Friday, January 28, 2011

Learning to Live Within Nature's Budget

A contact posted this on Facebook. It's from the people at The Post Carbon Institute.

Excellent, quick video.

Oh and... have some kittens!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dirty Dishes: Killing One Bird With Two Stones...

...wait, that's not very eco-friendly. Ummm... feeding two birds with one seed! That's better :)

They say washing dishes in the dishwasher, especially an energy efficient model, saves water. I beg to differ. It's all in the way it's done, and especially what's done with the water afterward.

Most dishwashers use approximately 12 gallons of water and most energy saver dishwashers use approximately 4. Water estimates for handwashing dishes are much higher, often in the 15 to 25 gallon range. I'm guessing this estimate comes mainly from people who just let the water run and run and run.

I've tested this a few times. I've measured the water I used to wash and rinse an entire day's worth of dishes (as it's energy efficient to run the dishwasher with a full load, so I think it is with handwashing too. Save it up and do it all at once I say!) The total amount of water I average: 6 gallons... AND it is almost all put to a better use than simply going down the drain.

Ways to accomplish the dishes in an eco-friendly way abound on the net, no doubt. Here's my solution to added to the pot.


  • A biodegradable detergent--please note that nothing but biodegradable will do here--my product of choice at the moment is Ecover. I will eventually switch to a homemade detergent, but for now it is sufficient*
  • A double sink, or a single sink and a large bowl, basin or bucket
  • A pair of durable gloves (helps protects your hands from hot water)
  • A dish drainer (and a dish towel if you have someone willing to dry for you! But they dry just as good in the drainer without the extra help)
  • A washcloth with a scrubby surface--like this-- (no matter how green some sponges may be, if they are disposable, they are not as green as a good ol' cloth that gets thrown in the wash and reused)
  • A large bucket or bowl and a ladle or cup

THE STEPS (and btw... I will make this seem more complicated that it actually is... I can't help myself! Please keep that in mind):

  • Fill up one sink half full with hot water and a squirt or two of your soap. Don't use a lot of soap; you are not looking for a bubble bath here. You can add a bit more soap later as needed, along with a bit more hot water if the water cools while you work. Now, add dishes, cups, whatever. You know the drill! (To keep water use and nastiness to a minimum, I do not pre-rinse the dishes, nor do I use the disposal. I scrape whatever food is on the dishes --except meat and dairy--into a large empty yogurt container, to be tossed into the compost bin later.)
  • While those soak a bit, start filling up the other sink or basin halfway with cold water. This will be your rinse water (pictured below).
  • The next is obvious. Wash, dip in cold rinse water (making sure your dish/glass etc isn't covered in bubbles before you dip) and place in dish drainer.
  • If you finish one sink-full and you have more to wash, simply add another small squirt of soap and turn on the hot water for a couple seconds to warm it up and get a couple bubbles going.
  • Unless you have a gray water recycling unit under your kitchen sink, don't drain the water just yet. :) Now here's the BEST part!


You can water your plants, both indoor and out, with water from your kitchen sink. As a bonus, soapy water with a biodegradable soap can act as an eco-friendly pesticide for your garden. It is recommended that grey water not be used on anything leafy or growing in the ground that will be consumed raw (lettuce, carrots, etc.); however things like fruit trees and ornamental plants are perfectly fine.

I use a cup to fill a large bowl (pictured above) a few times with the water from both sinks and simply head outside to water whatever needs it. You could be slightly more elaborate and have a large covered basin outside to store the water, filling a watering can from the basin when you need it, or go all out and set up a more intricate above or below-ground irrigation system... and many other options in between. I prefer simple (for now!)

You can also flush a toilet with a bucket of water. The average toilet uses 1.5 to 3 gallons per flush. Quickly pour 4 cups of water into the toilet bowl and watch what happens :) If you don't have a garden, or find that you have more grey water than you can use in the garden, keep a bucket of grey water by the toilet.

A word on bacteria. Some people claim the only way to kill bacteria on dishes is with HOT water, such as in a dishwasher. And, others fear the bacteria that may reside on a washcloth. I have three things to say to that:

  1. Our great-grandparents (and many before them) managed somehow to survive this.
  2. They survived it well enough to spawn all of us... nearly 7 billion and counting
  3. Antibiotics, if shit from the washcloth actually hits the fan. (But seriously, lest anyone think I am pushing the use of powerful pharmaceuticals in place of safe hygiene, refer back to points 1 and 2. I think we sometimes fail to give enough credit to the thousands of generations that managed before us without all the trappings of convenience we've convinced ourselves we can't live without.)
Have any dishwashing conservation tips you'd like to share? :)

*(Ecover rebuts greenwashing claims)

This Trail

Was reading this month's Tucson edition of Fitness Plus magazine, specifically the Backcountry Life section, and read a beautiful quote by Marty Anderson, 62, a Tucson resident and avid hiker.

The wilderness is so neutral and indifferent; you define yourself against that backdrop, that mirror. By humbling me, the wilderness expands me. That's what I strive for, trails or no trails.

Yes, exactly!

While his choice of the word wilderness fits in well here, let's go a step or two further and say the Earth, or the Universe. If these things are indifferent to us, if we acknowledge they owe us nothing--not life, not riches, not happiness--how then do we see ourselves when we hold ourselves up against that backdrop? Does the humbling realization of our relative insignificance have the potential to enrich our lives?

These things, while indifferent to us, are what sustain us. It's an inspiring thing, for me, to consider our speck of a place in a vast universe with mysteries we will never unravel, on an amazing planet that we are so fortunate enough to exist upon, that keeps us alive in a miraculous and delicate balance.

It's part of that balance in which we now play a role. For centuries, and especially in the last, we chose to dominate the Earth. To conquer it. To treat it as though it owed us more than our fair share. And now, with indifference, it is giving us more than we bargained for.

How do we see ourselves when we hold ourselves up against that backdrop?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Lottery of Birth

Is it too soon for a dose of reality post? :) Nahhhh!

Today I chanced across a really cool and informative site called If It Were My Home. Per the homepage's description:

The lottery of birth is responsible for much of who we are. If you were not born in the country you were, what would your life be like? Would you be the same person? is your gateway to understanding life outside your home. Use our country comparison tool to compare living conditions in your own country to those of another. Start by selecting a region to compare on the map to the right, and begin your exploration.

You can also use our visualization tool to help understand the impact of a disaster. The Pakistan Flood and BP Oil Spill are currently featured. Check out the individual pages to gain some perspective on these awful tragedies.

This site fits in perfectly with the TEDxTalk video I posted about social and environmental issues having extremely close but often overlooked connections.

The country I chose to look up was Bangladesh. Here are some facts that pertain to environmentalism. If Bangladesh were my home instead of the U.S., I would:

consume 99.04% less oil. Bangladesh consumes 0.0252 gallons of oil per day per capita while The United States consumes 2.6400

use 98.92% less electricity. The per capita consumption of electricity in Bangladesh is 135kWh while in The United States it is 12,484kWh.

I would also:

have 72.09% more babies

die 17.61 years sooner

Oh and, that rather large country over there that our country likes to stock its Wal*Mart shelves from, who gets used as a scapegoat and as a justification for us not having to make changes because their consumption of oil is growing, namely China, consider these numbers. They:

consume 90.43% less oil. China consumes 0.2526 gallons of oil per day per capita while The United States consumes 2.6400

use 79.3% less electricity. The per capita consumption of electricity in China is 2,585kWh while in The United States it is 12,484kWh.

Back to Bangladesh...
a big kitteh. Bengal tiger

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rethinking Beauty: Shampoo and Conditioner

A week ago, I decided to try a new shampoo and conditioner.

Some pics of my do:

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Keep in mind here, I'm an au naturale kinda girl. I style my hair with my fingers most days... maybe with a comb if I'm feeling really spunky. I prefer my natural waves to anything I could get out of a bottle or from a straightening iron. I only have a blow dryer so my mom doesn't have to bring hers when she visits. So take this hair and envision it as you might cut and/or style it per your habits and preferences.

On GOOD's Facebook page, I had read about the No-Soap Challenge, which could also include no shampoo. I'd been wanting to try this and this was just the oomph I needed!

After a bit of investigating, I found this extremely helpful blog which recommends using a mixture of one tablespoon baking soda mixed with one cup water for shampoo, and one tablespoon apple cider vinegar with one cup water for conditioner. (The blog also gives a few reasons for switching. For a more detailed read about the ingredients commonly found in shampoo and the dangers beauty products pose to health and the environment, go to CopperWiki, a "community based collaboration to build world’s largest repository of information about living consciously.")

I made a few changes to the recipes. For the shampoo, I mixed three drops of rosemary essential oil with the baking soda and water in a bottle. To use, I shook the bottle well, wet my hair, applied a few tablespoons of the mixture to my roots only, and massaged for a couple minutes. Massage gets the blood flowing to the follicles and promotes hair growth. Then I rinsed, which brought the baking soda down through the hair to the ends.

For the conditioner, I mixed two tablespoons of the vinegar with the water, plus 1/4 tsp each raw honey and jojoba oil, plus 3 drops of lavender essential oil (I live in the desert and my hair is prone to dryness; my hair needs lots of lovin'). Shook it up. Squirted a few tablespoons on the ends of my hair (from about ears down). I let it sit a few minutes, and then poured a bit more on the top of my head and rinsed with cool water.

That first day, my hair felt just like it would after a normal shampoo and condition. Two days later, I did it again; this time, the hair was rather oily. Two days later, I washed it (the first set of photos), and again the very next day (the second set of photos).

You'll notice that in the first set of photos, the hair has a slightly oily look to it, perhaps like I hadn't washed it for a couple days. In the next set of photos, my hair still slightly damp, it looks like I'd maybe washed it the day prior (which, by the way, is when I think hair looks its best and is the easiest to manage).

The scalp produces an excess amount of oils to compensate for the harsh detergents in shampoo. This oil builds up near the scalp (as you've likely noticeed if you've ever tried to just rinse your hair with water a day after shampooing it and suddenly found yourself in possession of a greasy, gummy mass of hair); however, since most of us either shampoo every day, or keep the hair dry between washes, we never really notice this excess oil because it stays in place near the roots. We wash, the shampoo strips it away, thus forcing the scalp to produce more, thus necessitating a harsh shampoo, and the cycle continues.

So, for a few days to a few weeks after beginning the gentler baking soda "shampoo" regimen, the scalp will still produce more oil than it needs. It takes time to heal. This transition period doesn't last long. Already, as can be seen in the photos, a week after beginning, things are already starting to balance out.

I'm loving it. My hair feels soft and full. I've lessened the number of chemicals my skin (the largest organ of the body!) comes into contact with. I've lessened the amount of toxic crap that goes down the drain. I can use items I already always have in my pantry, thus saving money and cutting back on plastic waste. And, I get to have fun with different essential oils. I'm totally sold on this and will never shampoo or condition my hair again :)

It's recommended that the wash be done two or three times a week, and the conditioner once or twice a week. If you decide to give this a try, find the combination that works best for you. And remember to be patient while your scalp comes back to a less stressed-out, balanced, healthy state.

Per request... wonder what shampoo these kittehs use?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Creating What We Need

This is the video that inspired me to start this blog. Van Jones discusses how things are connected in ways we might not necessarily realize but, once we do, we have a responsibility and opportunity to make positive changes.

It's about the choices most of us have, and the lack of choices of the poor. It's about how the choices we make affect people, in ways good and bad. It's about living with intention and compassion.

This particular TEDxTalk is largely about plastic use, and the "idea of disposability;" that we actually "don't have disposable resources, we don't have disposable species, and we don't have disposable people either. We don't have a throw away planet and we don't have throw away children...And as we all begin to come back to that basic understanding, new opportunities for action begin to emerge."

It is opportunity that this blog is all about.

Enjoy! :)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Like We Need Another Treehuggin' Blog, Right?

Well, I do. The kind I need is the kind I think others need too: something positive, about action and solutions. About what an individual can do to make a positive difference.

I easily succumb to negative emotions. It's hard not too, with all the doom and gloom on the news and on sites like HuffGreen and Treehugger. While I think that the information coming from them is essential as a starting point, there comes a time when one must acknowledge the truth of things and then move forward. Focusing only on the melting icecaps, the strange mass animal deaths, the House aiming its big guns at the Clean Air Act, etc., can lead to a feeling that the individual can't do anything about the problems we face.

I have two things to say about that.

One: a friend of mine told me that she views a problem she is facing as a new journey in her life. She didn't "book this trip," (love that!) but she's on it and will make the best of it, like an adventure. I was stunned by this, not only because I think it is a very healthy and powerful attitude in the face of adversity, but because I've had those exact same thoughts concerning global climate change and the depletion of our resources (oil especially). I've often thought in recent months that this is a new adventure, a part of human history that we all are living in. What am I going to do with my little piece of history in the making? Sit around feeling sorry for myself, for us, for my children? Feel defeated by powers greater than myself, least of which are the "Big Men"--politicians and CEOs--who take what they want without regard to others? Or make positive changes in the way I live my life, possibly enriching it to the point that my children will have a future worth looking forward to?

Two: the "Big Men" have been screwing little men since there were "Big Men" and little men. The problem is and always has been when the little man continues to obligingly bend over. Only when the little man stands up straight and shows some courage does he win. In today's age of information, there's no excuse for us to be bending over. Knowledge is power, but only if we use it.

And so, although there will occasionally be a dose of reality on this blog, a reminder why we should stop bending over and start standing up straight, I want the focus to be on what it is we can do in facing the unique problems of our piece in human history. I want to chronicle and share my journey in learning to be a better human being rather than a consumer. And, I want to hear suggestions from anyone who feels like sharing them... hints and tips on conservation, thoughts and hopes and questions. Even if only one person reads this blog, I need to do this as a reminder that action from knowledge is power.