Which is greener? Grocery shopping online or in-person

Day 215 – The pandemic has really increased the use of online grocery shopping. My family used the option a couple times when we had a positive case in the family and quarantined for a couple weeks. I was thankful for having this option and so grateful for those working through the pandemic to ensure we had access to food and all the essentials. After our quarantine was over, we were back to shopping in-person. However, I know many people have really liked the idea of having their groceries delivered and may never consider going back to a grocery store. So, I thought I would write about which shopping method is greener, online or in-person.

While reading a few articles on the subject a few points stuck out.

  1. Large grocery stores use a great deal of energy to operate. Making sure customers and products are at a comfortable temperature takes a lot of energy.
  2. Overstocking in large grocery stores is standard and it’s estimated that 10.5 million tons of food waste are generated from grocery stores each year.
  3. Direct delivery from a fulfillment center has the potential to eliminate some retail inefficiencies. Fulfillment centers eliminate at least one step from the distribution system, can store food in a way that keeps it fresh longest instead of in appealing displays for consumers, and can order only what they know they will sell.
  4. Secondary packaging for delivery – such as disposable bags, ice packs, and foam cushioning – is an additional source of waste.
  5. The number of delivery vehicles in cities is projected to rise 36% by 2030, which could lead to an increase in emissions and a 21% increase in congestion.
  6. Journey consolidation and smart routing powered by artificial intelligence are promising approaches to more efficient, less polluting delivery.

In the end, both options have their negative and positive effects on the environment.

Earth911 came up with a list of questions to ask yourself before deciding which option is best for you and the planet.

  • Are you replacing a drive to the supermarket, or would you have walked or biked instead?
  • Do your deliveries come from a local hub or a large, distant distribution center?
  • Who makes the deliveries? Gig workers in their own vehicles or employees in company-owned electric vehicles?
  • Do they deliver in reusable containers made from recycled materials or disposable ones made from virgin materials?
  • Do they deliver your groceries according to an algorithm that reduces delivery miles or at the time you specify?

For me, the biggest turn off to online shopping is the extra packaging. At times it is absurd as to how much is used. If I can find what I’m looking for at the local store, I will opt to purchase in-person, using my reusable bags.

Tomorrow, an app that is saving consumers money and addresses the problem of food waste.

Breaking Free from Plastic Pollution

Day 191 – So, we’re a week into Plastic Free July. How are you doing? How many single-use plastic items have you refused this week? Have you made any swaps in your home for plastic free options? It’s never too late to make the changes. It’s never too late to help make a difference.

Plastic will be the topic the whole month of July. It’s an important topic and one that needs a great deal of attention and discussion.

Plastic is unfriendly to the environment. From its creation to its destruction, plastic emits toxins into the air we breathe and the water we drink. More than 350 million metric tons of plastic are produced worldwide. Most of that ends up as litter, threatening wildlife and human life. According to a 2019 study, the average person ingests about 5 grams of microplastics per week (about as much plastic as a credit card) through food, water, and even the air we breathe.

Even though many people see the problem with plastic pollution, there are also a large number that would rather ignore it. That’s where the U.S. Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2021 (BFFPPA) comes in.

The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2021 (BFFPPA) builds on successful statewide laws across the U.S. and outlines practical plastic reduction strategies to realize a healthier, more sustainable, and more equitable future. The federal bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (CA), represents the most comprehensive set of policy solutions to the plastic pollution crisis ever introduced in Congress.” BreakFreeFromPlastic.org

The amazing people over at Earth911, came up with a list of ways you can help the cause.

  1. Join the global movement against plastic pollution by signing up on the Break Free From Plastic website.
  2. You can also join organized plastic-fighting campaigns or activities (virtually or locally) or even start your own.
  3. You can help by reducing your own personal plastic consumption; Avoid single-use plastics, Check if an item’s packaging is recyclable before purchasing it, Opt for products made from recycled rather than virgin plastic, Bring reusable bags when shopping, Shop local (local products typically use less plastic packaging).
  4. Contact your representatives and ask them to support the Break Free From Pollution Act. 
  5. Perhaps the easiest way to support this movement is to share it. 

It’s a monumental challenge, but our country has been faced with many difficult challenges before. We need to come together and realize that this is a fight we all need to get involved in, if we’re going to have any chance of success.

Tomorrow, creating beautiful music with recyclable materials.

Summer Vacation: There is no break from caring about the planet

Day 171 – It’s the first day of summer and with that comes summer vacation! Whether, you enjoy the warmth of the sun on a sandy beach or the cool shade of a forest full of trees, it’s important that we make sure to care about the environment while we are out enjoying it. Throughout this year this blog has given many suggestions on how to be more environmentally friendly within your home. However, we need to make sure we are carrying the practices over to our time away from home, as well. Even though we may be on vacation, we can’t take a break from caring about the planet.

Here are a few suggestions from Earth911 to make your next trip an environmentally friendly one.

  1. Avoid the disposable items. Pack a coffee cup, water bottle, drinking cup, and reusable utensils.
  2. Don’t depend on the hotel to provide you with toiletries. Take a little time and pack what you will need on a trip. You will most likely be able to use the same items for your next trip and the one after that.
  3. If staying at a resort, be sure to venture out to experience the local culture. Visit and shop at these local businesses. Dollars spent within these communities will go a lot further to help support the local people.
  4. While on vacation, try to walk or bike to places. Not only will it allow you to see and experience things you would not have the opportunity to from a car, but it’s also helpful to the environment.
  5. If you hike or bike on your trip, be sure to stay on the designated paths. Your feet and bicycle tires can destroy a great deal of plant life. Which can then lead to erosion problems.
  6. Leave what you find. It is always tempting to take a souvenir from a trip. However, removing things from nature can be very detrimental to the ecosystem. Take out your camera instead and grab a picture.
  7. Respect the wildlife. Observe them from a distance and try to keep your presence unknown. Unless you have gotten the attention of a bear or mountain lion, in that case, be loud and obnoxious.
  8. No matter where you go, be sure to dispose of waste properly. If you can not find a proper place to dispose your waste, then be sure to take it with you. Don’t leave anything behind. Even burning trash in the campfire is not a good option. Waste that does not burn completely can be bad for wildlife.

Summer vacation should be fun and enjoyable. For some that comes in the form of relaxation. For others it’s nonstop action. Whatever the case may be, the environment needs to be respected and protected at all times. Be sure you are doing your part to be good stewards of the environment, even while away from home.

Tomorrow, a deeper dive into what it means to have a circular economy.

How Energy Efficient is Your Refrigerator?

Day 146 – The EPA says you should replace most appliances after 10 years. However, some appliances may last a little longer than others. I’ve been through a couple washer and dryers in that time frame, but the refrigerator is still plugging along. Energy Star has created a calculator for refrigerators to figure out if the savings justify the cost of replacement.

“If all refrigerators sold in the United States were Energy Star certified, the energy cost savings would grow to nearly $700 million each year and 9 billion pounds of annual greenhouse gas emissions would be prevented, equivalent to the emissions from more than 870,000 vehicles.”Earth911

Earth911 created a Buyer’s Guide for the most efficient refrigerators. They compared ten of the most efficient standard-sized options from Energy Star’s 2021 Most Efficient list that are currently available for purchase.

If you are in the market for a new refrigerator make sure your old one gets recycled. Many retailers will take your old refrigerator when dropping off your new one. Be sure to ask about their recycling practices.

Lastly, whether if your refrigerator is brand new or has been around for few years here are some good tips from Earth911, to keep it running efficiently.

  1. Refrigerators should be set to 35-38 degrees Fahrenheit and freezers to 0 F.
  2. If your kitchen layout permits it, the refrigerator should be positioned away from heat sources such as ovens, dishwashers, or direct sunlight from a window.
  3. Position the fridge a few inches from the wall to allow air circulation.
  4. Don’t store stuff on top of the fridge.
  5. Clean the condenser coils a few times a year.
  6. If the door seals lose their airtightness, replace them.
  7. Only store food in closed containers to keep the moisture levels low.
  8. Keep the refrigerator three-quarters full but organized, so you don’t waste time looking for things with the door open.

We don’t think about them, until the electricity goes out. But, our refrigerators are working hard for us everyday. We should make sure we are doing what we can to make them as efficient as possible.

Tomorrow, eco-friendly sunscreens.

The Pros and Cons of Solar Energy

Day 142 – Now more than ever, we are in need of renewable energy sources. We have reached a moment in time where real change needs to happen or we (the human race) will be unable to recover from our destructive ways. Solar Energy is one of those renewable energy sources. I have seen countless ads in my social media feeds for solar panels. I thought I would look at the pros and cons of solar energy.

Let’s start with the CONS:

  1. Solar panels are not very efficient – The solar panels on the market, today, are only able to convert about 17-21% of the sunlight collected into electricity. That is a lot better than in the past, but still rather low. Scientists have found a way to increase the efficiency to 50%, but the cost is not practical for commercial use. We can only hope that like many technological breakthroughs, the cost will come down.
  2. Recycling solar panels is difficult – Even though solar panels are relatively recyclable, the infrastructure to handle the recycling is lacking in the U.S. “The European Union holds PV module (solar panels) installers accountable for their electronic waste and requires solar producers to recycle, and Japan holds project developers and owners liable for waste disposal and requires payment into a decommissioning fund. However, there is a vacuum when it comes to U.S. federal leadership on solar recycling and treatment of end-of-life PV modules. For now, the future of solar panel recycling is in the hands of the states.”PV Magazine
  3. Not all solar panel companies are eco-friendly – You would think that any business selling solar panels would be environmentally friendly. However, that is not always the case. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition produces a solar scorecard that ranks companies based on sustainability.
  4. Solar batteries are expensive – Solar batteries are needed to store the energy converted by the solar panels. Unfortunately, solar batteries can add an additional cost of $8,000 to $10,000. Solar batteries are recyclable, but like solar panels, the U.S. lacks the facilities capable of recycling them.

The PROS:

  1. Community solar farms are becoming more popularCommunity solar farms allow a group of people to go in on solar energy. This is nice for renters or homeowners in heavily shaded areas.
  2. There are more reputable solar panel companies – Even though one of the cons was that not all solar panel companies are eco-friendly, it is a pro that there are many more environmentally friendly companies than there are unfriendly.
  3. Tax credits help with the overall cost “The 26% federal solar tax credit has been extended through the end of 2022. This solar incentive is available for both residential and commercial solar systems. A tax credit is more valuable to the taxpayer than a write-off because it is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in taxes owed. In addition, businesses can get solar tax write-offs, further reducing the total cost of installing a solar system. For the project to be eligible, the solar system must be purchased. Thus, many community solar farm memberships, solar leases, and power purchase agreements do not qualify.”Earth911
  4. Accessing a free source of energy – Currently, there is no fee to access the sun’s energy. Along with the fact that it is a renewable source of energy. Using it will help decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
  5. Low maintenance cost – Once installed, solar panels can be maintained for as little as $300 per year (even if a professional cleaning company is used). Additionally, companies providing solar panels usually offer warranties, which further helps to minimize costs.
  6. Decrease electrical bills – Solar panels can help both companies and individuals keep their electric bills low. Traditional sources of electricity only need to be used during times when, for an extended period, the sun isn’t out, or during months when hours of available sunlight are restricted.

There is a lot to think about when deciding if solar panels are right for your home or business. This information is just the beginning of the process. If you do decide to contact a solar panel company be sure to ask questions about the issues discussed in the list of CONS.

Tomorrow, lawn furniture made from recycled plastic.

Does Infinitely Recyclable Plastic Exist?

Day 138 – Wouldn’t it be amazing if companies were responsible for the products they manufactured? We’re not just talking about in the beginning, at the moment of purchase, but at the end, as well. The consumer needs help to figure out how to responsibly dispose of their “stuff” and manufactures are nowhere to be found. Unfortunately, more times than not, the consumer is left to navigate the confusing world of recycling and for those that don’t have the time and patience, the landfill seems to be the only option.

It is cheaper for manufacturers to use virgin resin (new plastic) then it is to use recycled plastic. Add the fact that in many countries there are no rules or regulations in place to steer companies away from single use plastics. Combine that with zero infrastructure to deal with the absurd amount of plastics flooding waste management facilities and you have a recipe for disaster.

Thankfully, science is coming to the rescue.

“A multidisciplinary team from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has created a plastic that can be disassembled at a molecular level using an acidic solution. Then, it can be reassembled with a new color, texture, and shape, again and again. Unlike traditional plastic, which can only be recycled two or three times at most, this material, called poly(diketoenamine), or PDK, is infinitely recyclable.” – Earth911

Even though the initial creation of PDK is expensive to manufacture, it is significantly less expensive to recycle this type of plastic compared to the very popular, PET and HDPE plastics. Recycled PDK will even be less expensive than virgin plastic, making it very appealing to manufactures.

While it’s helpful to have plastics that are infinitely recyclable, we also need to hold companies accountable for the products they produce. The responsibility can longer be placed solely on the consumer. We need to start supporting companies with take back programs and trade in options. By supporting these companies we are making it very clear that we are tired for carrying the burden and need other companies to step up and create a plan to help the planet.

Tomorrow, products on Amazon that are environmentally friendly.

The Impact of Sending Back Those Online Purchases

Day 136 – I have had my share of trips to Kohls to send back Amazon purchases. A majority of those trips come around the holidays, but they can also occur throughout the year. More times than not, I am not alone in line. There are plenty of other people waiting their turn to send back their items, as well.

I was at Kohls last week, returning baseball pants purchased from Amazon because they were the wrong size. I didn’t think to purchase different sizes of the same pants, so I could send back the pair that didn’t fit. I have learned that this is a common practice among online shoppers and retailers love it. The process is called bracketing. It’s when you “buy now and choose later”. Most of us are aware that returning unwanted items will result in more carbon emissions into the environment as a result of transporting those items. However, what most people don’t know is that there is an even bigger environmental impact.

“In the U.S., return shipping creates over 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually – more than the emissions from 3 million cars. But most people assume that returned goods are simply resold, the same way that items discarded in a dressing room or left in a shopping cart are reshelved for sale in a store. Unfortunately, that’s not always true. Five billion pounds of returned goods end up in U.S. landfills each year. Less than half of returned goods are resold at full price. Sometimes it’s cheaper to throw away merchandise than to repackage, re-inventory, store it, resell it, and ship it out again.” – Earth911

We can only hope that the U.S. will follow in the footsteps of France and ban companies from throwing away many kinds of unsold goods. In France, they now have to reuse, redistribute or recycle unsold products. However, we can not wait for the U.S. to make these changes. As consumers, we need to start taking some of the responsibility for this problem. When we’re making purchases, whether online or in-person, we need to make sure that we have done our homework on the product and are confident that we are purchasing the product we plan to keep. It is only through our responsible shopping practices that we will be able to help decrease the waste ending up in our landfill due to bracketing.

Tomorrow, a place to recycle your snack bags.

Nanomaterials: Should we be concerned?

Day 134 – A nanomaterial is a very, very, very small material. A nanomaterial is less than 100 nanometers across. One nanometer is one-millionth of a millimeter or approximately 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Nano sized particles can be found in nature, but they can also be manufactured.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences lists where nanomaterials can be found.

  1. Nanotechnology can be used to design pharmaceuticals that can target specific organs or cells in the body such as cancer cells, and enhance the effectiveness of therapy.
  2. Nanomaterials can also be added to cement, cloth and other materials to make them stronger and yet lighter.
  3. Their size makes them extremely useful in electronics, and they can also be used in environmental remediation or clean-up to bind with and neutralize toxins. 

The problem with nanomaterials is that they are not regulated, so there are no rules as to how they can be used. There are also no rules stating that these materials need to be listed on any labels, notifying consumers. Even though they have proven to be helpful, there is not much information available about nanomaterials. What we do know is that nano-sized particles can enter the human body through inhalation and ingestion and through the skin. Fibrous nanomaterials made of carbon have been shown to induce inflammation in the lungs in ways that are similar to Asbestos.

One European study analyzed nanomaterials in an aquatic system. Similar to microplastics, nanomaterials entered the food chain and bioaccumulated, concentrating in the brains of fish.”Earth911

So, what can we do?

Earth911 suggests a couple ways you can address the safety of nanomaterials.

  1. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics maintains a list of ingredients that can indicate the presence of nanomaterials in personal products. Unfortunately, since there are no regulations about nanomaterials, there is no guarantee that these materials would be listed.
  2. Let your elected representatives know you support strengthening the FDA’s ability to regulate cosmetic safety and that you support the provisions of the Safe Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Act of 2019.

So, even though they may be small they could cause us harm. It will take the science community and governmental agencies to make sure that consumers stay safe. Unfortunately, for the consumers, it’s hard to avoid something that we can’t see or detect its presence.

Tomorrow, the importance of buying in bulk.

Carbon Footprint: Tools to calculate your impact

Day 68 – A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide and methane) that are generated by our actions.

“The average carbon footprint for a person in the United States is 16 tons, one of the highest rates in the world. Globally, the average is closer to 4 tons. To have the best chance of avoiding a 2℃ rise in global temperatures, the average global carbon footprint per year needs to drop under 2 tons by 2050.”The Nature Conservancy

Image borrowed from EchoTalk.org

By using a Carbon Footprint Calculator we can start figuring out how much greenhouse gas emissions we produce through our daily activities. Once we figure out where we are with our production of greenhouse gases, we can better understand how to reduce those emissions.

So what goes into calculating your carbon footprint? Information like how much electricity and natural gas your home uses in a year. What kind of car do you drive? Do you take public transportation? Even what kind of food and beverage you consume and the clothes you wear can affect your carbon footprint.

Earth911 recommends various Carbon Footprint Calculators. If you choose to use one, be sure to use the same one throughout your calculations. Jumping around from calculator to calculator will not be beneficial.

Carbon Footprint – This calculator is described as “extremely thorough”, which makes me a little apprehensive. It also uses British currency and measurements. So, conversions will be needed. I would rather not do extra math if I don’t have to.

World Wildlife Calculator – This is offered by the British division of the WWF. So, I’m guessing extra calculations would be needed to convert to U.S. currency and measurements. They do offer advice on reducing your carbon footprint available on their site.

CoolClimate Network – Created by the University of California Berkley, this calculator illustrates the breakdown of emissions across individual categories of activity.

Other sites mentioned:

  1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Carbon Footprint Calculator
  2. TerraPass Carbon Calculator
  3. The Nature Conservancy Carbon Calculator

I’m going to start using the The Nature Conservancy Carbon Calculator. I’ve chosen this calculator because I’m familiar with this organization. I really don’t know any specifics about the calculator, but will definitely update everyone on how it’s going. Please be sure to share how your carbon footprint calculator experience is going, too, if you choose to do it. I would love to know what kind of changes you have made to reduce your carbon footprint.

Tomorrow, be sure to pack your lunch.

Earth911: A newsletter that helps you help the planet

Day 31Earth911 has an abundance of useful information for those looking to make changes or those wanting to continue to live a life of sustainability. If you’re looking for a recycling location, Earth911 can help. If you’re looking for suggestions on how to recycle, Earth911 can help. If you’re looking for ways to make better purchases that will not harm the planet, but can actually help it, Earth 911 can help.

The Earth911 newsletter has been invaluable when it comes to providing useful information. I have found numerous helpful articles.

Send Your Pill Bottles to Do Some Good – Now that I take a daily allergy medicine, there is no doubt that the prescription bottles will start piling up. I now have a place where I can send them and help others!

Recycling Mystery: Kitchen Sponges and Scouring Pads – This article gave me suggestions on what to use instead of popular kitchen sponge, which isn’t easily recyclable and they add to the microplastic problem endangering our waterways.

How to Recycle Your Old Cookware – The Earth911 articles give helpful tips on how you can divert countless household items from the landfill.

If you’re looking for another resource to help guide you on your journey to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, then be sure to signup for the Earth911 newsletter (found on their homepage).

Tomorrow, taking up a collection for the troops.