Packaging Made from Mushrooms

Day 288 – It’s National Mushroom Day! So, it was the perfect day to discuss how mushrooms are now being used to make packaging for products. Back in 2020, IKEA announced that they would be replacing styrofoam with mushroom-based packaging.

IKEA recognizes the damage to the planet that polystyrene causes, mostly because it takes hundreds (if not thousands) of years to decompose in landfill. By contrast, plant-based packaging can break down in a matter of weeks. Developed by product design company Ecovative Design, the mycelium-based material is called Mushroom Packaging, or MycoComposite.” – IKEA

So, for those of you that are not big fans of the fungus, mushrooms are the future to sustainable packaging.

Here are some interesting facts about mushrooms:

  1. There is a 2400-year-old giant “honey mushroom” in Oregon, covering 2200 acres, slowly killing off the trees in the forest. It is the largest living organism on the planet. 
  2. Portabello mushrooms, button mushrooms, and white mushrooms are all the same mushrooms at different levels of maturity.
  3. Mushrooms are more closely related to humans than to plants.
  4. The most expensive single food ingredient sold was a 3.3lb white truffle, a subterranean mushroom that sold for $330,000.
  5. There is a mushroom that dissolves itself. It is edible, but it must be cooked or eaten within hours of picking.

Tomorrow, celebrating World Food Day.

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.

Are Detergent Pods Good for the Environment?

Day 284 – I used to use Cascade detergent pods in my dishwasher. I stopped using them because of the plastic container they were packaged in. I didn’t even consider the plastic that is found in the pod itself.

PVA (polyvinly alcohol) is used to coat dishwasher pods. It’s also found in laundry detergent pods, as well. Plastic Ocean International looked into PVA covered pods a little further.

“Once PVA goes down the drain, the chances of it biodegrading are very low. It requires strict conditions for it to be broken down via microorganisms that are not always present in wastewater treatment plants or in the environment. We also looked at how many pods were used to try to establish how much PVA goes untreated, every year, in the United States. We’re talking over eight thousand tons of PVA going into the environment, every year, originating from these detergent pods. That equates to 600 million plastic soda bottles worth of plastic, yearly. Ultimately, very little is known about how PVA behaves as a pollutant but one thing remains clear, it does not fully biodegrade.” – Plastic Ocean International

Your best bet is to use a PVA free detergent. Blueland cleaning products sells dishwasher tablets. Purchase the reusable tin and continue to load up with refills, packaged in compostable bags.

Tomorrow, celebrating National Farmers Day.

Electric Composters: Are they worth it?

Day 283 – You might be thinking, yet another post about composting? However, I can not express enough how important composting is for the environment. The food that ends up in the landfill is a major contributor to methane gas, which is a greenhouse gas. Landfills are the third-largest source of methane emissions in the U.S., according to the EPA. So, making sure we divert food waste from the landfill is key to reducing greenhouse gases.

So, when I started seeing advertisements about electric composters, I was curious if they really worked. Earth911 was kind enough to share some information about various electric composters and to share the pros and cons.

Even though there were a few pros on purchasing an electric composter, the bottom line is that we do not need yet another electric appliance. Just another expensive piece of machinery that generates carbon emissions when built and has no where to go, except the landfill, when it stops working. Yet another contributor to the e-waste problem.

Earth911 does suggest that if an electric composter is the one option you’re willing to try then make sure you’re buying it from a responsible company.

If you’re interested in purchasing an electric composter, look for brands that take a full product lifecycle approach to make their product as sustainable as possible. That would mean the company has taken steps to reduce the manufacturing emissions and raw materials consumption on the front end, and it has a sustainable solution for responsibly disposing of or recycling the product at the end of its life.” – Earth911

Tomorrow, detergent pods and the plastic problem.

Compostable Snack Bags

Day 282 – The days of tossing your chip bags into the trash may be coming to an end. The folks at Off the Eaten Path have created a bag for their snacks that can break down at industrial compost sites. The bags are made from a material called PLA (polylactic acid). PLA is derived from renewable resources like corn starch or sugar cane.

If you do not have commercial composting available to you, you can ship your bags to TerraCycle and they will compost them for you. For every bag returned to TerraCycle, Off the Eaten Path will donate $1 to Ocean Conservancy (up to $192,000), helping to protect our ocean and our planet.

When you think about the number of snack bags that are disposed of on a daily basis, it is very clear that having a compostable bag would be a serious game changer. Hopefully, the other snack companies will follow suit and help in the fight to save the planet.

Tomorrow, electric composters and their efficiency.

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.