Be a Scientist in Your Own Backyard

Day 214 – Do you love science? Are you a big fan of nature? Do you want to help preserve and protect the environment? Well, it couldn’t be any easier to get involved in something that includes all these amazing things. Citizen Science Programs provides opportunities for students, teachers and the public to participate in scientific data collection. Some programs require training, while others do not. Some you can do in your own backyard.

There are Citizen Science Programs around the country and the world. This post will include projects that are nation wide, along with others that are focused on ones found in my home state of Illinois. I will also be sharing the ones that require little to no training. The information shared in this post is directly from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count

This program is the longest-running, citizen-science project related to birds.The next Christmas Bird Count Tuesday, December 14, 2021 through Wednesday, January 5, 2022. The Christmas Bird Count occurs December 14 to January 5 every year.  Sign up to receive information and results about all of Audubon’s community science programs through American Birds, our quarterly newsletter by email. 

BeeSpotter

BeeSpotter is a partnership between citizen scientists and the professional science community designed to educate the public about pollinators by engaging them in a data collection effort of importance to the nation. It is a Web-based portal at the University of Illinois for learning about honey bees and bumble bees and for contributing data to a nationwide effort to collect baseline information on the population status of these insects.

Bumble Bee Watch

Bumble Bee Watch is a collaborative effort to track and conserve North America’s bumble bees. This community science project allows for individuals to; Upload photos of bumble bees to start a virtual bumble bee collection; Identify the bumble bees in your photos and have your identifications verified by experts; Help researchers determine the status and conservation needs of bumble bees; Help locate rare or endangered populations of bumble bees; Learn about bumble bees, their ecology, and ongoing conservation efforts; and Connect with other community scientists.

Citizen Science Projects at the Field Museum

Projects include Monarch Community Science Project, Collections Club and Helping to Unlock Biodiversity.

Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network

CoCoRaHS, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, is a unique, non-profit, community-based network of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow). They use low-cost measurement tools, stress training and education and utilize an interactive Web site to provide the highest quality data for natural resource, education and research applications. 

FrogWatch USA

FrogWatch USA™ is a citizen-science program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) that invites individuals and families to learn about wetlands in their communities and help conserve amphibians by reporting data on the calls of local frogs and toads. AZA’s FrogWatch USA™ comprises a national network of skilled coordinators and volunteers who form a community with the goal of providing large-scale, long-term data on frogs and toads in the United States.

Great Backyard Bird Count

Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real time. More than 160,000 people join the four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds.

iNaturalist.org

Every observation can contribute to biodiversity science, from the rarest butterfly to the most common backyard weed. iNaturalist.org shares findings with scientific data repositories to help scientists find and use your data.

Monarch Watch

There are several ways for a classrooms to get involved with Monarch Watch. In addition to rearing monarchs, several ongoing research projects rely on student-scientist partnerships.

Project Squirrel

No matter where you live, city or suburb, from the Midwest to the East Coast, Canada to California, whether squirrels live in your neighborhood or not, you are encouraged to become a squirrel monitor. 

So, whether you’re a stay-at-home parent looking for something to do with the kids, or you’re a teacher looking for a cool project with your students, or a retiree looking for a new hobby, contributing to one of these projects would be very helpful and fulfilling.

To see more projects, check out the IDNR’s Citizen Science Programs, Lincoln Park Zoo and National Geographic.

Tomorrow, determining which is greener, shopping for your groceries on-line or in-person.

Eco-Friendly Flip Flops

Day 213 – I’m not a big fan of flip flops. I prefer my slip on sandals with socks. However, there are plenty of people that love flip flops. So, I thought, before summer ended, I would give a few sustainable options. These are definitely not your dollar store brands. They are high quality, so you can expect to spend more than a few bucks. Prices range from around $20-$50.

Indosole – These are recycled tire flip flops. The outsole is made from tire tread, and the straps are made out of a material called “ENVRO” fiber which uses little water in the process and gives off a leather-like feel. These flip flops do not use any animal by-products, they are cruelty free and does not contain any types of plastic and is also 100% waterproof. Indosole is a B-Corporation.

Original Cork Shop – Their flip flops are 100% cork, from the footbed to the straps, to the flexible and grippy rubber cork sole. Original Cork Shop keeps things local, Fair Trade, and cruelty free. Everything is 100% sourced and made at their base in Portugal, where the majority of the world’s cork trees are located.

Okabashi – Okabashi flip flops are a combination of 25% recycled materials and bio-based soy material that are free from any BPAs, latex, and phthalates. They’re not biodegradable but are fully recyclable via Okabashi’s own US-based recycling program. They are made in Buford, Georgia.

Waves – Waves uses 100% premium-grade natural rubber for their flip flops, making for a cushioned, grippy, and durable shoe. This natural rubber is sourced in Sri Lanka, where it doesn’t need to travel far for manufacturing, because they’re made there, as well. Waves flip flops are handcrafted under a “strict socially responsible manufacturing process” and in exchange for fair wages.

Fipper USA – All Fipper sandals are made from 100% natural Thai rubber, are biodegradable, anti-bacterial, BPA Free and vegan friendly.  

Whatever flip flop brand you choose, be sure the product is earth friendly. There are so many options out there. Going back to a non-recycled plastic pair just doesn’t make any sense.

Tomorrow, you can become a citizen scientist.

Plastic Free Doesn’t Have to Only Last a Month

Day 212 – July has come to an end and so has Plastic Free July. However, it doesn’t mean you have to stop making an effort to remove plastic from your everyday use. All month, I wrote about ways we can replace single-use plastic with reusable options. I wrote about companies using recycled plastic in their products to help minimize the plastic entering our landfills, oceans and waterways. Hopefully, it inspired you to make some changes and to encourage others to do the same.

Plastic Oceans has created a list of 9 things we can do to help end plastic pollution.

Continue to find ways to eliminate single-use plastic from your life. The fight for the health of our planet is far from over. Stay informed and consider receiving updates and newsletters from Plastic Ocean.

Tomorrow, summer’s not over yet, sustainable flip flops.

Reusable Takeout Containers

Day 211 – The number of plastic takeout containers we collect at the monthly Northcenter Neighborhood Association Recycle Popup is significant. When I think about the number of plastic and polystyrene disposable takeout containers used day in and day out, across the city, the state, throughout the country, and around the planet, it makes my head hurt. There is a solution to this problem and people are beginning to take action.

In New York, the restaurant DIG (691 Broadway in Manhattan), has started a program called Canteen. Those who enroll in the program will install a smartphone app, Canteen by Dig, and consent to a fee of $3 a month for the service. In return, they’ll be able to take their lunch with them in a hard-shelled, reusable bowl made from black melamine, complete with a white plastic lid. 

Here’s how it works:

  1. Create your account to start using Canteen by Dig. A membership costs $3 per month and allows you to check out one bowl at a time.
  2. Enter the four digit location code and click “Use Canteen Bowl”. Show the Good to Go screen when you place your order to have it packaged in a Canteen Bowl.
  3. By using Canteen by Dig reusable bowls, you’re saving resources, energy, greenhouse gas emissions and single use trash from landfills.
  4. Return the bowl to a participating Dig location. Find the Canteen Bowl Return sign, Open your app, click on the “Return Your Canteen” and scan the QR code on the sign to check the bowl in. Leave the bowl in the designated return container.
  5. There is no limit to the number of times you can check out and return a Canteen Bowl each month, so reuse often.

Before there was Dig, there was Go Box. Go Box started offering reusable takeout containers at food carts in 2015. The program has expanded to include 110 restaurants and food vendors across Portland, Oregon. Consumers purchase monthly subscriptions, which start at $3.95 per month and show a QR code to participating food vendors to have their to-go orders packed in reusable containers. The used containers are deposited in drop boxes at restaurants and participating partners such as bike shops and banks; Go Box washes and sterilizes the reusable container before restocking with vendors.

Companies like RePlated are making reusable food containers for people who want to enjoy takeout, without feeling bad about waste. The containers are designed and made In Australia from recycled plastic. Each lunchbox saves eight soft drink bottles from landfill. RePlated helps businesses build flexible systems to make single-use plastic containers a thing of the past.

More and more companies are popping up to offer this service and it is one we desperately need. We can only hope that reusable takeout containers are not something we have to seek out, but will be part of our everyday takeout experience.

Tomorrow, a look back on Plastic Free July.

Ending the Need for Single-Use Cups

Day 210 – We have all used our share of disposable cups. Maybe it was at a baseball game, music festival, or backyard barbecue. Easily hundreds of cups tossed in the trash. Now multiply that by the billions of people that live on the planet and that is an insane amount of disposable cups sitting in landfills or floating in our oceans and waterways.

Finding a solution to the small events, like the backyard barbecue, isn’t too difficult. Just three days ago, Day 207, I wrote about Preserve. A company that sells plastic reusable cups that are dishwasher safe. However, what about those huge events and gatherings? That’s where Globelet comes in.

Globelet can be found in New Zealand, Australia and the U.S. Though it appears they are more active in New Zealand and Australia.

Here’s how their reusable system works.

  1. Their reusables are manufactured in New Zealand. They now have a range of cups that are made from 100% recycled bottle caps. Their goal is to switch all of their products to recycled materials.
  2. Globelet reusables get delivered to the venue, where they will be used.
  3. At the venue, the attendees purchase their first beverage in one of Globelet’s reusable cups and pay a deposit for it.
  4. Attendees enjoy their drink in one of Globelets various reusables; cup, stemless vino, bottled water, or coffee cup.
  5. Attendees can return their reusable product to the bars or assigned areas to receive a partial refund. They can also choose to keep it and reuse it.
  6. Globelet reusables get collected post event and head to the Better Future Factory to be washed and recounted.
  7. Reusables go through washing and drying machines designed to dry plastic and reduce water consumption.
  8. Cleaned products are stored or returned to the venue. Any damaged products get recycled.

Globelet has kept over 21 million disposable products from going to landfill and oceans for the last 8 years around New Zealand and Australia. This is a system that can easily work worldwide. However, to be successful, we need to change our behavior and realize that reusables need to replace disposables.

Tomorrow, from cups to takeout containers, continuing the talk on reusables.

Preserve: Reusable Plasticware

Day 207 – It may sound counterproductive to write about plasticware, especially during Plastic Free July. However, Preserve is not your typical plasticware. Preserve has been making products good for people and the planet since 1996.

Here are just a few of the ways Preserve is making a difference:

  1. Preserve’s plastic products are made from 100% recycled plastic.
  2. Preserve’s plastic products are dishwasher safe and made to last.
  3. Preserve’s products are made in the U.S.
  4. Preserve has a line of 100% compostable items that are plant based and gluten free.
  5. Preserve has a take back program called Gimme 5, which collects #5 plastic that they transform into new Preserve products.
  6. Preserve even takes back their own products that reach the end of their life. They then recycle and create new products from those items.
  7. Preserve is a Certified B Corporation.
  8. Preserve makes a line of products made from ocean plastic. Through sales of our POPi products, they support organizations that prevent plastic from reaching the ocean. 25% of proceeds from POPi products are donated to non-profits that work on issues including:
  • Developing better recycling systems around the world.
  • Researching the effects of plastic in the ocean and on marine life.
  • Creating catchment technologies (ways to trap plastic in waterways before it reaches the ocean).
  • Providing better end of life solutions for recovered and recycled packages that were heading for the ocean.

I recently purchased the On the Go Party Set (currently sold out) and couldn’t be happier with the product. The plates, cups and plasticware will be used for countless parties to come.

Tomorrow, fun at the beach is becoming more environmentally friendly.

Watches Made from Ocean Plastic

Day 201 – I haven’t worn a watch in years. My Fitbit used to tell me the time and remind me to get off my but, before it broke. I know many people wear a watch and can’t imagine leaving home without it. So, today’s post is about watches made from plastic pulled from the ocean. In my findings on the subject, I found watches priced under $100 and others over $1,000. For this post I’m just writing about two brands that were under $200. I just can’t imagine paying more for a watch.

The Horse – This Australian company has created a full ocean plastic experience with case and strap made from the recycled material.

“We believe in cleaner oceans, a sustainable lifestyle and in waste as a resource. Twelve months in the making, we have partnered with Swiss eco partner #tide to craft a watch using 100% recycled ocean plastic.” – The Horse

TRIWA – Triwa’s Time for Oceans collection includes field and dive watch styles using cases and straps fully made from upcycled ocean plastic.

“All plastic used in manufacturing these watches is ethically collected from oceans and shores, and, with the help of solar power, properly cleaned and recycled by our official partner, Tide Ocean Material, in Switzerland” – TRIWA

Time is running out to help protect the planet. However, you can help by keeping a sustainable watch brand in mind the next time you’re looking for a new timepiece.

Tomorrow, a company making cleaning the ocean its business.

Zero Waste Makeup Brands

Day 199 – Those who know me, know I am not big on wearing makeup. However, I do have my moments and I know plenty of people that wear makeup quite often. So, I thought today’s post would be helpful.

Here are just a few brands that have gone plastic and waste free.

  1. Elate Cosmetics – All products are Cruelty-free International certified, PETA certified vegan, and gluten free. This Canadian company lies at the heart of the “conscious beauty movement” that prioritizes ethical sourcing of their ingredients.  They offer zero waste beauty products (including compacts, tools, and palates) that are made of or housed in reusable bamboo. These can then be easily refilled with new product that comes in a seed paper pouch. Just refill your palate then wet the pouch and plant it in your garden to grow herbs and wildflowers.
  2. Clean Faced Cosmetics – They are based in Michigan and make custom made-to-order zero waste beauty products that are palm-oil free, vegan, cruelty-free and as organic as possible. Their products come in reusable metal tins, or you can use containers you already have and order a refill packaged in biodegradable cello bags. Currently, all product packaging is either biodegradable or reusable.
  3. Fat and the Moon – All products are hand-made fresh to order using “plants that are abundant, ethically harvested and organically cultivated and combine them in formulations that are radically non-toxic”. All ingredients are cruelty-free and ethically sourced, every single product comes in reusable tins and all are shipped without extra unneeded packaging. Fat and the Moon is a women owned and run business. They also support various charities and causes in their community.
  4. River Organics – Their makeups are formulated using only organic oils and butters, like Cacao butter, Mango seed butter, Macadamia Nut oil, and Coconut oil. Everything is vegan, cruelty-free, and palm-oil free, and of course packed in compostable cardboard tubes. Based in North Carolina, husband and wife duo Corinne and Fabian handcraft every single one of their products. 
  5. Nudi Goods – Nudi uses only natural and non-toxic ingredients that are cruelty-free and palm-oil free. They prefer to support smaller suppliers that still adhere to organic practices but maybe just can’t afford to pay for the official certification.

A few others you may want to check out include; RMS, Zao and Ilia and Principle Beauty.

Not only will these brands make you feel and look good, but they will help the planet feel and look good, too!

Tomorrow, a very popular doll is getting a makeover.

REPREVE: Recycling over 26 billion plastic bottles and counting

Day 198 – I first mentioned REPREVE back on Day 24, when I wrote about purchasing a new couch from Love Sac. The upholstery fabric is made from 100% REPREVE certified recycled yarns.

Unifi makes REPREVE and this is how they do it:

  1. Source Recycled Waste: Recycled plastic bottles and post-industrial waste (including our own) are collected worldwide.
  2. Make the Chip: Waste material is chopped, ground, washed, melted and reformulated into high-quality REPREVE chip.
  3. Form the Fiber: Chip is melted into liquid polymer and extruded through tiny openings in a spinneret, creating continuous filaments that form REPREVE fiber.
  4. Process the Yarn: Fiber becomes yarn through spinning and air-jet texturing.
  5. Ship to Customers: Finished yarn goes into fabricsmaking everyday products more sustainable.

Unifi created U TRUST® verification to certify the recycled content in products made with REPREVE. With their unique FiberPrint® tracer technology, they can test partner products at any point in the supply chain to verify that REPREVE is being used properly. They’re not just finding new life for recycled materials. Compared to making what’s called virgin fiber, making REPREVE offsets using new petroleum, emitting fewer greenhouse gases and conserving water and energy in the process.

Some of the brands you know and love use REPREVE to make products you use every day. If you see this bottle count badge when you shop, your purchase makes a difference. Look for it!

Many familiar brands are using REPREVE; Gap, The North Face, Under Armour, Aeropostale and Levi Strauss & Co., to name just a few. You can find a list of brands using REPREVE in their products, HERE.

Billions of plastic bottles go into landfills every year. Thankfully, companies like Unifi has come up with a solution to divert a great deal of plastic from landfills and waterways. However, it doesn’t stop there. We need to do our part to limit, if not, stop all together, the use of single-use plastic. REPREVE is not the answer to the plastic pollution problem, it is just a piece to the puzzle.

Tomorrow, plastic free makeup.

Jenga Ocean: Bringing sustainability to game night

Day 197 – I look forward to the day that an announcement by a company to use recycled material in their product isn’t big news. I look forward to the day when it becomes the norm and not the exception to provide customers with more sustainable products.

The folks at Jenga and Bureo have teamed together to produce Ocean Jenga made from 100% recycled fishing nets. Bureo is a company that takes discarded fishing nets, collected from coastal communities in South America, cleans and separates the material, and takes that material to be shredded and melted into NetPlus® recycled pellets. The pellets are formed into quality products, built for a lifetime of use with end of life solutions.

Ocean Jenga is the first board game made from recycled fishing nets. Each game is made from over 25 square feet of nets. The game features threatened marine animal block designs. Players of Ocean Jenga® are encouraged to ‘Save the Animals’ through special edition rules.  Learning about the damaging impact of discarded fishing nets, which account for 10% of plastic pollution in the ocean, players will gain an understanding of how discarded nets are harming marine animals, and learn about what they can do to help. 

Hand drawn and inspired by the sea, the artwork behind Jenga Ocean is the work of Lake Buckley – a surfer, designer, artist, and explorer. All packaging is 100% recycled and recyclable. 

“Robert Grebler, founder of Jenga and world record holder, approached Bureo at the 2015 Ocean Film Festival with an idea to incorporate Bureo’s recycled materials into one of the most well known ‘board games’ in the world. Appropriately named ‘Mr. Jenga’ by the Bureo team, Robert and his business partner Paul Eveloff are behind the game that is now enjoyed in over 80 million households. We are thankful for their support in helping to keep our ocean’s clean, with each game helping to prevent over 1 kg of discarded fishing nets from entering the ocean.” – Bureo

You can purchase Ocean Jenga HERE!

Tomorrow, a company making plastic pollution their #1 priority.