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Tuesday
Jul012008

How to throw a green party

Straight to the source

According to the Clean Air Council, every day 43,000 tons of food are thrown out in the United States, and each year Americans toss out enough paper and plastic cups, forks, and spoons to circle the equator 300 times. That's the bad news. The good news is that with a bit of creativity and a little know-how, you can throw a fun, festive affair without it taking a major toll on the environment.

FOOD

 

When planning an environmentally friendly party menu, leave your global appetite behind and think local. Shipping ingredients from another part of the world requires a tremendous amount of fuel. Look to your nearest farmers' market or CSA (community-supported agriculture) for in-season fruits and vegetables, as well as meat, eggs, and dairy products. They're fresher, taste better, and are oftentimes priced the lowest.

Sustainable eating
Beyond "local," there are a number of other labels and designations to keep in mind, including organic, biodynamic and sustainable. Organic food is regulated by the U.S.D.A. and must meet certain standards to be certified as such. While there is debate over the value of the U.S.D.A. organic label and how much it corresponds to the original goals of organic farming (which prioritize local and sustainable agriculture), you can assume that any food bearing the U.S.D.A. organic label is free from artificial pesticides and fertilizers.

Like organic, biodynamic farming eschews pesticides and fertilizers. It's also a sustainable, self-contained system in which everything on the farm is reused or recycled, with the goal of enriching the biodiversity of the land. There are a variety of ways to define sustainable agriculture, but in simplest terms, it aims to sustain rather than degrade the environment while also being economically viable. For more information on these labels, consult greenerchoices.org, a Web-based resource run by the Consumers Union.

Menu options
It can be a little overwhelming at first, but with a little thought and a bit of planning, creating a delicious, environmentally friendly menu is easy: With the right ingredients, you can turn almost any recipe into a green one.

If you're having a backyard barbecue, opt for grass-fed burgers and steaks, which typically require fewer pesticides, fossil fuels, and antibiotics than the corn-fed alternative. Hosting a wine and cheese party? Swap imported Brie for artisan cheese from a nearby farm, and pair it with wine from the same region.

For a Sunday brunch, think frittatas made with organic eggs, whatever veggies are in season, and cheeses, all sourced from your area. Alongside, serve locally baked pastries, rolls, and muffins, or make your own sweets with fresh fruit from the farmers' market. 

Tips and tricks
Use aluminum foil
Clean foil can be crumpled up and tossed into the recycling bin, making it a better option than plastic cling wrap. But, don't risk contaminating a load of recyclables: If your foil is covered in baked cheese and sauce, toss it in the trash.

Carry a tote
When you stock up on supplies, carry a reusable tote bag. Not only is it a less wasteful choice than plastic but it's stronger and helps you carry more.

DRINKS



As with food, with a little planning and some smart shopping, almost any drink can be a green one.

Cocktails
Serving a signature cocktail simplifies matters and allows you to take advantage of local, seasonal ingredients.In the summer months, pick up a seedless watermelon, then scoop out the flesh, freeze it on a baking sheet, and blend with vodka for a refreshing warm-weather treat. In fall, use a juicer to make fresh apple juice and whip up a batch of apple Martinis.

Wine and beer
For wine, think organic and biodynamic. If you're splurging on wine, go for Frog's Leap; if you're on a budget, try BonTerra. Local wine is another great option, as nowadays wine is produced in every state in the U.S.
When it comes to beer, local is also best — shipping Belgian beer to the U.S. requires a lot of fuel. Local brews eliminate that problem and add regional flavor to your menu. Look online to find breweries in your area; sites like brewpubzone.com list breweries by state.Nonalcoholic options
Aluminum is an easily recyclable material, so choose cans of soda instead of drinks in plastic bottles. (And, according to Environmental Defense, it takes 95 percent less energy to recycle an aluminum can than to create a new can from raw materials.)
Brew shade-grown, organic coffee (shade-grown coffee doesn't require cutting down trees and therefore doesn't deplete rain forests or disturb the habitats of birds and other species), offer organic herbal teas, and purchase water in glass bottles, which are easily recyclable. Even better, reuse old wine or beverage bottles to serve tap water, filtered if necessary.Tips and tricks
Make recycling easy
To ensure that your guests recycle, line decorative baskets with clear plastic shopping bags, label as recycling bins, and place near the trash can.


Clean green
Use naturally derived cleansers, like Method's cucumber-scented dish soap.


DECORATING  When it comes to decor, think like the TV spy MacGyver: Be resourceful and use things you already have in original ways.

Why run to the store to buy bags of decorations, disposable plates, and run-of-the-mill flowers when you can use items from your own kitchen and backyard to create unique and unexpected decorations?

Flowers
Create big, full arrangements with just one dozen red roses. Place a metal floral frog or water-soaked florist foam (available in the flower section of the supermarket) in a small bowl or vase and insert freshly cut roses randomly throughout.
Poke takeout chopsticks into red fruits and vegetables such as crab apples, radishes, radicchio, and even red-skinned potatoes, then push into the empty spaces to fill out the arrangement.As with food, when shopping for flowers, it's always best to look for local, organic options. Check your farmers' market to see what's available, and don't be afraid to swap something local and seasonal for the roses.Centerpieces and more
Purchase a baby tree from your local nursery, wrap the container with layers of burlap, and tie with a shiny ribbon. Place on a cake stand as a living centerpiece, and plant right after the party.
Place cards
Collect large leaves from the yard and write guests' names right on them with a nontoxic permanent ink pen.

Buffet
Slice a wine cork in half and insert a leftover paint chip. Write the names of the dishes you're serving on each paint chip and use to identify them on the buffet table. This idea also works for place cards. (If the corks wobble, use a knife to make the bottoms flat and even.)

Drinks
Repurpose glass vases into sangria jugs (or drink pitchers) and use real fruit as bottle stoppers.

Invites
E-vites are the greenest and most convenient way to go, but not the most personal. Instead, design a colorful invitation — scanning a handmade invite is the easiest — and send it out as a JPEG with a personalized e-mail note; follow up with a phone call.

If it's a formal occasion, think postconsumer recycled paper for the invitations: It's paper made from old paper, so you're helping to complete the recycling loop.

TABLEWARE



Bandannas can be repurposed as casual cloth napkins. If you don't have them all in one color, feel free to mix it up.

While reusable plates, cups and utensils are the greenest choice, they aren't always the most practical one, especially for large groups. Believe it or not, the phrase "eco-disposable" is not an oxymoron. In fact, it's becoming increasingly easy to find affordable environmentally friendly disposable tableware in mainstream stores.

Eco-disposable:
  • Whole Foods' 365 store brand has durable plates and bowls that look like sturdy paper ones but are actually made from renewable and biodegradable sugar cane.

  • For a bit of color, look for Recycline's plates and bowls in bright, bold colors like purple and lime green; they are made entirely of recycled plastic (from old yogurt cups) and are sturdy enough to be used several times.

  • Stock up on Cereplast forks, spoons and knives, which are made from a biodegradable bio-plastic consisting of 80 percent corn-based starch and 20 percent green fillers. If you compost, you can toss these utensils right into the bin and they'll break down in about three months.

  • Forget plastic straws. Greenhome sells some made from PLA, a corn-based bio-resin. They look and feel like plastic ones but are completely biodegradable.

  • Also look for plates, chopsticks, and other utensils made from bamboo, a fast-growing renewable and biodegradable resource.

  • Tips and tricks
    Don't buy, rent
    Instead of buying new supplies, you can rent chairs, tables, tablecloths, and even snow cone machines for very low prices.Repurpose
    Bandannas are a great reusable cloth napkin that won't break the bank (as pictured below).

    Prevent waste
    If you use a caterer, bring your serving dishes to them. This way, they can avoid using disposable trays and platters.

    PARTY FUN



    No matter how old your guests, it's fun to incorporate activities that come with a tasty treat.



    Pinata
    First, blow up a balloon (use natural latex balloons, which are biodegradable), then cut newspaper into long strips, coat both sides with white craft glue, and use to cover the entire surface of the balloon. Allow the glue to dry completely, then pop the balloon.

    Cut out a small flap and fill the inside of the pinata with grown-up treats such as gift cards, mini bottles of alcohol, and beauty product samples. Tape the flap shut and add a layer of glued newspaper to seal it up. Use a heavy-duty piece of tape (duct tape works well) to adhere a line cord or sturdy ribbon so you can hang the pi�ata from a tree branch, then use double-stick tape to wrap the outside with leaves from the yard.

    S'mores
    Send your guests out into the woods to gather twigs and branches to help light a fire. Bring out a big bowl full of marshmallows, organic chocolates, and graham crackers. Guests can use the twigs they collected to make skewers and toast their s'mores. (Use a manual pencil sharpener to sharpen the branches.)

    For a minty version, add a small drop of real peppermint essential oil to toasted marshmallows. (Fireplace ashes are safe to spread across the lawn. Just wait until they've cooled completely and scatter.)

    - E. Haley




    Thursday
    May012008

    Pesticide Free Wine Please

    This article from the great folks at EuroActiv.com details the findings of a recent study conducted in Europe. The results of the study indicate the presence of an average of more than four pesticides per bottle of conventional wine. Dig what they had to say.....

    Study finds pesticide residues in wine





    A study by the European Pesticides Action Network (PAN) reveals that wines on sale in the EU may contain residues of up to 10 different pesticides potentially harmful to human health. But manufacturers argue that the quantities are so tiny that drinking wine poses no health risk.

    "Grapes are among the most contaminated food products on sale in the EU and receive a higher dose of synthetic pesticides than almost any other crop," argues the environmental NGO in a report analysing pesticide residues in wine, published on Wednesday (26 March).

    The study covered 40 bottles of wine - 34 conventional and six organic ones - purchased inside the EU. According to the results, the 34 bottles of conventional wine together contained 148 pesticide residues. All 34 bottles contained from one to ten pesticides, bringing the average per bottle to more than four. Of the six bottles of organic wine tested, one sample contained a low concentration of a possibly carcinogenic pesticide.

    According to PAN Europe, the "contamination of wines is a direct result of over-reliance on pesticides in grape production". The group argues that the presence of pesticides in European wines is a "growing problem" as grape farmers abandon traditional pest control methods to adopt more hazardous synthetic pesticides. According to Elliot Cannell of PAN Europe, this trend has a direct impact on the quality of wines produced in Europe as pesticides used to grow food crops "can and do end up in food products".

    Responding to the report, the European Crop Protection Association (ECPA), which represents pesticide manufacturers, highlighted that all the residues found were authorised for use in the EU. In addition, ECPA underlined that the levels of residue were found "in such minute quantities" that they "are not even remotely close to [reaching] any level of concern". ECPA compared the proportion to the part per billion level or the equivalent of "one drop of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool". The association also deplored that the PAN report did not test other elements such as copper or sulphur, which are both used in organic vinificulture.

    "Drinking wine poses no health risk for European consumers with respect to pesticide residues [...] Both the use of pesticides and monitoring of residues are very carefully controlled by independent scientists. Maximum residue levels are set well below levels that could cause a risk to humans, to build in a substantial safety margin," said ECPA Director General Friedhelm Schmider.

    In 2006, the European Commission proposed external tightening the existing pesticide usage and authorisation rules in Europe as public concerns over the health and environmental impact of the so-called plant protection products continue to grow. So far, the Commission has rejected demands by Parliament to extend an existing list of substances banned from use in the production of pesticides. The EU 27's agriculture ministers are set to debate the matter in April and are expected to reach a political agreement by 19 May 2008.

    Published: Thursday 27 March 2008
    Monday
    Apr282008

    Environmental Crime Stoppers

    Check out one of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's latest press releases on how Floridians can help protect the states natural resources against environmental crimes.



    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 17, 2008

    CONTACT: Amy Graham, (850) 245-2112

    Dial #DEP to Report Environmental Crimes


    --DEP and Floridians team up to protect the environment--


    TALLAHASSEE – Floridians now have a new tool for protecting the state’s natural resources. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently announced that most cell phone customers in Florida can dial #DEP to report environmental crimes, including illegal dumping of hazardous materials, construction debris, oil drums and biological waste.

    “#DEP helps officers respond quickly and efficiently to environmental crimes and emergencies,” said DEP Division of Law Enforcement Director Henry Barnet. “DEP’s law enforcement will now have additional eyes on the roadways and in the field to help spot and easily report major crimes against the environment.”

    #DEP is an emergency line for reporting environmental crimes only. The program will allow for statewide consistency in the way Floridians, particularly motorists with cell phone only access, report environmental crimes. State Warning Point staff will answer calls and forward information to DEP law enforcement personnel or emergency responders for investigation.

    Last year, DEP’s Bureau of Emergency Response responded to more than 2,100 incidents, with more than 90 percent of those referred to DEP from the State Warning Point. DEP’s Bureau of Environmental Investigations conducted almost 350 criminal investigations in 2007, resulting in 133 arrests.

    To help educate and inform the public on environmental crimes as well as DEP’s law enforcement activities, the Division of Law Enforcement this week unveiled a new Web site. The site highlights the Division’s bureaus of Emergency Response, Environmental Investigations and Park Police as well as the Training Center. Now available online is emergency contact information, tips on recognizing and reporting environmental crimes, career profiles of DEP law enforcement employees and “notes from the field” spotlighting real on-the-job situations faced by DEP officers.

    DEP’s Division of Law Enforcement is responsible for statewide environmental resource law enforcement, providing law enforcement services to Florida’s state parks and greenways and trails. Division personnel investigate environmental resource crimes and illegal dredge and fill activities, and respond to natural disasters, civil unrest, hazardous material incidents and oil spills that can threaten the environment.

    To report environmental crime, most wireless customers can now dial #DEP. Callers can also report environmental crimes to the Environmental Crimes Hotline at the State Warning Point by calling 1 (877) 272-8335 or 1 (877) 2-SAVE-FL. General environmental inquiries should be directed to DEP district offices during business hours.

    For more information on DEP’s Division of Law Enforcement, visit www.dep.state.fl.us/law.
    Tuesday
    Apr222008

    Happy Earth Day

    In honor of Earth Day, we thought it would be neat to share some great tips on greening your technology.

    8 Ways to Green Your Technology


    by Trey Granger


    Technology is a HUGE part of our daily lives. We carry around cell phones and media players, work all day on a computer and come home to watch television.

    But electronic devices make up 70 percent of the toxic waste in our landfills. Here’s eight ways to make sure your need for information doesn’t compromise the environment.

    1. E-cycle
    Keep your electronics out of landfills at all cost. If they still work, donate them to a second-hand store for reuse. If not, use Earth 911’s recycling locator to find a place to recycle them. It could be a community event, a retail store or even a manufacturer take back program. All of these are better than your trash can.

    2. Provide a Second Life for Electronics
    Recycling electronics is important, but only if they no longer work. Consider options that will reuse this technology again and keep it out of the waste stream.

    * Trade in video games and movies for credit at stores that sell these items
    * Donate your televisions and computer monitors to Goodwill; you can find second-hand store locations using Earth 911’s recycling locator
    * Offer your old cell phone to a service provider so it can be refurbished

    3. Reach for the Energy Stars

    Electronics use up a lot of energy. ENERGY STAR products can cut energy use by 50 percent. If you’re shopping for new electronics, check for an ENERGY STAR label. This covers computers and monitors, televisions and even battery chargers.

    Some other energy-related notes for when you’re purchasing

    * Notebook computers use less energy than desktops
    * LCD TVs use less energy than plasma TVs

    4. Use Rechargeable Batteries
    You already charge batteries for cell phones and laptops. So why are you buying disposable AA and AAA batteries for other products? Rechargeable batteries last up to three years longer, and are accepted by more recyclers than other batteries.

    5. Power Down Inactive Electronics
    Why keep your TV on when no one is in the room? Booting up a computer may take a few minutes, but at the very least turn off the monitor when it’s not used. Also, unplug chargers that aren’t in use. They still use energy even if they aren’t charging anything.

    6. Lay Off the Heavy Metal
    Deep inside our electronic devices lie potentially hazardous materials like lead and mercury. These metals are not only a health hazard to you, but make proper disposal of electronics a necessity for the environment. Manufacturers are beginning to respond to this by producing devices with less/no hazardous materials, so look for these in the future.

    7. Be Responsible With Packaging
    Electronics are fragile, so they come with lots of packaging. Whether it’s cardboard boxes, Styrofoam or plastic bags, all this material should be recycled. Cardboard can be recycled with your paper, and all plastic should have a number on it (e.g. Styrofoam is #6) used for recycling. Use Earth 911’s recycling locator to find out where you can recycle all your packaging.

    8. Spring for the Warranty
    Warranties allow for your electronics to be fixed instead of replaced, meaning they stay out of the waste stream. They also encourage you to keep products for longer, which is better for the environment.
    If you are looking for new electronics, consider an upgrade instead of a new purchase.
    * Use the same case for your computer, with a new motherboard and more RAM
    * Get a digital converter to modernize the picture of your analog TV

    This story is part of Earth 911’s “Green Eight” series, where they showcase eight ways to green your life in various areas. Click here to see Earth 911’s “Green Eight” archive.
    Tuesday
    Apr012008

    Environmental Benefits of Composting

    Compost use can result in a variety of environmental benefits. The following are a few of the most important benefits:

    Compost enriches soils


    Compost has the ability to help regenerate poor soils. The composting process encourages the production of beneficial micro-organisms (mainly bacteria and fungi) which in turn break down organic matter to create humus. Humus--a rich nutrient-filled material--increases the nutrient content in soils and helps soils retain moisture. Compost has also been shown to suppress plant diseases and pests, reduce or eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers, and promote higher yields of agricultural crops.

    Compost helps cleanup (remediate) contaminated soil


    The composting process has been shown to absorb odors and treat semivolatile and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including heating fuels, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and explosives. It has also been shown to bind heavy metals and prevent them from migrating to water resources or being absorbed by plants. The compost process degrades and, in some cases, completely eliminates wood preservatives, pesticides, and both chlorinated and nonchlorinated hydrocarbons in contaminated soils.

    Compost helps prevent pollution


    Composting organic materials that have been diverted from landfills ultimately avoids the production of methane and leachate formulation in the landfills. Compost has the ability to prevent pollutants in stormwater runoff from reaching surface water resources. Compost has also been shown to prevent erosion and silting on embankments parallel to creeks, lakes, and rivers, and prevents erosion and turf loss on roadsides, hillsides, playing fields, and golf courses.

    Using compost offers economic benefits


    Using compost can reduce the need for water, fertilizers, and pesticides. It serves as a marketable commodity and is a low-cost alternative to standard landfill cover and artificial soil amendments. Composting also extends municipal landfill life by diverting organic materials from landfills and provides a less costly alternative to conventional methods of remediating (cleaning) contaminated soil.

    - E. Haley