Monthly Archives: March 2017

Is green living even possible with a baby in the house?

It’s a good question. Right?

One I asked myself before we had our baby and one I am still thinking about. Hardcore environmentalists actually argue that having a baby is so bad for the environment that none of us should have any. Articles promoting not having kids have circulated the green community for a while, been enthusiastically shared and, of course, I see their point; an average American’s carbon footprint exceeds 20 tonnes each year so don’t add another one. That number is calculated with today’s consumption behavior and technology – it can most certainly decrease as these improve.

So, a baby is bad for the environment. But what if he’s the new Elon Musk or Bernie Sanders? What if he invents the best carbon trapping technology ever, one that solves our climate issues forever? Yes, this is how we (and other green parents) are justifying our actions.

On that note meet baby August, our little love bug, who turns two months today.

img_0337
One month old August!

Now, despite the carbon footprint of a new (western) life – Is it possible to make mindful, eco-friendly, low carbon choices to soften the blow? All amidst intense emotions, new routines and a strange little person to keep alive?

For us, yes and no. We’re trying our best. Let me start by confessing some of our less successful undertakings.

Failure # 1: Trash, trash, trash

I will admit that there was not much cooking going on during the first month of baby’s life. Yes, we ate pre-made food, ordered take out (some of it packaged in Styrofoam!) and lived off of Cliff energy bars. We even had Starbucks (twice!) in their disposable cups. Honestly, I think we created more waste in that first month than we had in the previous six! I felt bad about it, but at the same time I knew it wasn’t a big deal to live like most Americans do all year, since it would be for a very short time. Either way, a green living fail.

Failure # 2: Baby gifts

Baby August has been spoiled with gifts from neighbors and colleagues, people we know but aren’t aware of our lifestyle, thus these gifts have included quite a few sweatshop-made, Asian imports. We took a few things back but kept many of them as they were usable (and we didn’t have gift receipts). Our close friends and family have been super thoughtful and only given us baby gear made in USA, second hand items, handmade crafts or brought us food. I’d say we’ve managed to stay as minimalist as one can hope, having a new baby and being surrounded by kind, generous people who want to congratulate us (and how lucky are we that people feel that way!). All in all, I wouldn’t call it a complete failure, despite some “Made in China” tags sneaking into our home.

Now on to the greener side if things.

Success story # 1: Baby’s food

Going back to the topic of food; we have continued to shop local, vegan, bulk and organic to the same extent we were before, and we have kept up with the compost. August is eating (or should I say “drinking”?) the most eco-friendly, zero waste and natural food possible: mama’s milk! I am thankful that after some practice, baby and I got the hang of breastfeeding. Green living win (and all around nutritiously awesome!)

Success story # 2: Cloth diapers

Though trash was initially piling up in the kitchen, we were (and are) mastering almost zero waste in the bathroom! I was determined to cloth diaper the baby from the very beginning and I am happy to say we started doing so after only one week. We were sent home from the hospital with a packet of Huggies newborn diapers, but about five days in, both my husband and I were ready to switch to cloth – Huggies don’t hold shit (literally) and that gets tired very fast. I definitely have to do a blog post on cloth diapers, the environment and our routine when I have more experience with it! I will tell you now that it is not hard to do if you own a washer and dryer. Cloth diapers and wipes: another green living win.

Now that we’ve settled in and things are becoming less chaotic, we’re back to old habits of me cooking (from scratch) and the gifts have stopped coming (phew!).

My conclusion is that living green with a brand new baby can certainly be done with a little help and superman/woman type motivation. We needed about five weeks before we could get back to being “green” and each week it gets easier to maintain healthy, eco-friendly, low carbon habits. That said, no matter how much we try, August cannot produce zero carbon, just like we, you and I, are contributing to climate change every day.

I am sure there’ll be more eco-compromises as we go along, finding ourselves in new and unexpected “we have a kid” situations! But, I am ok with that, as long as I feel we are doing our very best – for us, the baby and the environment.

What do you know about methane? (A quick intro and what YOU can do)

A couple of weeks ago in reference to our compost bin, I told you that 20% of human methane emissions come from waste decomposition. I know, I know, you have probably been thinking a lot about that, maybe even stayed awake at night, and wondered, what about the other 80%?

Wonder no more. Here’s the breakdown.

Methane's impact on climate change

Why is methane an important greenhouse gas?

Methane (CH4) is the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted from human activities. In 2014, it accounted for about 11 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere is much shorter than carbon dioxide (CO2), but it is much more efficient at trapping radiation than CO2 is. Pound for pound, the comparative impact of methane on climate change is more than 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period.

The government has an important role to play in reducing our methane emissions, especially when it comes to the fossil fuel piece of the pie (42%). The majority of these emissions are leakages from fracking and processing of oil and natural gas. Fracking is a nasty technology, and no one has exact numbers on how much methane is released every year, as the fossil fuel companies conveniently hide that information from the authorities. Remember the Aliso Canyon leak in California last year? It spewed enough methane into the atmosphere to equal the greenhouse gases emitted by more than 440,000 cars in a year. Scary stuff.

Driving an electrical vehicle, reducing plastic consumption and installing solar panels are actions consumers can take to help reduce emissions from fossil fuel.

Speaking of consumers, I don’t think I need to tell you how to reduce the methane emissions (30%) from ruminants, do I?

Ruminants are the farm animals who eat and digest grass (called enteric fermentation), mainly cows raised for beef or dairy, but also buffalo, sheep and goats. So hey, just to be clear; CUT BACK your consumption. Choose chicken over beef if you insist on meat and replace dairy with plant-based options. (Cattle also contributes large amounts of CO2, through transports, processing and the clearing of forests to make room for more livestock.)

The easiest way to reduce methane emissions from landfill (20%), is to lower your total trash production! Yes, we humans produce trash like never before. Start a compost and stop using one time use items. Like what? Like plastic bags, straws, cutlery, paper plates, napkins, disposable diapers, Starbucks cups, wrapping paper. You know, all the things you only use ONCE but last in landfills forever.

In the “other” piece of the pie we find all the natural sources of methane (6%). Wetlands are the biggest emitter, but also volcanoes, wildfires and sediment play a part. Our wonderful planet is designed for handling the gases from these sources, and we don’t have to do anything about them. Phew!

I read somewhere that a reduction of global emissions by just 22 Million tons per year would result in stabilization of methane concentrations in the atmosphere. I don’t know if that’s still true (the article was several years old), however, such a reduction represents just about 5% of total methane emissions; a small reduction which should be more than doable. The problem is, with the world’s hunger for beef, corrupt governments who favor fossil fuel, and cheap coal becoming available to burn in areas of the developing world (hoping they won’t use it!), we could easily be moving the trend in the opposite (wrong) direction.

Finally, we should all be aware that this beef-loving, fracking-addicted nation, plays a HUGE part in the world’s total methane emissions. There are no exact numbers but it’s estimated that up to 60% of all methane emissions are because of the USA’s activities alone.

It’s HERE that change must take place.

At least we, you and I, can do our part. If we all take small measures to reduce our impact, a significant reduction will be in the bag.

My new iPhone case was Carved in wood – right here (in Indiana)

Let’s talk cellphone cases!

Just because our phones are manufactured by underpaid factory workers (who can never afford to own the phones they make) and imported from China doesn’t mean our cases have to be. Right?

I finally had to admit that my iPhone 5 was on its last term this winter and accept an upgrade from my employer. My phone had been sleeping spontaneously from time to time and I kept running out of storage space, even though I am very good with transferring and deleting pictures. A good thing at least, from an environmental standpoint, is that I skipped the iPhone 6 all together and went straight to the 7. Every phone upgrade takes a toll on the environment you know (mined raw materials, electronic waste, import fuels, sweatshop labor).

Now back to talking cases! Made in USA is a must; eco-friendly a need. Neither myself nor hubby wanted to have one of those full-on-plastic-armor style cases (which are possible to find US-made) but were looking for something more slim and chic.

We found Carved.

Carved phone case packaging
Super cool, eco-friendly packaging

All Carved cases are handmade in Indiana by talented craftsmen and women. Reclaimed woods (like old skateboards!) or already fallen trees become the most beautiful, unique, wood cellphone cases. 

A cool detail is that they’re using a clear epoxy around the wood inlay, which shows off the color of the iPhone underneath. Since I finally have the rose gold, I was delighted that I didn’t have to cover that up.

I went for the Mount Bierstadt style ($39); it reminds me of some of our trips to America’s national parks and its colors go well with my phone, while hubs went for a sleek and classic walnut back ($24) for his matte black cellphone.

Carved phone case
Love this handmade in USA case! Mount Bierstadt design by Carved.com

Our cases were made by Carved upon order (no wasteful stock!) and shipped to us for free in 100% plastic-free packaging. Yay.

Any complaints from this eco-friendly, not made in China shopper? None! Both me and my husband love the cases we picked. (He dropped his phone on the pavement already with no damage to it, just a small, internal crack line in the case’s epoxy liner. I dropped mine last week (maneuvering the baby!) and it survived without any damage.)

It may be a bit early, but isn’t this the perfect Father’s Day (or Mother’s Day) gift? Very reasonably priced ($24 and up), made right here and both a “nice to have” and “need to have” item. You can make it even more personal by ordering a custom carve that you design yourself (using their handy online program) or you can upload your own logo or picture to have your cover be totally one of a kind. You aren’t getting that at the Apple Store, are ya?

Check them out or you’re missing out ;)

Rocking a compost (when your thumbs don’t know green!)

We’re finally composting!

Anyone who knows me, knows that my thumbs are a color not even remotely related to green. Just ask my mom if I’ve ever watered her plants correctly or ask my dad if I did a “great job” mowing the lawn, summer of 2000. That’s why I am so excited and proud to be rocking my backyard compost!

I decided that a proper compost was the next thing we needed to implement in our daily routine in order to handle our family’s waste better and living a greener life. Reading zero waste blogs, by people who are like experts in the matter, inspired me so much to get this done!

For the longest time we’ve been all about reusables, recycling, bulk buying and BYO bags so my husband and I hardly ever took out the trash (I’m also an expert at turning leftovers into new meals). We were also letting living in Houston hold us back – so humid, so many possums we feared – would a compost work? But it was just us being lazy, dragging our feet, and making excuses! Fall 2016 – we got down to business.

Here it is. My soil factory!

Made in USA Envirocycle tumbler composter
Made in USA Envirocycle composter

What do we compost?

A compost should consist of about 75% green material and 25% brown. The green is ALL the food scraps and grass (except meat and bones if we ever have that) and the brown is the paper towels, toilet rolls and dry leaves. I don’t pay too much attention to my compost “mix” at the moment. I am just filling it with kitchen scraps and watching it all decompose. If your compost seems “wet” you need to add more browns.

Why do we compost?

It’s important to compost because even the “natural” waste we throw in our kitchen bins cannot decompose in a landfill. All bio products need oxygen (air) to do so, and if none present, which is the case in landfills, all you’ll have is trash build up (that’ll last forever) causing methane emissions. Even if you use bio-degradable bags, food scraps will NEVER become soil in a landfill. About 20% of human methane (powerful greenhouse gas) emissions in USA come from waste decomposition!

The CO2 created in a compost is negligible in comparison and is part of a natural system of turning food into soil. After you’ve had a compost for a while, you end up with fertile, rich soil you can sprinkle in your yard or use to plant flowers or veggies. (Or even sell to hobby-gardeners who don’t compost themselves!)

How do we compost?

I am lazy. I need pre-made comfort. So, we use two tumbler type compost bins from Envirocycle. These little guys come pre-assembled, in a box, so the effort is minimal (hurray!). I got them online and yes, off course they’re made in the USA!

The Envirocycle compost is rust-protected, BPA free, and comes with a five-year warranty. Most importantly the design is small, modern-looking, possum free and easy to use, even for a garden disaster like me. We fill one up (for about 2-3 months), rotate the drum every 3-4 days, and then watch the trash turn to black soil, while we fill up the other. It came as a total surprise to me how fast the smell inside the tumbler goes from “trash” to the smell of the rich dirt I remember from playing outside in my childhood. Black gold. Thumbs up.

We also collect compost tea in the bottom of the compost, which we use as fertilizer for indoor plants. The large tumbler is $229 and the small is $169.(We bought the small one first to try the system, then added a second one when I figured out how I wanted to do it. The larger tumbler does roll a lot better than the small one does. Read more at Envirocycle.com.)

Inside, we use an air-tight Tupperware for collecting the greens and a large open bowl for the browns. We decided to just use containers we already had at home. Every few days, or up to a week sometimes, I empty them outside in the compost.

There are lots of ways to rock an eco-friendly compost bin and reduce kitchen waste; anything from fancy indoor compost systems like the Zera Food Recycler to classic outside worm bins. Search online, check zero waste blogs, and I am sure you’ll find a system that works for your family too.

If we can do it – you can do it!