Reducing Food Waste

Day 289 – Today is World Food Day! It’s a good time to think about ways in which we can try to reduce food waste. The folks at FoodPrint has created an A to Z list for ways we can reduce our food waste.

  1. Avoid over buying & skip buying perishable items in bulk. It’s not a bargain if you don’t eat it all.
  2. B is for blanching. Partially cook vegetables before freezing to help retain their texture & flavor.
  3. C is for composting food scraps. Get all the info to start a compost bin in our primer.
  4. Don’t throw it away! Edible food is often thrown away due to confusion about expiration dates and/or unjustified fear of spoilage. Learn what date labels mean.
  5. E is for ends. Don’t overlook the end of your carrot tops (which can be given to dogs as treats) or apple cores (use them to make vinegar).
  6. F is for freezing. Learn the best methods for freezing a bumper crop of produce to enjoy those flavors all year long.
  7. Give extra homegrown fruit & produce to friends, family and coworkers. Or find a local food pantry through AmpleHarvest.org to give it to those most in need.
  8. H is for storing herbs properly and using them before they turn to mush in the fridge.
  9. I is for infusion. The stems, peels and extras of ingredients with aromatic flavor — herbs, fruits, vegetables — can be used to create infusions, tinctures and extracts.
  10. J is for jamming. Cooking fruit or vegetables down into jam is a good way to preserve items at their peak.
  11. K is for keeping food fresh. Store food properly and it will last much longer.
  12. L is for loving your leftovers. Take the doggy bag from restaurants; turn them into new dishes at home.
  13. M is for meal planning. Go food shopping with a plan so you don’t purchase more than you need.
  14. N is for using the non-edible parts. Banana peels can be rubbed on bug bites to take the itch away; eggshells and dried-out corn cobs can be used as pot scrubbers.
  15. O is for using leftover oils & fats. Store properly and strain after use, and you can use oil and other cooking fats several times before disposing.
  16. P is for pesto. Use leftover leaves, stems, herbs, greens, carrot fronds or beet greens to make pesto.
  17. Q is for quick pickles! With refrigerator pickles, make a simple brine, pour it over extra veggies and extend the life of your food for another few weeks.
  18. Reduce the plastic in your kitchen. Swap beeswax wrap & cloth towels for plastic wrap; use glass containers instead of plastic ones.
  19. Shop small. Avoid big monthly shopping trips and only buy ingredients for a few days.
  20. Think like a chef! Before you toss out old, stale or wilted ingredients, give them another look. Chefs turn these items into vinegars, sauces & more.
  21. Use every part. Seed, stem, leaf, frond, greens, roots — they can all be used in many different ways.
  22. Vow to keep food scraps out of the garbage. Be mindful of what you are putting into the waste stream.
  23. W is for water waste. Save water when cooking and washing up, and purchase items that have a lower water footprint.
  24. X-amine your waste. Look at your current habits & make note of what you can do better.
  25. Yesterday’s leftovers are today’s lunch. Make a dish brand new by adding fresh herbs or your fridge’s best condiments.
  26. Zest your citrus! Don’t waste this flavorful part of the fruit. If you don’t need it now, freeze it to use later in baking, syrups and marinades.

Reducing your food waste is as easy as ABC.

Tomorrow, the plastic hanger problem.

What is Greywater?

Day 287 – Greywater is water that has already been used, but can be filtered and recycled for a secondary use. Greywater typically comes from a shower, washing machine, or bathroom sink. Although plentiful in residential settings, commercial buildings have thousands of gallons a day that come from these sources.

Greywater is safe to use in select applications. Greywater is not the same as black water, which contains urine and fecal matter. Greywater also does not include any kind decomposed food. All of these can carry harmful bacteria.

The most common use of greywater in a commercial building setting is to flush toilets. Another common use is to collect greywater and use it to irrigate the surrounding landscaping. Further, greywater can be reused in the building’s cooling systems.

There are many benefits of using greywater. Using greywater for other purposes throughout a commercial building can reduce the draw on city water by nearly 75%. Greywater can help save money and reduce energy costs. Not only is less energy used to pump the water throughout the building, but energy bills are also reduced when greywater is used to help cool the building.

Greywater Action wants to more people utilize greywater and help reduce their water use.

Greywater Action are a collaborative of educators who teach residents and tradespeople about affordable and simple household water systems that dramatically reduce water use and foster sustainable cultures of water. Through hands-on workshops and presentations, we’ve led thousands of people through greywater system design and construction, and work with policymakers and water districts to develop codes and incentives for greywater, rainwater harvesting, and composting toilets.” – Greywater Action 

Any method that helps reduce our water use is good for the environment.

Tomorrow, celebrating fungus.

Breaking Down the Truth About Plastic

Day 286 – Charlie Rolsky is a plastic pollution researcher, finishing up his PhD at Arizona State University, and he serves as the Director of Science for Plastic Oceans. Charlie and Plastic Oceans International has created a video series to help educate us all on the plastic pollution problem.

The videos are short and to the point. They cover topics like:

  1. The Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle)
  2. Burning Plastic: The Pros and Cons
  3. Plastic in Our Food…and Bodies
  4. Recycling
  5. Biodegradable Plastics: Working with What We’ve Got

Plastic Oceans International offers many resources to help you better understand the plastic pollution crisis.

The first step in fighting this war on plastic is to educate ourselves on the root of the problem. If we can not see that we all need to change our relationship with plastic, we will never be part of the solution.

Tomorrow, recycling water in office buildings.

Breaking Down Illinois’ Equitable Climate Bill

Day 281 – Back in September, Illinois passed Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (SB2408). It is a nation-leading law to fight climate change, create good-paying jobs, improve the health of Illinoisans, and support disadvantaged communities. I didn’t know exactly what the new legislation involved, so I thought what better way to learn about than to write about it.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) summarized the key components.

  1. Slash climate-changing carbon pollution by phasing out fossil fuels in the power sector. Require Illinois to achieve a 100% zero-emissions power sector by 2045, with significant emissions reductions before then. Illinois will be the first Midwest state to require a carbon-free power sector, joining California, Hawaii, New Mexico, New York, Virginia, and Washington.
  2. Grow renewable energy generation more than five-fold. Invest $580 million a year to generate 40% of Illinois’ energy from wind and solar by 2030 and 50% by 2040.
  3. Extend cost-saving energy efficiency programs. Save people hundreds of millions of dollars on their electric bills each year. Expand requirements for energy efficiency investments in low-income households.
  4. Expand economic opportunities for disadvantaged communities and people of color.  Invest $115 million per year to create job training hubs and create career pipelines for the people who need them most, incubate and grow small clean energy businesses in disadvantaged communities, and more.
  5. Clean up Illinois’ transportation sector. Creating planning processes for beneficial electrification, and providing rebates for electric vehicles and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. 
  6. Support communities and workers impacted by the transition away from fossil fuels. Invest up to $40 million per year to replace lost property taxes, and support economic development and job training.
  7. Move towards cleaner buildings. Creating a statewide stretch building code and including building electrification measures that reduce fossil fuel use in buildings as part of energy efficiency programs.
  8. Provide limited support for nuclear plants. Provides payments to economically struggling Illinois nuclear plants totaling about $700 million over five years. 
  9. Hold utilities accountable with stronger ethics rules and reforms. Plan our electric grid in a more transparent, equitable way and help prepare the grid for electric vehicles and clean, efficient all-electric buildings.
  10. Create good-paying clean energy jobs across Illinois showing that economic growth and a healthier environment go hand-in-hand. This bill will grow all sectors of the clean energy and the jobs that come with them, and requires family-sustaining wages and benefits for most clean energy jobs in Illinois, encouraging union jobs while also ensuring that small businesses in disadvantaged communities can get a foothold.

The climate crisis is upon us and real meaningful changes need to happen now. This is a good step forward, but Illinois and states around the country need to do more to help heal our damaged planet.

Tomorrow, compostable snack bags.

The 10 Most Environmentally Friendly & Sustainable Companies

Day 280 – The mission of Grow Ensemble is to make sustainability and better-for-the-world business practices the norm for both individuals and businesses. They spread awareness of social and environmental issues we face, highlighting the companies and organizations providing solutions to these issues, and inviting the community to engage with these solutions daily. They exist to encourage all of us to take actions every day to ensure a life of dignity for all people, protect the planet that sustains us, and support those who make sustainable living possible. They are also a member of 1% for the Planet.

Grow Ensemble has come out with the list of the 10 Most Environmentally Friendly and Sustainable Companies. However, before we get to the list, lets look at what make a company environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Here’s how Grow Ensemble defines an environmentally friendly company:

For companies that we consider eco-friendly, sustainability is central every step of the way: from transparent and ethical sourcing of raw materials, to environmentally-friendly practices in manufacturing, to packaging and shipping, to diverting landfill waste at the end of their product’s life.

Eco-friendly companies go beyond their products in their fight against climate change. They each continue the fight in their own unique way as well. They take action to preserve the planet through environmental policy advocacy, promoting environmental awareness and local participation in conservation efforts,  partnering with other movements and organizations and more!” – Grow Ensemble

Many of the companies listed have been highlighted in previous posts.

  1. Patagonia – Outdoor clothing company
  2. Seventh Generation – The paper, personal care, and cleaning product company
  3. A Good Company – Everyday products
  4. New Belgium Brewing – Craft Brewery
  5. Pela – Phone cases
  6. Dr. Bronner’s -Organic soaps and personal care products
  7. Preserve – toothbrushes, razors, plastic tableware and more
  8. Numi Organic Tea – Organic tea
  9. Rogue Creamery – Organic cheeses
  10. West Paw – Pet toys

Finding an environmentally friendly company is becoming easier and easier. However, don’t fall for companies with false claims of being “green” and sustainable. Make sure you do a little homework. A great place to start, when finding companies that are putting the planet before profits is the B-Corporation directory.

Vote with your dollars!

Tomorrow, making sense of the recent Illinois’ environmental legislation.

Energy Efficiency Day

Day 279 – It’s Energy Efficiency Day! So, it’s the perfect time to look at how your using energy and to figure out ways to reduce your use. The folks at EnergyEfficiencyDay.org have created a list of 10 tips to reduce your energy waste at home and work.

  1. Make the switch to LED – LEDs are a great example of how innovation and technology can make your life easier. They last at least 25 times longer and consume up to 90 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs. Tip: By switching five of your home’s most frequently used bulbs with ENERGY STAR® certified LEDs, it’s possible to save $75 on energy costs annually.  
  2. Seal Those Leaks – On average, heating and cooling account for almost half of a home’s energy consumption. In fact, all the little leaks can be equivalent to leaving open a 3-foot-by-3-foot window. Tip: Take simple steps like caulking windows, sealing leaks around chimneys and recessed lighting, and sliding draft guards under your doors to save up to 20% on heating costs.
  3. Heat and Cool Efficiently – Don’t waste money heating or cooling an empty home. Install a programmable thermostat and in colder weather schedule your home’s heat to lower when you are away or asleep, and increase when you are returning home or waking-up. In warm weather, schedule the thermostat to raise the temperature when you are away or asleep, and lower it at other times. Tip: Follow the U.S. Department of Energy recommended temperatures and be energy-efficient all year.  
  4. Maintain Your HVAC System – Make sure to clean or change your furnace filters regularly. A dirty furnace filter will slow down air flow, making the system work harder to keep you warm (or cool) and costing you more money. Tip: Consider getting a winter tune-up. Just as a tune-up for your car can improve your gas mileage, a semi-annual or yearly tune-up of your heating and cooling system can be vital to improve efficiency, saving you money and making your home more comfortable.  
  5. Look for the ENERGY STAR® Label – ENERGY STAR® labeled windows can cut heating costs by as much as 30% compared to single-pane windows, while increasing indoor comfort and lessening fading of home furnishings. Tip: If you are undertaking a major home remodel or new build, consider installing ENERGY STAR® qualified HVAC equipment and appliances.
  6. Turn the Electronics Off – That sounds easy, but too often we forget and leave electronics plugged in that are not in use. Tip: Turn off unnecessary/idle lights, appliances and electronics. A power strip can help turn off multiple items at once. (Sometimes the simplest things are really effective!)  
  7. Winter Tip: Invite the Sun In – It feels like the sun abandons us during the winter, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it during the shorter days. Tip: Open curtains/shade on your west-and south-facing windows during the day to allow sunlight to naturally heat your home, and save 2%-12%.  
  8. Summer Tip: Close Blinds and Shades – This tip is easy to forget, but vital: excess sunlight will make it harder to keep your home cool and comfortable. Tip: During the day, keep your blinds and shades closed to prevent warm air from building up in your home.  
  9. Clean Your Clothing Efficiently – That’s an easy one. A washing machine spends 90% of its energy to heat water. Tip: Consider using cold water instead. In addition, try to run full loads as much as possible, because the machine uses roughly the same amount of energy regardless of the load size. Also, consider air-drying.
  10. Clean Up Your Dishes Efficiently– If there’s one thing that has the power to unite people, it’s food. And with food comes dishes to clean. Fear not – there really is a more efficient way to use your dishwasher. Tip: Avoid the “rinse hold” cycle and skip heated drying – simply open the door at the end of the washing cycle and let the dishes air dry!

Reducing your energy waste not only helps the planet, but it also helps your wallet.

Tomorrow, transparency is important.

A Collaboration Between Art and Sustainability

Day 278 – There is a new exhibit at the Hyde Park Art Center that is addressing the waste problem and stressing the importance of a circular economy. The Future Fossils: SUM exhibit was created by Chicago artist, Lan Tuazon.

“Tuazon presents her sculptures alongside new work by Sungho Bae, Rachel Kaching Tang, Ruth Levy, Michelle Nordmeyer, Kate Poulos, and Anirudh Singh, who use rematerialization techniques in their art-making process. Partners in this exhibition are two companies in sustainable solutions:  Biomason and WaterBrick, International. Their products demonstrate leading innovations with BioLITH, bacteria-cultivated tiles and WaterBrick, container-bricks that need never enter the waste stream. Beyond presenting a design model for environmentally conscious homes, Tuazon’s installation is a test site for material recovery and invention. Exactly how much of the waste we produce can be reabsorbed into the built environment? Building future needs with materials that have a past is the intention here; however, minimizing harm to the living world begins with refusing a throwaway society.” – Hyde Park Art Center

Lan Tuazon helps us take a closer look at our relationship with waste and helps us understand that even when we throw something away, it is not truly gone. Most of the time, those same items stay with us for lifetimes to come.

The exhibit runs through November 13th.

Tomorrow, celebrating Energy Efficiency Day.

The Extinction Crisis is Growing Worldwide

Day 276 – They were on the endangered species list. Sadly, they have not been seen in the wild in a long time. It’s feared they are now extinct as a result of habitat destruction and climate change.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has officially proposed to take 23 plants and animals off the endangered species list and declare them extinct. Before this recent announcement, eleven species had been removed from the list as a result of extinction, in the past 50 years.

In an article written by Katharine Gammon for The Guardian, she writes about the current extinction crisis.

According to the UN, 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history. Declining habitat, climate change and pollution are all factors in the increasing number of extinctions.

The species on the list, now officially extinct, include 10 types of bats and birds found only on islands in the Pacific, as well as eight types of freshwater mussels from riverbeds across the eastern US.

One of the final members of the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō bird died in 1987. He lived his last days in captivity, singing a mating song to a female that would never come. His song was recorded for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.”

There’s still a chance that these plants and animals may not make the list of extinct species. The public has 60 days to comment. Many believe that the fight for these species is not over and people need to continue protecting their habitats. As John Fitzpatrick, a Cornell University bird biologist said, ““little is gained and much is lost” with an extinction declaration.

Tomorrow, hoping a little incentive will encourage people to recycle.

Junk Mail: Everyone’s Nemesis

Day 275 – It never seems to stop. Day after day, filling our mailboxes or stuffed in our mail slots. I think we can all agree that junk mail is pretty annoying. However, it’s also not good for the planet.  More than 4 million tons of junk mail are produced annually, and over 50 percent of it ends up in landfills. Junk mail kills roughly 2.6 million trees every year, and every U.S. household gets an average of 6 pieces of unsolicited mail every day.

Is there any way to reduce the delivery of junk mail?

Here are a couple options:

  • OptOutPreScreen is the official Consumer Credit Reporting Industry website to accept and process requests from consumers to Opt-In or Opt-Out of firm offers of credit or insurance.
  • DMAChoice is a tool developed by the Direct Marketing Association that can tailor what hits your mailbox, so that you can get the things you want, and stop getting the things you don’t.

So, during this Junk Mail Awareness Week (the first week of October) try to reduce your junk mail and in turn help the planet. And always remember to recycle the junk mail that does get through.

Tomorrow, the list of extinct species grows longer.

The Impact of Being a Vegetarian for a Day

Day 274 World Vegetarian Day was founded in 1977 by the North American Vegetarian Society (NAVS). October 1st is the annual kick-off of Vegetarian Awareness Month. Even if you have no desire to become a vegetarian, you can still use this day and the coming month to work toward reducing your meat consumption and increase your produce intake.

The North American Vegetarian Society created a list of reasons why you might want to become a vegetarian.

  • Reduce the risk of major killers such as heart disease, stroke and cancer while cutting exposure to food borne pathogens
  • Provide a viable answer to feeding the world’s hungry through more efficient use of grains and other crops
  • Save animals from suffering in factory-farm conditions and from the pain and suffering of slaughter
  • Conserve vital but limited freshwater, fertile topsoil and other precious resources
  • Preserve irreplaceable ecosystems such as rainforests and other wildlife habitats
  • Decrease greenhouse gases that are accelerating global warming
  • Mitigate the ever-expanding environmental pollution of animal agriculture

So, to celebrate World Vegetarian Day consider skipping the cheeseburger or pork chop and grab an eggplant or potato.

Tomorrow, ditching the junk mail.