your Media Waste & Techno Trash

May 11th, 2011

Is part of your 2010 New Year resolution to go through and dispose of all those old videotapes, floppy disks, zip Disks, DVDs, CDs and jewel cases that you never want to see again? You may need to put out a few dollars for postage or services but there are some choices for doing this responsibly:

Disabled employees of the nonprofit Alternative Community Training (ACT) in Columbus MO grind up various smaller plastic items such as CDs, VHS tapes and jewel cases for resale to manufacturers who use recycled plastic. You can mail your trash using media mail rates ($6.95 for the first 20 lbs and 30 cents for each pound over that).

GreenDisk uses a network of non-profit organizations to process techno trash. They refurbish what we can and recycle the rest. Inkjet cartridges get remanufactured and, when possible, cell phones and some computers get refurbished. Material that has no further operating life is broken down to its smallest components (metals, plastics, etc.) and used in the manufacturing of new products. All of the material that GreenDisk collects is reused or recycled. No hazardous materials or obsolete components go overseas to be processed or disposed of. The cost here is the same as above.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay area you may be able to take it directly to a local Green Citizen center. They locate themselves near business centers to encourage businesses which produce so much of the techno trash. When my husband’s business moved in San Francisco last week, we just wheeled a couple monitors on carts a few blocks to the Howard St center.

If you’re active at your church or school, consider a drive to collect and return this trash. (Solicit some donations to cover mailing boxes and postage at the same time).

Over the past few years I’ve accumulated a stash of solar garden lights but slowly they seem to be dying. I was complaining (mostly to myself) that 1) they don’t make things the way they used to or 2) I might be saving energy with solar lights but I’m spending it as I throw out these otherwise good fixtures and creating waste, to boot.

I slowed down enough to pull a couple  of these apart and discovered that they use Ni-Cad  or Ni-MH Rechargeable batteries that I could recharge or replace. It also was a good time to clean out the cobwebs from the light housing & spiff them up a bit. Here’s a good tutorial

If the plastic panel has disintegrated or the circuit is no longer working, time to toss or re-use the parts (unless you have electronics skills). I searched for pre-made LED solar circuits but they don’t seem to exist. BTW, don’t forget to keep the rechargeable batteries to recharge for other uses!

Is Your Printer/Copy Paper Recycled?

November 15th, 2010

October 2008.

Is your copy/printer paper recycled? Probably not. If you separate and put out your paper for collection, you might presume that all the paper you buy for copying is recycled – you would be wrong. About 90% of the copy paper available for purchase and used in printing is virgin paper from freshly cut trees. The magazine trade is far worse, only 5% of magazine paper is of recycled content.

As of Sept 2008 the only 100% recycled copy paper I could find at the big box office supply stores was Staples and had to pay about a 50% premium. 30% recycled is readily available at most stores at about the same cost or just slightly more than virgin paper. Why?

Although the technology and paper is there for recycled , high quality, glossy magazine paper the will is not there. Those publications that ARE using recycled paper are predominantly those with a scientific, nature, health or consumer vantage such as Audubon, Consumer Reports, Scientific American (Reycled Magazine List) but Oprah has taken the big step as the first mainstream magazine. You can encourage this process by writing or e-mailing to the publishers of the magazines to which you subscribe.

By stopping the junk mail that arrives at your home, advertiser will be printing less. OptOutPrescreen can partially cut the flow of credit card and insurance offers. will give you other ideas. Some folks don’t mind paying Green Dimes $15 to manage new junk mail offers as they arrive at your home; the $15 includes 10 trees planted in your behalf.

Conservatree on the news

How Can I ReCycle This? has hints on how to give a 2nd life to almost anything.

Sustainable Shoes

August 14th, 2010

I’ve been pondering how my shoe shopping decisions can be both kind to the environment and to the people that make them. Though buying quality second-hand shoes is suggested as being most sustainable, the original shoe may not have been made sustainably. I depend on comfortable, well made shoes and wear them til they won’t stay on my feet or the soles are worn through.

On the human rights front, most shoes seem to be made in China, South Korea Indonesia other countries with a history of poor worker rights. Sadly, even those made in more developed countries are often made by exploited recent immigrants such as in Italy. If yo

Employee dismissal for asking for better wages & working conditions is occurring in Adidas, Nike contract plants and those of their suppliers such as Freetrend. Sadly they have a history of moving their contracted manufacturing to another country, with poorer labor rights enforcement, when profits are challenged. Oliberté offers ethical & locally sourced leather sneaks which may be my next purchases. New Balance seems to be the only major brand that effectively monitors to human rights at the manufacturing level.

Smaller companies, including those that make vegan shoes are under even more financial pressure to keep manufacturing costs down and often do not even know who their manufacturers actually are. Verite,Workers\’ Rights Consortium (WRC) WRC (Workers’ Rights Consortium created by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) formed independently of corporations and plans to focus exclusively on the part of the industry producing college apparel. FLA (Fair Labor Association) does factory monitoring though it is funded by Nike & other manufacturers with less than stellar sweatshop reputations.

The second piece are the materials and chemicals used in manufacturing. Leather is my material of choice because I have very sweaty feet and it breathes well and is very strong. Sadly the human and environmental by-products of tanning are well documented. I do favor a simple shape with few individual leather pieces on the presumption that less leather must be used to make it and fewer seams to break down.

Tom\’s Shoes has young, causal offerings and donates a pair for each pair sold; each factory is periodically audited by a third-party inspector.

I’m going to post this unfinished but hope to get back when I’ve done more research. In the meantime, don’t shop before thinking about options.  I look for those that might be made in the USA or EU on the presumption that there are stronger worker rights. There are many Fair Trade choices online. Campaigns for ethical treatment of workers include the Not For Sale fighting the global slave trade which includes economic slavery in company plants.