weekly eco-cajun tip, 10.31

Around your office, you probably go through a lot of toner cartridges. And you might throw them out when it's time to replace them - but you don't have to!

Many major toner supply companies offer a return recycling program, including Xerox and Brother. Offer to head up a toner recycling program! Request that all empty cartridges go to you, and use the supplied materials in the box, then ship them back to the manufacturers! Shipping is usually provided by the companies.

Or, you can have a part in helping two groups out at once. Many elementary, middle and high schools will accept empty toner cartridges, as they can raise money from the collection and recycling of the cartridges. Find a school near you, or if you're still near, find out if your alma mater collects the cartridges. For the past few years, I've made semi-regular trips to my high school to donate boxes of empty toner cartridges. In fact, there's a box at my desk that's been waiting most of this year to be donated for recycling and fundraising.

Recycling toner cartridges really can cost you nothing but a few extra minutes sometimes. And can earn you a few warm fuzzies inside, because recycling just feels good!


sustainable sports

We're getting into the swing of football season, and no matter how your team is doing so far (coughSAINTS), there's one thing that everyone can cheer for: the NFL greening its act.

The National Resources Defense Council is one of the NFL's green advisors and has set up a wonderful site detailing the different ways the NFL is greening its games, stadiums and other operations. You can learn what the NFL is doing from energy, water, waste, paper, concessions, chemicals, travel, buildings, suppliers and in their own front office.The Green Sports Alliance also works with many football teams on their environmentalism efforts.

The Philadelphia Eagles and their Lincoln Financial Field are leading the league in green measures taken. With the assistance of NRDC, the Eagles launched their program in 2003, and became one of the first teams take steps to reduce their environmental impact. In 2010, they announced that Lincoln Financial Field will be the first professional stadium in the country capable of generating 100 percent of its own electricity onsite, with the installation of about 2,500 solar panels, 80 20-foot-high wind turbines and a generator that runs on natural gas and biodiesel. Through energy, water and waste reduction efforts, the Eagles have saved over $3 million since 2005. $3 million!

At the beginning of the 2012 season, the MetLife Stadium welcomed fans with a new ring of solar panels and colorful LEDs on its roof. The panels generate 350,000 kilowatt hours, and power left over after making the LEDs work is put back into running the rest of the stadium.

The New England Patriots have also installed solar panels for Gillette Stadium that will generate about 600,000 kilowatt-hours of renewable energy.

The Arizona Cardinals offset 100 percent of energy used on game days at their stadium throughout the season.

The Detroit Lions used 300,000 pounds of recycled rubber tires, 20 million pounds of recycled steel in the ceiling and 10 million pounds in the concrete frame when they constructed their new stadium, Ford Field, between 1999 and 2002. They also recycled part of an unused warehouse. It is designed to save approximately 15 percent on energy costs. 

Many teams and stadiums are also working to reduce the amount of waste put out on game days, including the St. Louis Rams.

Among other practices, the Houston Texans released the NFL’s first interactive media guide in 2009. The guides are housed on USB drives instead of printed books, and the switch allowed the Texans to save an estimated 2,600,000 pages.

And the NFL works to green each Super Bowl game. The environmental program has five main initiatives: solid waste management, material reuse, food recovery, sports equipment and book donations and greenhouse gas reduction. It's great that the NFL makes sure even extra food goes to soup kitchens, shelters and other local organizations instead of being thrown out. 

So when you're watching your team this weekend, whether from home, a gathering or the stadium, remember that your teams are doing their part, and you can easily do yours. Reduce your waste and conserve your energy!


wasteless denim [link friday, 10.26]

You might be thinking that recycled-material products are a nice idea, but that they may look just a little too recycled for your tastes.

But some items may surprise you, because it won't be obvious what they used to be in a former life.

These jeans are made from plastic bottles. 

Yep, you read that right. Levi's has created and announced their new Waste

But don't worry, it won't feel like you are wearing recycled plastic. I have both a t-shirt and umbrella partially made of recycled plastic bottles, and neither remotely feel like plastic.

So, would you wear clothing made of those water bottles you recycled this week? (Because I know you recycled them instead of throwing them away!)

weekly simple eco tip, 10.24

You've probably heard of vampire power before. Maybe you don't know exactly what it is, or what it means for you.

Vampire power is the energy that runs through items that are plugged in, but not actually doing anything. Your TV that's turned off, your DVR box, your phone charger in the socket but not plugged into your phone - they are all drawing energy, and costing you money. According to Energy Star, the average US household can spend about $100 a year from electronics in standby mode.

Image: Gajitz

If you don't think you could be spending that much, take a look around your house and review what's plugged in. Here's a handy tip: Anything with a screen, or a digital display, draws vampire power. Your clock, microwave, DVD players, etc. PCWorld has a great list of common household items that draw vampire power.

Now, some things need to be kept plugged in and drawing power, and that's fine. Although I don't have shmancy cable, I know how you people like to record your shows, and that's a little impossible if the box is unplugged. But, you can have your TV unplugged and still get your shows recorded. I also need the clock on my microwave to always be correct, mostly so it can tell me how late I'm running in the morning.

But for any nonessential electronics, get a surge protector and flip the switch any time you don't need what's plugged in, and cut the vampire power from seeping through the cables.

And by all means, unplug phone, iPod and camera chargers when the devices are fully charged or disconnected. They're a smaller source of vampire power, but it still adds up. When chargers are only plugged in while in use, the energy used is more efficient and streamlined.

Reducing extra energy is an easy way to conserve and save money throughout the year. Unplug!



Halloween is not exactly associated as being eco-friendly. Between buying a costume that will be used most likely once and buying a bunch of individually wrapped candy, it can be downright wasteful. At least I know you are already recycling that pumpkin instead of throwing it out!

But there are some things you can do to be a little less wasteful this around time next week.

Now, if you're anything like me, you have zero idea what to dress up as this year. However, I'm not one to start planning costumes out in August, so most of my costumes end up being green in some way, because I just don't feel like going out and spending money on an outfit.

True stories. One year, I dressed as Miss Teen South Carolina and brought out an old prom dress and plastic tiara. All I had to buy was a party store sash and black paint (so the sash could read THE IRAQ, obviously.) Another year, I went as the Griswold house, involving a red t-shirt and a random battery-operated strand of Christmas lights I owned. And in my piece de resistance (aka, another craft idea I didn't execute as well as I imagined, I went as Tinkerbell's treehugging sister. I spent the better part of two weeks crafting the weekly junk mail into a skirt and top and covered a princess wand from an old Halloween costume with newspaper. It was a great idea and cost nothing, and I managed to put it on...and then wondered how I would sit down for the rest of the evening. That was probably the most effort I have ever put into a costume.

Image: The VertBlog

So, um, anyway, green costume ideas. Look around your house and your closet and see what you've already got. I tend to go to the pop culture world for ideas, because it's easy to scrounge something up from what you already own. The Daily Green and Inhabitat have some green costume ideas, but I really can't say I would do any of them. The VertBlog has great tips on how to come up with an eco-friendly costume. You can always look around for regular costume ideas, then figure out how to recreate it with things you already have.

Image: TimesUnion

What about the candy? There's simply no way you can avoid individually wrapped candy if you actually want to give candy out at all. And you probably don't want to be That Person who gives out pencils or erasers or seed packets. It's great, and it's more eco-friendly, and healthy, but let's face it. Kids don't want that on Halloween. You could look for organic or fair-trade candy, as suggested by Forbes, but you may either have trouble finding it at your grocery store, or not want to pay extra for candy being given out to children who won't know the difference. So think simply. Look for candy in the least amount of packaging possible. Think about those fun size packs of Starburst. You get two individually wrapped Starbursts inside another wrapper. Three things to waste for one treat. Or you've got all that candy wrapped in cellophane plastic. Definitely not recyclable. Go for something wrapped only once (think, pieces of Hershey chocolate, or other kinds of chocolate candy), in something a little better than plastic. It's kind of just one of those "less bad" situations, rather than "good".

As you take the children out to trick or treat, you could reuse a plastic bag to hold their candy, or you could forego plastic and use a cloth bag or a basket you already own.

If you're looking to make eco-friendly Halloween decorations, FaveCrafts has a list of 10 ideas. And for all kinds of resources, there's a whole organization dedicated to a Green Halloween.

So give it a little thought, and you'll be able to find a way you can make your Halloween a little more earth-friendly!

governmental [link friday, 10.19]

While a lot of the things I write about here at eco cajun and most of the steps I take to be greener are on an individual level, it helps to stay informed of what's happening at the governmental level.

Perusing the sites occasionally can help you learn what each department handles and focuses on, or you can subscribe for updates from each if you are particularly interested.
Hope you all have a wonderful and green weekend! See you back here next week.

weekly simple eco tip, 10.17

I've written before about how to reduce your junk mail, but as always, there will be some that makes its way to you. And that junk mail should very easily make its way to your recycling bin.

But, you should still be careful with what you put in your recycling bin. So this week's tip is part of me looking out for your safety (because I love you all!)

Be sure to rip off your mailing address before you recycle junk mail.

I started doing this with my own recycling, because of the nature of our recycling company. Since I live in an apartment and don't get recycling pickup, I take my haul to the dump myself. The dropoff location is basically a u-shape of recycling bins, and the materials are always overflowing, so it's basically a free-for-all. Lots of opportunity for a mailing address to be floating around. Maybe your recycling dump is the same way; maybe it's not. But it can't hurt to take a small step to protect yourself while doing good for the planet.



multitasking pumpkins

Pumpkins are one of my favorite fall items – from their color to their shape to simply them being the icon for my favorite season. Each year I pick up a few small pumpkins and pie pumpkins to use as decoration at my desk and my home.

And chances are, you also get a pumpkin or two each year. They're wonderful natural decorations that can serve many purposes – and be waste-free!

If you've got a pumpkin you're leaving whole as a decoration, or carving as a jack-o-lantern...don't just get throw it out after Halloween! These are some great ways to use all of that pumpkin.

One of the most popular uses is roasting the seeds. They make a delicious snack or salad or soup topping. AllRecipes has a great basic roasted pumpkin seed recipe, and Serious Eats has a great spicy roasted pumpkin seed recipe. However, you can season them with just about anything and they'll taste good. I have used crushed red pepper and Greek seasoning before, and it was heavenly. The pie pumpkins (like the one pictured above left) can produce a good amount of seeds for roasting. After roasting, I recommend storing them in a vacuum-seal glass container for longer shelf life.


So, what about the rest of the pumpkin? Try making your own pumpkin puree! It's cheaper and healthier than buying the canned version. The Daily Green has a simple recipe on how to make your own puree. You know what else, besides cooking or baking, you could use that puree for? Pumpkin cocktails. I'll stop for a moment and let that sink in.

Or, you could use the hollowed-out pumpkin as a bowl for your pumpkin soup, or as a cute serving dish if you'd like to serve roasted seeds at a gathering. It's like a bread bowl, but more seasonal.

And what if you're one of those (strange) people who doesn't like pumpkin? Have no fear! Well...you might, because your option would be to compost your pumpkin. I'll tell a quick, fun story about composted pumpkins. First of all, I don't compost because I live in an apartment and I've yet to figure out what I would DO with compost. But anyway, a few Halloweens ago, I bought a pumpkin for my patio. Halloween came and went, Thanksgiving came and went, CHRISTMAS came and went. I'm sorry, sometimes I'm lazy. And I didn't know what to do with the pumpkin because I didn't want to throw it away. Well, early January, I finally moved the pumpkin because I needed somewhere to put my Christmas tree. And that pumpkin...had practically composted itself. It was disgusting I managed to throw it in a trashbag and in the dumpster and let's never speak of this again, okay?

Now you really have no excuse to throw that pumpkin out and make Charlie Brown mad.

And I have a great excuse to have an overwhelmingly orange post. Happy October and Autumn everyone!

staying informed [link friday 10.12]

I love constantly learning about what's going on in the green world, and one of the easiest ways to do so is by keeping my RSS feed full of great news sites and blogs.

There are so many out there, and any kind of search will help narrow it down, but here are a few examples.

New York Times Green

Click around, do some searching and keep yourself up-to-date on environmental news and other features!

weekly simple eco tip, 10.10

I can be known to peruse Pinterest from time to time, and recently I saw a pin for mason jar salads. I love the idea, and I love salad, so I thought about how I could make them for my own lunches, but I had one problem. I don't have any mason jars. And I did not particularly want to buy mason jars just to put salad in them.

 Image: The Kitchn

But then I noticed a comment that made the CFL lightbulb go off in my head.

Use recycled pasta sauce or pickle jars as food containers!

I almost regretted not thinking of the solution myself. Pasta is my go-to easy dinner, and I always end up putting the jars in the recycling bin. But why not just clean and store them for reuse? I know a good amount of the ones I use would be a great size to put salad in for lunch.

But even if you aren't a "salad in a pasta sauce jar" kind of person, you can still use the jars for storing leftovers. Throw that leftover pasta and sauce back in the jar and into the fridge. (Okay, maybe not actually throw it in the fridge, but you get the point...) Or use them to hold snacks, since the glass is clear. Or you could be wonderfully Southern and use them as drinkware.

These jars are begging to be reused multiple times. Who are you to do deny them of a recycled life?

interview! giving back by going greener

I'm a little excited, y'all. This is my first eco cajun interview! I hope to do more in the future with other local companies about their green efforts and innovations.

I talked to the Director of Sustainability for Lamar, a major regional outdoor company about their new efforts on installing solar panels on their billboard structures. I'd noticed over the past few months that the panels were being installed, and it intrigued me, since many can see the outdoor advertising industry as not being green, between the amount of vinyl used on a regular basis (even though it's fun to repurpose!) or the energy drawn from the digital billboards.

Through my talks, I learned that the solar panels are not being installed to power the nighttime illumination on the billbards, but rather to put energy back into the city-wide grid. In a sense, Lamar is utilizing their structures to harness solar power in order to feed back into the grid for consumers to benefit from.

So, without further ado, let's get to the questions!

When did Lamar begin implementing the solar panels?
We began this project in 2009 in Florida, and 2011 in Louisiana. When everything is completed, we will have about 2000 billboards equipped with solar in these two states with a total installed capacity of 1.7 megawatts. This is the largest distributed solar network anywhere in the world.    
How does the solar panel system work?
The solar panels generate DC power from energy generated by semiconductors within the panel. This DC power is sent to an inverter, which converts it into 240-volt AC power, which then feeds back directly to the electrical grid after passing through a net meter, which records both power consumed and power generated.  
What would be the biggest deterrent to getting the solar panels in place?
As with most capital projects, the biggest barrier to entry would be cost. In Louisiana, however, there are substantial financial incentives which make solar very, very accessable to almost anyone. The panels themselves, as well as all the componentry, is readily available and there is a very competitive marketplace for these products. All reputable products are highly tested and suitable for decades of trouble-free performance, so there is very little risk associated with solar energy.

How much energy do you estimate is harnessed from the solar panels within a city (Lafayette for example)?
That's very hard to say. In this part of Louisiana, one can expect to generate about 115 kilowatt hours of energy per month back to the grid for every kilowatt of installed capacity. So, for instance, a 10kW system will, over the course of the year, produce about 1150 kilowatt hours of energy per month, or enough to largely power a 2500 square-foot house.
How much would you estimate that saves in energy costs? And how does that trickle down to the residents of Lafayette?
Again, this is a difficult question to answer, but I can tell you that in terms of "trickle down", the benefit of solar and other renewable energy sources is very tangible. As more and more solar is installed in Louisiana, at some point that will equate to one or more conventional (gas or coal-fired) power plants not having to be built. This reduction in utility company capital cost represents expenses that will not be passed along to the consumer, to say nothing of the fresh water that will not have to be used for cooling and steam, or the carbon emissions that will not be produced by burning coal or natural gas. Effective solar and renewable energy is all about making small incremental reductions in the electrical load. Costs of solar panels have gotten to the point that they are accessible to almost anyone.          
Do you plan to expand the solar panel system, or will city ordinances/push back prevent that?
City ordinances are definitely an impediment to growth of solar panel systems. There is always a fear of the unknown, and most utilities and municipalities are legitimately very protective of the engineering standards and the power grid they have worked so hard and at such great expense to establish. The goal of solar and other renewables is not to take the place of the grid, but rather, to take some of the load off the grid during hours of peak consumption, and give homeowners and businesses a way to offset some of their energy use, much the same as they would be installing energy efficient windows or better insulation.
Do you think vinyl billboards or digital billboards are greener?
Well, during the day digital billboards certainly use more power than vinyl billboards, but this is offset by the reduced number of trips the installation crews have to make to change out the vinyl and for maintenance, and of course production of the vinyl itself, so in terms of overall carbon footprint, the gap may not be as wide as most people think. And although digitals do consume lots of power during the day, we power them down to about 5% of total output at night to eliminate any distraction, so they are actually very efficient at nighttime. Of course there are manifest advantages to digital from customer and public safety perspectives, since content can be changed so quickly, giving a more reactive customer experience, and the ability to post public service messages such as Amber Alerts and emergency traffic warnings in real time as been a huge benefit to law enforcement and public safety.

Thanks to Greg for taking the time to answer my questions! I hope this is the beginning of even more green initiatives by major companies. (And I hope they keep letting me have used vinyl for all my grand ideas!)


eco tourism [link friday, 10.5]

Eco tourism is a growing popular vacation option for many people. It's focused on visiting natural areas and features, but doing so in a way that's less harmful to the environment. It can educate the traveler, provide funds for ecological conservation, directly benefit the economic development and political empowerment of local communities, or foster respect for different cultures and for human rights.

Louisiana is a state with many beautiful natural areas, and as such, is becoming a place for eco tourism destinations.

And there are many resources for getting more information on eco tourism in Louisiana.

  • UL Lafayette's Center for Culture and Eco Tourism website allows you to search by attraction, interest or parish.
  • Visit Louisiana Coast has a section devoted to eco tourism.
  • Louisiana Travel features links to different eco tourism programs around the state. (Just search for eco tourism!)
  • Pearl River Eco-Tours has information on a good ol' Cajun swamp tour.
  • WWL, out of New Orleans, posted an article about eco tourism in Louisiana this past April.
  • And BnBscape has information for you to look up eco-friendly and green lodging for your travels.
  • Lastly, St. Landry Parish Tourism recently completed a green tourism center. It's located in Opelousas and features a water cistern, wind turbine and photovoltaic panels. Building materials were salvaged during construction to reuse for the creation of an art exhibit and functional pieces.

Even if you don't live in Louisiana, I encourage you to look up eco tourism options in your area next time you're looking for a short getaway or a new adventure. You'll be surprised at what you can find!

weekly simple eco tip, 10.3

Happy Wednesday!

This week's simple eco tip will help you with your fuel efficiency and general car upkeep.

Keep your tires properly inflated. 

Photo: How Stuff Works

That's it!

According to The Daily Green, more than one-quarter of vehicles are driving on deflated tires. The average under-inflation of 7.5 pounds causes a loss of 2.8% in fuel efficiency. Keeping your tires inflated to the suggested pressure saves 6 cents per gallon. It may not seem like much, but it adds up. Plus, it just helps keep your car in better shape, and you'll notice a better ride. BF Goodrich has instructions on their website on how to check your tire pressure. They say you should consult the recommended PSI found on a sticker inside your driver's side door or in your owner’s manual, instead of the PSI listed on the tire itself. 

Grab those quarters, get thee to a gas station and pat yourself on the back for taking steps in making your vehicle more fuel-efficient.


Recycled Billboard Crafts, Attempt One

When I got a bicycle a few weeks ago, I set out to find an eco-friendly or recycled materials basket for it. After not having found anything online, I started brainstorming ways to make my own basket, and the thought of using billboard vinyls kept sticking with me.

I have some contacts at the local outdoor advertising company, so I called them and asked if I might be able to take some billboards that were being thrown out. They said absolutely, and I went over to visit the warehouse and pick a few vinyls. I ended up with two smaller vinyls and a larger posterflex. After picking up a few construction supplies, I began working out how to make a basket and cupholder.

Cupholder concept #1.
It was an interesting process, making these things over the past two weeks. One thing I will admit about myself is that I have trouble actually executing the ideas that come to me. And I'm impatient. But I tried to be thorough and slow with these projects to make sure they would be somewhat usable. I did end up going with a second idea for a cupholder, and modified the basket design a few times.

My goal was to have both completed for this past Saturday, the day of Mickey Shunick's memorial celebration. I met that goal, even though I decided the cupholder wasn't good enough to be used. And I modified the basket one last time right before departing - giving it a way to close at the top instead of remaining open.

The basket did well on its first ride. It held everything it needed to, and it kept all the contents safe from the dreary, rainy afternoon. It left me with a lot of ideas on how to make a better version in the future, and I'll take my time working on that better version.

I learned through this process that billboard materials are fairly easy to work with. It's not difficult to cut, it sticks to Gorilla Glue (oh, the Gorilla Glue...), and it's a great all-weather material. Because of its purpose, vinyl is made to weather wind, sun and rain - and stay durable. What better material to make bike accessories with?

I began the basket with a square piece of vinyl and figured out how to fold it to make a cube shape. I then marked the fold lines and made cuts so I would be able to redo it another evening.

The initial basket shape, held together with incredibly official clamps. Hey, I reused as much as I could for this project!

Once I was satisfied with the shape, I glued all the panels together and kept the structure with two large books inside.

I decided to make the basket look more polished by adding a trim to the top, using the actual trim of the billboard, so the top fold was already well-creased.

One of my biggest challenges was figuring out how to attach the basket to my bike. Important, right? I ended up deciding to try industrial velcro, which I was able to get by the foot at a local hardware store (score a few points for shopping local!) instead of having to buy all 15 feet in the box.

Cupholder concept #2 with its velcro strap. This concept mostly needs a way to stay upright instead of just dangling from the handlebar. But check out my color matching skills to the basket!

My bike and basket at the conclusion of Mickey's ghost bike memorial. During the memorial, native butterflies were released, and this beautiful one landed on my basket. I think it's a fitting dedication to Mickey herself and her legacy, and a nice little way to inaugurate the basket for Shunick the Schwin.

I'm incredibly inspired to continue making things with the vinyls, and only in part because I still have a metric ton of it lying around my apartment. The ideas are endless; the ability to execute them, less so. But I won't let that stop me!
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