Go Green!

  Today, I was lucky enough to attend an event organized by Go Green Wilmette, a local organization that works to promote sustainability in our community situated next to Lake Michigan. I was expecting a few companies and organizations environmentally inclined to have a few pamphlets and explain the great work that they do from day to day. I was happily astonished to be greeted by multiple (very large) rooms filled with hundreds of people eager to show others what they do to protect our big blue marble, as well as ways that locals can get involved and make conscious lifestyle choices that will benefit and promote the health of the environment, both locally and on a larger scale.

Living so close to Lake Michigan has molded all of our lives to think about what’s best for our great lake, and how to keep its waters pristine and clean, as the health of the lake is vital to both our happiness and our wellbeing. A few organizations at the event were focused on how to protect the lake, while others focused on how our proximity to the nation’s third largest city gives us an opportunity to cause change. Some of the tables and conversations at the event focused on city planning, researching alternative ways to make the city of Chicago more “green”. Others demonstrated the proper way to recycle, the potential of solar panels, and how to make environmentally friendly cleaning supplies at home. These discussions are important, they get the gears turning, help everyone think about how they can make a difference.

Exhibitions like these bring people together to consider their personal impact on their community, in all aspects, and what they might be able to do to better their waterways, their beaches, their forest preserves. Actions we take here in the midwest have national and even global impacts; it’s a small world, go green!

Food Waste

Here is a followup to my “reducing waste” article from some time ago!

This past semester, I fully cooked for myself for the first time. I planned my dinners for the week, picked out what I wanted at the grocery store, ate the leftovers when I cooked way too much, and eventually tossed the leftover-leftovers that were beyond their time.

Throughout this adjustment to cooking and eating for one, I have realized how much food I accidentally waste. As just one person, I cannot eat all of the servings included in packages sold, and inevitably end up with some moldy leftovers forgotten in the back of the fridge (great topic for a science project). 

Another source of food waste comes from food that doesn’t even make it to the supermarket. A good portion of food grown is left in the field, deemed unworthy of sale. There are now organizations, such as Imperfect Produce, that advocate for “misshapen” and “ugly” produce, and have made a market out of the unwanted fruits and veggies that are typically left to rot in the field.  

How many of you have a compost bin? How about a recycling bin? How many of you sort your trash? As it turns out, decomposing food is its own source of pollution. As food biodegrades, it releases methane, a major greenhouse gas. 

So, first and foremost, try to reduce your food waste. This saves money, if you’re buying just what you need, and eating what you buy. In addition, decreasing food waste saves the resources that went into food production and transportation. If you do end up with inedible leftovers, try to find a compost service nearby, or start a compost bin of your own. Compost turns into excellent fertilizer! 

Of course, composting is not feasible to everyone, everywhere. But it is important to keep in mind the negatives of food waste, and be conscious of how much you buy, and how much you waste. Happy eating! 

 

Beach

Beach: noun; “a pebbly or sandy shore, especially by the ocean between high- and low-water marks”

Yes, I live in the midwest. Yes, I have a sailboat. Oh, where do I sail that boat, you ask? The beach, of course (where else?!). Yes, again, I live nowhere near the ocean, and yes, still, I go to the beach (where I spend my days sailing).

Some say that my beach is not a beach; how can you live by the beach if it’s a lake? Isn’t it weird that the water doesn’t taste salty? What do you mean you can’t see the other side, aren’t lakes small and full of algae? Are you sure you can sail on it? Oh, there’s sand…?

*key words found in definition: “especially”… Lake Michigan is still a shore, some parts pebbly, others sandy, and there are definitely water marks.

Anyone else want to debate whether or not I live near the beach? Lake Michigan is a lake, but the freshwater waves are (just about) as powerful and beautiful as any ocean I’ve ever visited. And, we don’t have to worry about sharks or jellyfish! You can even surf Lake Michigan, although you have to be within a designated surf area. Lake Michigan has fondly been dubbed the “Third Coast”, because that’s what it is, the in-between of the East and the West coasts, a third opportunity for water related thrill, a welcoming invitation for water fanatics to come and play in its luxuriously fresh waters. Welcome to my beach!

The Problem with Frigid Cold Spells

Aside from the obvious problem of cold spells, with temperatures far below zero gracing the frigid envelope of winter, another problem is that some people think that this is cause to disbelieve in “global warming”.

“Climate Change” is the more common term, now, as well as the more accurate one. As proven by these polar vortexes, weather events are becoming more extreme, with temperatures hotter in some places and colder in others, torrential downpours and massive freak waves becoming the new normal.

Quick clarification: weather and climate are not the same. Weather is made up of the day to day temperature forecasts and rain showers, etc. Climate is the description used to identify weather patterns, and usually focuses on a region, rather than a specific city or town. When we talk about climate change, we are looking at changes in weather patterns over years, whereas the weather from yesterday could be drastically different from tomorrow’s weather, but likely would not be classified as climate change.

Even places like Chicago and towns in Minnesota that are accustomed to cold winters are dealing with record-breaking low temperatures. One might just say that it is a particularly cold winter, that maybe we should open the Farmer’s Almanac, it’s a freak cold spell… but climate change by definition is long-term changes to weather patterns. Climate change means that over the next decade, several decades, a century, weather events that were once considered “freak” will become more common.

Already, the status of our atmosphere is causing change down on ground-level, and past habits resulting in pollution will cause change regardless of what we do going forward. But, if we want our beaches to stay beautiful, our forests green and full, if we want to keep our lovely Earth to be healthy and clean, we need to be forward-thinking, rather than imposing the problem of climate change onto the future. So grab your warmest coat, biggest umbrella, and don’t blow away!

What to do with everything you find in your basement from yesteryear…..

What better way to start a new year than with an organized basement?! I spent the morning of yesterday’s dreary, Chicago winter day in the basement with my family, cleaning out shelves and bins, and attempting to put some order into the room we call “The Unfinished Part (of the basement)”. The room that houses our treadmill, the laundry, the classic creepy crawlspace, as well as crafts that have been accumulating for the past 15 years.

Included in this array of crafts were Perler beads (the kind you iron and pull off of the shape), buckets of plastic beads, sewing kits that had been opened once and put back on the shelf, all the necessary supplies for rainbow looms and friendship bracelets. Most of this had a fine layer of dust covering the surface, indicating that the fad for exchanging rubber bands had passed several years ago.

What do we do with all these leftover toys? 

The parts and kits that are still in good condition will be donated. Someone, I’m sure, will be very, very happy to learn how to sew a felt frog. But the rest, we ended up throwing out. We had outgrown the crafts, and they were just taking up valuable space on our shelves. Much of these materials are non-recyclable, some of which were popular before recycling labels were standard. Who knows, maybe half of it could have been recycled? But the little bits of fabric I used to weave to make pot-holders, and the bracelet string that is cut too short to use for anything useful, these little leftovers of fun afternoons are now going to pollute our planet.

Despite everything we did end up throwing out or giving away, we have kept and saved timeless wooden toys, legos that will be rebuilt and reused, dolls and their clothing that can be passed down and shared, and countless other childhood pastimes.

All this leads me to mention that perhaps the toy industry could use some reconfiguring, or at least a little thought into the high-turnover, high (potential) waste that is characteristic of the sector. Many toys are played with for a bit of time, or a craft is done once or twice, and then something new comes out and the old one is discarded. Instead of always buying the latest and greatest, perhaps we would be better off to just make do with what we have until we’re certain this toy or craft is something we want, and will be used to the end of its useful life. So, think before you buy 🙂

Eco-Friendly Practices During the Holidays

I love Christmastime as much as the next person. Just because I’m an environmentalist does not mean I don’t love a beautifully wrapped gift! The holidays are a beautiful, fun, and festive time of year, and they also have the potential to wreak havoc on our trash and recycling systems. 

Here are a few ways you can be a bit more environmentally conscious over the holiday season: 

  • Reuse boxes and ribbon. Use old shipping boxes to send gifts to relatives, and collect and save boxes in which you received gifts to give back to others. 
  • When mailing gifts, you can use paper grocery bags as wrapping for shipping. Just cut the bag so that you can wrap it around the package, and tape it up!
  • Put holiday lights on timers so that they don’t use excess electricity. 
  • Take broken light strands to a recycling facility (some towns may have centers for collection), rather then tossing them into the garbage.
  • Take (tinsel free!) Christmas trees to be cut up for wood chips, rather than just leaving it out to be thrown in a  landfill. 
  • Try to avoid glitter! It’s everywhere, and so fun and pretty, but terrible for the environment. It gets all over everything, including waterways, and doesn’t go away.
  • Consider gifting experiences rather than things. You could give a ticket to a show, a gift card to a favorite restaurant, make a donation to a charity in the giftee’s name.
  • Make gifts meaningful, rather than bunches of excess trinkets. 
  • Choose sustainable objects, such as organic cotton and other natural, renewable materials, when picking out clothing or other items. 
  • Decorate with natural materials, too! You can use live garland to garnish a pillar, or pile pinecones in a nice dish. I love to poke cloves into small oranges- a nice decoration, and smells lovely and festive! 
  • As a gift to yourself, change your lightbulbs to be energy efficient. Not only does it save energy, it will save you money! 
  • Shop locally and bring your own bag – this reduces the number of boxes used in shipping and decreases emissions from transportation, as well as supporting local businesses. 
  • If you wrap, reuse and recycle wrapping paper. Any wrapping paper with a matte finish is recyclable! If you can’t recycle it, use it for cards- gift tags, thank you notes, holiday greeting cards.

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Zero-Waste: What’s the Hype?

With all the recent reports on climate change, viral videos of sea animals trapped in plastic pollution, and a recognized awareness of the changes we need to make to keep our planet happy and healthy, the term “zero-waste” has become more prevalent. Plastic pollution reaches far beyond the plastic straw issue; plastic pollution is represented by all plastic, single-use and reusable, that makes its way from its place of consumption to an obtrusive place in nature. It’s the plastic water bottles, the food containers, the microplastic contamination, as well as non-plastic items, that clog our waterways and pollute our highways.

Zero-waste isn’t about stopping consumption, or completely cutting your waste production- that’s impractical, and and we would make no progress if we told everyone, “okay, no waste for you this month!”. Living a zero-waste, or waste-aware, lifestyle is about making a conscious effort to use reusable shopping bags, to buy fruit that’s not wrapped in plastic, to use glass containers to store food, to use your own to-go cup for your daily coffee. It’s about being aware of the products you use and consume, and to do your best at reducing the byproducts of consumption.

I have a few questions myself about the issue- is it acceptable to bring your own utensils when eating out, in order to avoid the plastic utensils given by the restaurant? What about paper napkins, could you bring a cloth napkin instead? These actions may cause an uncomfortable situation in a restaurant, but they could also spark discussion for the operation of the restaurant, maybe they should be offering reusable utensils or napkins. There’s also the big C word: Convenience. Isn’t it easier to buy an already peeled pomegranate than having to dissect the fruit to harvest the seeds yourself? The scope and reality of waste-aware living is still a bit ambiguous, but it’s the thought that turns into action that will lead to a change of habit.

Yes, we can clean up our oceans, our streams, our fields, but we need to stop waste at its source. By consciously choosing items that don’t have packaging, or reusing the glass jar from last night’s pasta sauce to store leftovers, by thinking before acting, progress can be made. I implore you to simply Googlezero-waste“, and learn a bit more about some habits that can be changed for the better, and consider how you can make a difference.

PS- Food waste. Did you know that about 1/5 of food is left in the field during harvest because it is misshapen, or not labeled as “good enough” to eat? Food waste is an immense and expansive issue, and will be featured in it’s own blog post to come!

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Learn from the sea, respect the sea, love the sea! The oceans have so much to offer, so much beauty is found beneath the water’s surface. I also need to see the sea, it’s been too long! 

 

Mountain “Tidal” Pools

I love the ocean. I also love the mountains. Upon first glance, mountains and oceans really don’t have much in common. And, actually, they are kind of opposites. Mountains reach far into the sky whereas the ocean hides its depths down to the sea floor. By this virtue, mountains have been explored and climbed, most peaks reached at one time or another. On the other hand, there is still so much of the ocean that we may never know; the vastness of the oceans offers mystery and history, the majority of which is beyond human exploration’s reaches.

As opposite as they are, the mountains and the ocean share at least one similarity, and that is the diversity of life they support. Growing up, I spent hours exploring tide pools, jumping from rock to rock on the Atlantic Coast, exploring the treasures of the tide. The little pools of seawater were filled with creatures and plants, keeping my curious mind occupied as the tides slowly came in and then receded again. These microcosms came to  mind again not at the beach, but when I was 7,500 feet above sea level in the Alps.

Between my recent time spent in the Swiss Alps and foothills of the Black Forest (as well as studying the biodiversity of the region), I have learned that on and under just one rock, there can be multiple species of mosses, tons of different lichens, various “cushion plants”, and several types of grasses. When examining one specific rock for an assignment, a classmate of mine (also an avid ocean lover) compared it to a tide pool. Yes, one is underwater and the other is found where the air is thin, but they share the same basic principles that come along with a microhabitat. At first glance, it’s just a little water, or it’s just a rock, but looker further, notice the beautiful details of the space filled with life, and so much to discover.