weekly simple eco tip, 1.30

It's already time for the Super Bowl. Whether you're a 49ers fan, a Baltimore fan or a bitter Saints fan (ahem, not me...), Sunday is sure to be a big day. If anything, at least New Orleans is ready to party!

 Image: NFL

If you're attending a party, do your part to make it green! 
  • Offer to bring a bin for recycling materials if the hosts don't have or use their own.
  • Bring your own cup or glass for your drink, instead of using a disposable one.
  • If you're bringing food, bring it in a reusable container.
  • If you do use disposable dinnerware, reuse it when you go back for seconds. (Notice I said when and not if. Let's be realistic. :) )
  • Then make sure to rinse and recycle that disposable dinnerware!
If the NFL can work on being greener, then of course you can green your Super Bowl Sunday!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll get back to being a bitter Saints fan, and wishing I could hightail it to New Orleans for the weekend.
 
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alls about energy star

Woo, LAWD! What a week it has been. Between adorable new kittens and the 8-5 turning into 8-til, about all I've got is "Woo, LAWD!"

So. Back to saving the earth.

ENERGY STAR is a program run jointly by EPA and the Department of Energy. Its purpose is to measure the energy consumption of technology and appliance and create guidelines on efficiency, and to give qualifying products a rating that educates consumers on which ones use the least amount of energy. All qualifying products get a shiny little ENERGY STAR sticker on them. 

Those ratings and labels help consumers to choose products that will help save them money in the long run. A section of the website lets you browse all items that have earned the ENERGY STAR rating, for when you are looking to buy something new. When I began the search for a new laptop a few months ago, I searched the Best Buy website and filtered my results to only ENERGY STAR-rated computers. I was happy to find a great, inexpensive laptop that also uses less energy!

Energystar.gov also helps you improve your home's energy efficiency, without necessarily having to buy new products. Another service is assistance in recycling appliances, CFL light bulbs and electronics, rounding out the cycle of consumerism.

If you are doing your research and looking around for a new appliance or piece of technology, you can also filter your searches on store websites. Best Buy and Lowe's, among others, let you filter to only the qualified products. You can range from computers to printers to refrigerators to washing machines to light bulbs to ceiling fans.

(Fun fact, when I moved to my current apartment, I needed to buy a ceiling fan for my bedroom. I found one ENERGY STAR fan with a light kit, and was set to buy it, when I noticed I could buy an ENERGY STAR fan without a light kit and buy a separate light kit – for less than the cost of the fan WITH the light kit. Win! Always check your options, and you, too, could save $30!)

Many times, ENERGY STAR-rated products don't cost considerably more than their conventional counterparts. They aren't necessarily made of rarer, more earth-friendly materials – they just consume less energy. And that conservation translates into saving you money on your utility bills. The products will eventually pay for themselves!

One of the things I love about my laptop is the Eco Features - I can adjust power settings and optimize performance for consumption, and the amount of energy consumption is very plainly stated – it's easier to see how much electricity I'm consuming.
According to the Department of Energy, "Last year alone, Americans, with the help of Energy Star, saved enough energy to power 10 million homes and avoid greenhouse gas emissions from 12 million cars – all while saving $6 billion." - How Stuff Works
Do you have any ENERGY STAR-certified products or appliances?


Other resources:
How Stuff Works
ENERGY STAR Twitter
ENERGY STAR Facebook

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weekly simple eco tip 1.23

Water, water, water, water, WAAAAAATER! Water!


Water is something that's very easily wasted, but it's also very easy to conserve. Making small, simple changes helps make an impact on water conservation.
  • Turn off the water while you brush your teeth or scrub your dishes.
  • Run your dishwasher or washing machine only when you have a full load.
  • When waiting for tap water to heat up, use a pot or bowl to collect what comes out, and use it to water plants, or fill your pet's water bowl.
  • Take shorter showers. (One area where I am admittedly WEAK!)
  • At the very least, turn the shower off while you shave.
  • Or install a low-flow showerhead that lessens the amount of water coming out.
  • Follow local water conservation laws, especially in times of drought. (The Lafayette Utilities System conservation ordinance is in effect each year from May 1-September 30.)
  • Implement a rain barrel system and collect water to use for your lawn or landscaping.
  • Skip the lawn-watering system (ESPECIALLY when it's raining, for the love of Earth! It's one of my pet peeves to see automatic sprinklers doing their thing when it's either currently raining or has just rained. WAAAASTE.)
  • Fix your leaking sink, toilet or shower.
  • Defrost frozen foods in the microwave or refrigerator instead of running a stream of water over them. (Unless you collect that water for other purposes!)
Just by changing one or two parts of your life, you can save gallons upon gallons of water.
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pets can be green too

I welcomed this adorable little rescue, originally Han Solo and now Milo, home this past weekend. Without getting too mushy, he's pretty awesome and cute and entertaining. And a lot of my preparation has involved finding eco-friendly supplies for him.

It looks like he's already excited about being my little feline treehugger. And at the rate he's exploring, he could literally hug a tree with his little claws. He's already figured out how to climb the curtains.


When shopping for supplies, I made sure to find things made with recycled or sustainable materials. It involved taking some time to just do research and check out the different options, instead of simply picking the cheapest things at the store.

The litter box is made of 95% pre-consumer recycled plastic and is from PetSmart. The litter scoop is odor and stain resistant and is made from plant materials and colored with soy-based ink. It's also biodegradable. It's from Amazon. And the litter scoop holder is a plastic container I salvaged from work that I haven't yet crafted into something pretty!


The litter itself is made of pine trees, which is better for the environment than regular clay litter. It's also chemical-free, and has a great natural woodsy smell. It's found at PetSmart.


The food bowl is made of bamboo, rice, water and starch. It's by Planet Petco and is a part of 1% For the Planet. The water bowl is made of bamboo fibers and is from Amazon.


His scratch board is made of recycled cardboard and is refillable for when he's scratched the life out of this one. It's from PetSmart. The door hanger scratcher is from Wal-Mart (I know, and I'm sorry), and is made of natural twine and recycled carpet fibers. It's also currently too high off the floor for the baby to reach. But I'm sure it won't be long before he can!



His collar is made of recycled pillowcase material and recycled plastic and is from anniessweatshop on Etsy. It hasn't come in yet, but he better like it when it does!

His blankets and bath towels are a hand-me-down gift from his grandmother. (Thanks Mom!) It helps to remember what your parents have in storage at home and take advantage of it when you need something!

It's good to know that even the main pet stores carry eco-friendly alternatives. And if there's something they don't care, it's easy to find online. Milo is starting off his life at his new home by caring for the environment, even if he doesn't know it.

And to wrap up, here's a special message from Mr. Eco Feline Cajun himself: 
a *[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[

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recycling textbooks [link friday, 1.18]

This week over on Twitter, I was asked: 
What can I do with these big, old college textbooks in my closet?
I realized it was a great question that I'm sure many people have, and would make a great Link Friday post.



Textbooks are frustrating and not eco-friendly because they become obsolete so quickly and become near-impossible to sell back to bookstores. These days, textbooks are more often available as ebooks, cutting down a large amount of paper. Some books are simply hole-punched pages that you put in your own binder, making it easy to simply recycle at the end of the semester. And many traditional textbooks include codes for electronic versions or online assignments.

But there are still options on recycling old traditional textbooks. If you're a crafty person, you can always use the pages as materials, and a hard cover as a kind of flat support. Earth911 has five craft ideas for used books. The AR River Valley Regional Library Pinterest page has a board dedicated to crafts made from used books.

If you're not crafty, you can always try donating the books to Goodwill or Salvation Army. Most local libraries accept used textbooks, including the Lafayette Public Library. There, the books are put out for sale at the twice-yearly Friends of the Library Book Sale.

MoneyCrashers has a list of 10 places where you can donate used books.

Books for Africa is one site that comes up frequently when looking into recycling textbooks. Books For Africa is the largest shipper of donated text and library books to the African continent, shipping over 27 million books to 48 different countries since 1988. They accept, among other book types, primary, secondary and college textbooks (soft and hard cover) with a 1998 or newer publish date.

GotBooks accepts books and then clean and sort them by hand. Reusable books are sent to a subsidiary company, where they are available at incredibly cheap prices. However, they don't throw any books away. Books that are damaged or are unusable are recycled. They also operate several philanthropic programs that distribute books for free.

Green Textbooks accepts donations and sells used textbooks. Their goal is to work with college students, publishing companies, schools, and universities to conserve natural resources and preserve forests.

Better World Books buys and sells used textbooks. You can type in the book's ISBN number and get a quote right away.

On a larger scale, Recycle Your Textbooks is a great option. They work with organizations to set up donation bins for accepting textbooks. The books are then put back into circulation through various channels developed over the years. Every book is reused or ground into other paper products.

Thanks for the great question, Ryan! If you ever have a question on what to do with a particular item you just can't get rid of, Tweet me or email me!

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the lowdown on bpa

You've probably heard about BPA over the past few years and heard all the negative effects it can have on people. But maybe you don't know exactly what is, where it's found or what all the fuss is about.

There is a lot of controversy over whether BPA is actually harmful to humans or not, but even if it's not necessarily the evil it's made it out to be, it's still not a good thing. Why not go as natural as you can, just for the sake of reducing the amount of man-made chemicals you encounter?


BPA stands for bisphenol A and it's an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960s, including mainly polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. An estimated six billion pounds of BPA are produced globally annually.

Polycarbonate plastics are often used in containers that store food and beverages, such as water bottles, and baby bottles and cups, compact discs, impact-resistant safety equipment, and medical devices. They may also be used in toys. Epoxy resins can be used to coat the inside of metal products, such as food cans, baby formula cans, bottle tops and water supply lines. Some dental sealants and composites may also contribute to BPA exposure. And certain thermal paper products, such as cash register receipts, may contain BPA. Those are the more slick receipts, where the ink smears and turns purplish when it gets wet. Did you realize that BPA is in PAPER?

BPA can leach into food from the protective internal epoxy resin coatings of canned foods and from consumer products such as polycarbonate tableware, food storage containers, water bottles or baby bottles. The degree to which BPA leaches from polycarbonate bottles into liquid may depend more on the temperature of the liquid or bottle than the age of the container.

Trace BPA exposure has been shown to disrupt the endocrine system and trigger a wide variety of disorders, including chromosomal and reproductive system abnormalities, impaired brain and neurological functions, cancer, cardiovascular system damage, adult-onset diabetes, early puberty, obesity and resistance to chemotherapy.

Three years ago, the Food and Drug Administration shifted its posture and no longer asserts that trace BPA contamination in food and beverages is safe. The agency has launched a new investigation of low-dose BPA risks and is encouraging industry to develop BPA-free can lining. And the National Toxicology Program at the Department of Health and Human Services says it has some concern about the possible health effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children.

However, the American Chemistry Council, an association that represents plastics manufacturers, contends that BPA poses no risk to human health. And Forbes has a contribution about how BPA is found to not be harmful, yet some groups insist on decrying its presence and ignoring science. Some groups just don't believe that the presence of BPA at the current levels are serious enough to elicit such outrage and avoidance.

But, if a chemical has brought about the concerns that it has, even if it's negative effects, why would you want it in your belongings anyway?

So, what are some ways you can reduce your exposure to BPA?
  • Don’t microwave polycarbonate plastic food containers. Polycarbonate is strong and durable, but over time it may break down from over use at high temperatures. 
  • Plastic containers have recycle codes on the bottom. Some, but not all, plastics that are marked with recycle codes 3 or 7 may be made with BPA. 
  • Reduce your use of canned foods. 
  • When possible, opt for glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers, particularly for hot food or liquids. 
  • Use baby bottles that are BPA-free. 
  • Use BPA-free water bottles, or use food-grade stainless steel water bottles. 
  • Refuse receipts when you don't really need one.

Sources:
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
The Mayo Clinic
FDA
Environmental Working Group
Department of Health and Human Services
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weekly simple eco tip, 1.16

Billboard vinyls are a very plentiful material and are useful for so many different purposes (such as creating bike baskets!)



But they can also be used as liners and tarps. One very familiar sight to many south Louisiana residents is that of blue tarps on roofs after hurricanes and other big storms. Billboard vinyls can serve the same purpose. I have a coworker who's used one as a tarp, and picked up one today for the same use. The vinyls are built to be durable and weather-resistant. And they are pretty easy to obtain for a low cost, if not for free! When I looked for material for my bike basket, I called my local outdoor company, Lamar, and asked if there were any discarded vinyls available that I could take. They set up me up with three vinyls and I was on my way. Outdoor companies will always have vinyl to discard, and by donating them to you, it's less for them to ship off to be thrown out.

You can use them for drop cloths or pond liners as well. The possibilities can be endless! What's the most creative use you can think of for a billboard vinyl?


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no more water bottles [link friday, 1.11]

As of January 1, 2013, Concord, MA, became one of the first cities in the country to ban the use of plastic water bottles. 

The effort began three years ago and was lead by Jean Hill, an 82-year old activist, who lobbied neighbors and officials on the consequences of plastic bottles filling landfills and polluting local waters. 'All these discarded bottles are damaging our planet, causing clumps of garbage in the oceans that hurt fish, and are creating more pollution on our streets,' said Hill.



It goes to show you, anyone can make a difference in bettering the environment!
According to Ban the Bottle:
"It takes 17 million barrels of oil per year to make all the plastic water bottles used in the U.S. alone. That's enough oil to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year. In 2007, Americans consumed over 50 billion single serve bottles of water. With a recycling rate of only 23%, over 38 billion bottles end up in landfills."
Makes you think more about going reusable?

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weekly simple eco tip, 1.9

There's one very simple thing you can do that helps regulate the temperature inside your home during both winter and summer, and save money on your electric bill: Hang thermal curtains on your windows.


According to a study conducted by the University of Texas at Austin, insulated drapes reduced heat loss at a single pane window by 56 percent and 48 percent in dual pane windows.

Regular, unlined curtains do reduce heat loss, but not at such a rate of lined, thermal curtains – instead, only about 10 percent. During the summer, thermal curtains work to keep the heat from entering your home through the windows, and during the winter, they work to keep the cold from entering.

And thermal curtains are widely available and can be inexpensive. The above featured curtain is hanging in my bedroom and was purchased at Target for maybe $25. Since my bedroom window has no outside shade to help with temperature and light regulation, the thermal curtain was a must when moving in. The curtain works wonders for keeping out heat, cold and light. And it's luxurious looking!

To add to your energy savings, be sure to keep your curtains closed at critical times. In the summer, make sure they're closed during the hottest part of the day. In winter, make sure they're closed each night.

Inexpensive, simple and money-saving – what's not to love!?
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healthy and earth-friendly eating

Eating healthier is always one of the top new year's resolutions. But surprisingly, eating healthier can also have a more positive impact on the environment.

Almost three years ago, I gave up eating meat (for the most part - I still have moments of weakness though!), and decided to stick to a pescetarian diet. It still includes seafood, because I can't give up boiled crawfish or sushi, and because most seafood around here is locally produced. I still try to keep my diet mostly vegetarian though.

When I first made the switch, I both read Fast Food Nation and watched Food, Inc. They both helped me to learn just why it was a good idea to cut out meat, and have helped me continue the diet over the years, especially when I felt myself feeling less committed. And one of the reasons I wanted to change was from the way the meat industry was negatively impacting the environment. This NPR blog post, A Nation of Meat Eaters, details what resources are needed to produce meat. Scientific American also has an article on how meat production affects the environment:
According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the production, processing and distribution of meat requires huge outlays of pesticides, fertilizer, fuel, feed and water while releasing greenhouse gases, manure and a range of toxic chemicals into our air and water. A lifecycle analysis conducted by EWG that took into account the production and distribution of 20 common agricultural products found that red meat such as beef and lamb is responsible for 10 to 40 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as common vegetables and grains.
But I'm not here to tell you to go vegetarian or pescetarian. That decision goes way beyond the environment. But, giving up meat even one day a week can help cut down on the impact to the environment. Meatless Monday was created as an opportunity to eat less meat, and the challenge is simple: Don't eat meat on Mondays.

But if the environment is what drives you to watch what you eat, there are other things to focus on. One of the best things to do is focus on locally produced food. The benefits are plentiful: If the food is produced near you, then it doesn't require as much refrigeration and transport as farther-imported food, which saves on fuel emissions. And chances are, the food will be more organic–grown/produced without the use of pesticides. You'll also eat what's native to your area. And eating locally benefits your economy. Eating local meat and seafood is great as well–it goes back to before food production became so mass-production oriented, and focuses on the quality.

One of the best ways to eat locally is to visit your nearest farmer's market! So much great produce, and for much cheaper than the grocery store. Some larger farmer's markets even have meat and seafood for sale.

You can also look for any farm-to-table restaurants in your area. They have a concept of using locally produced ingredients in their dishes. In Lafayette, I know of two farm-to table restaurants, Jolie's Louisiana Bistro and Saint Street Inn. While I haven't made it to either of them yet, I look forward to trying both, talking to the owners and reporting about the experience and the food for eco cajun.

And as silly as it sounds, even the idea of cooking food yourself is more eco-friendly than either constantly going through drive-thrus or dining out. If you cook your own food, then you make one trip to the grocery store to get enough ingredients to make meals for a few days at a time. When you visit a restaurant, your fuel consumption goes up, and the return is lower. And when you visit drive-thrus, your car can be idling in line for awhile, spitting emissions into the air the entire time.

So when you think about eating healthier, think about eating food that has a smaller impact on the environment.

Is anyone else hungry now!?
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crazy weather 2012 [link friday, 1.4]

The end of a year always brings about year in review stories, and sometimes they can actually be interesting or worthwhile. One subject I always find interesting is weather in review from a year – learning about weather trends or anomalies over a year. From the study of nature and how it will do what it wants to picking out the trends in weather patterns.

2012 was quite a year for weather events, and The Weather Channel covers a lot of different year recaps for our reading pleasure. 

Let's see how 2013 will stack up!
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weekly simple eco tip, 1.2

So maybe one of your new year's resolutions is to be a little greener. If so, you've come to the right place...and I think you're awesome.

Maybe it seems overwhelming to change your habits all at once. First of all, take it one step at a time. Change one habit, get used to it, then change another.

One way to help you stick to your green habits is to hold yourself accountable. Give yourself something tangible to keep track with.

Ways to do that?

Create a Pinterest board for ideas and tips.

Create a recycling schedule (especially if you don't have curbside pickup!)

Set actual goals, like pledging to fill one kitchen-size trashcan with recycables each week or pledging to make one tank of gas last two days longer.

If you have children, create a reward system for you and them for doing green things. (Practically Green is a great way to get ideas for practices, as well as here, of course.) And then create fun rewards!

By giving yourself actual ways to track your green progress, you'll be much more likely to stick with changing your habits!




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green new year's resolutions

Happy 2013!
New Year's Eve 2011, New York City

Do you make resolutions for the year? Or are you one of those people who think they're unattainable and pointless? Every year I find myself making a few resolutions...some I stick to, others...not as much.

This year I've got a special few resolutions focused on my environmentalism, and this blog.
  • Feature more local businesses and people on the blog, including more visits and photos, and interviews.
  • Get y'all more involved.
  • Grow the whole site to be even bigger and more awesome.
  • Set up an official eco cajun Pinterest board.
  • Try composting!
  • Buy a hybrid vehicle. (Oh, how this is my BIG resolution for the year.)
  • Make my apartment a truly green haven...and write about it.
I want all of you to hold me accountable to these, and hopefully I will see you back here on January 1, 2014, so I can see just how well I did!

What are some of your green new year's resolutions?

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