Posts Tagged ‘reduce’

Environmental Sustainability Lifestyle Apps

Friday, January 24th, 2014

A few weeks ago I promised a roundup and review of environmental sustainability lifestyle apps designed to help us live greener, more eco-conscious lives. I combed the App Store, looking at apps for both iPad and iPhone and I was quite surprised that there weren’t more options. The following seven apps stood out to me, for better or for worse. Hopefully you will find a few of these useful as you go through your own environmental sustainability journey.

RR_GoodGuide_012414GoodGuide
iPhone only
This was the most fun of all the apps I reviewed. There are a few distinctive features about the GoodGuide app that makes it stand out. First, every product in their database is reviewed on the criteria of health, environmental impact and social impact and assigned a blended score which is displayed on a red yellow or green background. This serves as a guide for how the product measures against comparable items. After the score, the next most valuable feature is the ability to filter on the issues that matter most to you. I chose nutrition, scientifically proven health hazards, animal welfare certifications and fair trade. Maybe organic, energy efficiency and pollution matter more to you — the filter is completely customizable. If a product you are considering has violations in any of the criteria you select, it is flagged and you are provided with info on why it failed the check. The GoodGuide app allows you to save lists of products to trust and brands to avoid for future reference. It has a barcode scanner, which you know means I ran around my house scanning everything in sight. Finally, I recently read an article about GoodGuide partnering with Target to rate some of their products and I’m looking forward to seeing that happen. This app is a freebie, but it would be worthwhile even as a paid app. It is intuitive, well designed and informative. I highly recommend giving it a try.

RR_Joulebug_012414JouleBug
iPhone only
This app is fun and educational. Creating good habits and doing simple things to green your life earns you digital pins and badges. You can keep your achievements to yourself, share them with the Joule Bug community or brag a little bit on your social media channels. I liked the interactivity and ease of use and found the advice to be sound and practical. My favorite video games are ones where you collect stuff to earn upgrades so it is no surprise I enjoyed the badge quest aspect. I’m working on an iPhone 4S and had a few crashes, but it wasn’t unbearable and I suspect the newer hardware probably supports the app better. I’ll be looking forward to bug fixes, though. The down side of this app — nobody on your Facebook feed cares if you “recycled on-the-go” or if you “planned a meat-free meal” but the tantalizing offer of bonus points may tempt you to overshare. If you have a hard time self-editing these sorts of social media posts, proceed with caution.

RR_Rippl_012414Rippl
iPhone only
Any sustainable habit you want to improve is in your hands with the ripple app. This free app is sponsored by Ocean Conservancy, the group that puts out the sustainable fish list every year. Using Rippl, you can set a new sustainability goal and receive reminders on your phone to help you stick with it. There are dozens of goals to choose from so you can choose according to your personal priorities. I chose “Carry A Reusable Mug” and I’m doing OK but there is much opportunity for improvement. On the days I forgot my mug it was a real bummer having to check the “NO” box. Worse yet, the app holds you accountable because you can’t clear the little red notification icon until you ‘fess up about how you did that day. Of the apps I tested, I think this one is the most likely to inspire real, lasting change.

RR_iRecycle_012414iRecycle
iPad/iPhone
Powered by Earth911.com this app helps you know what to do with all sorts of items at the end of their useful life. The app is based on your geographic location so it knows the rules for your local recycling program and even when and where the next local Household Hazardous Waste (think batteries, paint, chemicals, and tires) collection takes place. Earth911 advises on recycling everything from notebook paper to construction materials, electronics and auto parts. You won’t use this app every day, but when you need it you’ll be glad it is there. The lists are comprehensive and the links are super-useful. This would be an especially helpful app for someone like Jenny who is just starting an in-home recycle program.

RR_DirtyDozen_012414Dirty Dozen
iPad/iPhone
The Environmental Working Group puts out Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists every year to inform consumers which produce items have the most or least pesticide exposure. I think the information is really valuable but consumer guides are available at their website. There’s not much here apart from the lists, so I didn’t find the app necessary. Still, it works properly and there’s certainly no harm in using it if an app is more convenient for you.

RR_TrashNothing_012414Trash Nothing!
iPad/iPhone
Trash Nothing! is a freecycling matching service. The terms of service state that users cannot sell or trade items and should only take things that are for personal use, not for resale. The idea is to have a free exchange of usable goods. Listings are organized into groups that serve a specific geographic area. Users can either list what they have to offer, or they can list things they need and hope someone has the item to spare. The group that serves my area isn’t very active and it seems like the “wanted” posts outnumber the “available” posts. Trash Nothing is a strong concept, but I didn’t see a compelling reason to use this in lieu of other forums like word-of-mouth, Facebook or Craig’s List. For me, this is one to skip, but results may vary depending on the activity level of your local freecycling community.

RR_GreenTips_012414Green Tips
iPad/iPhone
This app was pretty much the worst ever. It is a festival of advertisements with the occasional generic green living tip from their “Home” category thrown in. After you see a couple tips you get another advertisement. If you want to see tips from more categories you have to buy them at $0.99 each. You can also buy rights to an an ad-free version if you don’t want to be assailed by pop-ups constantly, but by the time you unlock everything and nix the ads to make this it usable, you’ve spent $4 on this “free” app and you get nothing you couldn’t accomplish with a Google search.

Do you have any favorite “green” apps? Did I list your favorite here? Or maybe I missed it? Join the conversation in the comments below. The Wilderness Girls love hearing from you!

Upcycled Toys

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Living a more eco-conscious life means looking for opportunities to use what you have more often and buy new stuff less often. Upcycling, or “making stuff” as our grandparents called it, is a great way to use what you might otherwise discard and create a new, better thing from the materials. In my view, to count as a successful upcycle, an item needs to use something that would otherwise be waste and the end product should be different and better/cuter/more useful than the components it is made from.

I scoured Pinterest for cool upcycled toy projects and found mixed results. Some projects were super basic – give your kid a big box and tell her it is a rocket ship. Give her an empty oatmeal canister to use as a drum. That’s cool, but it’s not upcycling. Kids need to play with empty boxes, build forts out of bed sheets, and ward off foes and fiery dragons with nothing more than their courage, a cereal box shield and a wrapping paper-roll-turned-broadsword. Imaginative, unscripted play is vital to the development of a child’s imagination. So, while I 100% support reusing things, for this collection I disqualified pins I don’t see as true upcycles.

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Sumo Bowling Pins — These little guys, made by Leslie at Pink Stripey Socks rock my world. I’m searching fervently for the little aquapod bottles so I can make a set for my daughter. I realize it is technically cheating to buy a product just to upcycle the packaging but these guys are so cute that I can’t resist. I mean look at them! Can you blame me?

DIY TV Toy — This crafty upcycle has amazing DIY instructions to turn a tissue box into a toy TV with customized “channels” for your kiddo to change or create. Playing with this toy is a great way to switch off the electronics and use imagination instead.

DIY I-Spy Bottle — I saw my first I-Spy bottle about a year ago and I thought it was such fun. It was the kind you buy from the store with the little beads and wee plastic tchotchskies inside. Where was this invention when I was a kid on car trips? This version uses stuff you find around the house and in the dreaded junk drawer. It’s made with found materials and if you buy your rice in bulk, this toy will cost just pennies to make.

Super Hero Bracelets — These power cuffs a la Wonder Woman are made from spent toilet tissue rolls, glitter and Mod Podge. The tutorial is high quality and includes some pro-tips from the creator’s experience. Just last week my two-year-old appeared from her room dressed in a Yo Gabba Gabba tee-shirt paired with her Hello Kitty tutu and Darth Vader mask. My husband was never more proud. This is a child in desperate need of Bracelets of Victory to complete her look.

Recycle Sort Game — This is maybe the easiest to make of all of the toys and games I found. I love it for being a practical, customizable teaching tool. Want your kids to understand what goes in the trash and what goes in the recycle bin? Make a game of it – literally.

Do you have some favorite upcycled toy ideas? How about fond memories of playing with a sweet cardboard box? We got a brand new avocado green dishwasher in ’81 and I probably got 100 hours of fun out of that carton. The Wilderness Girls love hearing your thoughts so please share them in the comments below.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink, Resolve

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

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A few years ago I looked in my kitchen pantry and found New Year’s Resolution inspiration. Our pantry was chock full of plastic bags even though I took reusable bags to the store every time. I did take them to the grocery store every time but the problem was that I forgot them every single other place I went. Headed to Target? No bag. The drugstore? Nope. The mall? Not a chance.

My very first environmental resolution was born. From then on I’ve tried, with varying degrees of success, to set an environmental goal for myself every year in addition to my other resolutions. If you are making resolutions this year, consider adding a green resolution. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

Bring your own bags, every store, every time – Reusables aren’t just for the grocery store. Put some extras in your purse or trunk for use anywhere you would usually get a bag. Just don’t forget to keep ‘em clean!

Use a travel mug for coffee refills – Most of the big coffee shops welcome reusable mugs and many give discounts. For example, Dunkin’ Donuts offers a “refill” price of 99 cents for any size reusable mug and if you dine in that refill price is for a bottomless cup.

Don’t idle your engine – In modern cars, the break-even point between idling and the gas required to restart is only ten seconds. Any time you are parked and waiting for something, kill the engine to save money, gas and carbon emissions.

Try a new fair trade product – Coffee and chocolate are the easiest switches because, well, they’re delicious and easy to find high quality product in fair trade versions. Your favorite coffee shop brew is probably already fairly traded but if you’re not sure just ask when you order your next (reusable) cuppa joe.

Pass by the drive thru – Reducing your fast food trips by as little as one per week can make an impact. Fast food is easy and cheap in the short term but when we rely on it too heavily the costs to health, environment and social justice start to add up quickly.

My green resolution this year is to try out some new eco-conscious iPhone apps that will give me more info to make good decisions and remind me to make better choices. What kinds of changes are you looking to make? Do you have any favorite apps or tips for making more conscious choices? Please share them in the comments below.

Advent Calendars

Monday, November 18th, 2013

The tradition of Advent means different things for different people.  For some, an advent calendar is just a countdown to Christmas and there is nothing wrong with that, but for me Advent is much more. This is the time of year time when Lutheran Christians excitedly await the arrival of the Christ Child on Christmas morning.  In addition, Advent is the beginning of our liturgical year (the church calendar). Since we now have a daughter, it feels like time to upgrade the cheap-o snowman themed countdown calendar Jacob and I have used for a decade in favor of something more.

December 1st is fast upon us so I turned to the only place a person in this situation can turn: the Internet. Specifically, Pinterest. In my search, I found several types of advent calendars from super simple to over-the-top.  I prefer the simple crafty calendars made with natural or recyclable materials. I was particularly fond of those designed for re-use year after year.  I love the sustainable aspect of that, but, even more so, I love the element of tradition that exists in bringing out the family advent calendar each year.

Here are a few of my favorites organized by material type:

Recyclable Materials (diverted from landfill)

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Design and photo by Morning Creativity

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Design by Nadine Reeves Photography by Ryan Brook/TC Media for Canadian Living

Reusable Fabric Bags

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Design and photo by SevernHomemade on Etsy

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Design and photo by womaninreallife.com

Paper-free “Paper” Chains

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Design and photo by lovestitches

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Design and photo by humbleBea on Etsy

Now to make a decision and get crafting. Which of these do you like best? Have you checked out the plethora of advent calendar options on Pinterest? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Love Your Library

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library.
The only entrance requirement is interest. — Lady Bird Johnson

When was the last time you went to the public library? Maybe it has been a while.  Maybe you haven’t been since before you heard your last commencement address. If that is the case, it is time to rethink the library.

FINAL_RR_Love Your Library_1

Burton Barr Central Library
Source: Phoenix Public Library, Photo Credit: Bill Timmerman

A couple months back I shared a post on Sustainable Home Economics and one of our lovely readers, Laura M, commented with a tip about baking her own fresh bread daily. She recommended a book with her recipe and I was immediately intrigued so I popped on over to phoenixpubliclibrary.org where I learned that an available copy was on the shelf at a branch near my office. I picked it up over my lunch hour — easy as pie.

Why the library?
Why didn’t I just buy it from amazon.com or download an electronic version to one of my many devices? I have a couple reasons. First, baking my own fresh bread sounded like a pretty cool idea but I wasn’t ready to make a commitment. I’m a busy Mama and while I like baking I’m not sure it could happen on a daily basis in my home. Second, I’m about making sustainable choices and saving money wherever I can. This means borrowing beats buying in almost every matchup. Finally, I believe in the power and importance of the public library and using their services shows my support.

You will find so much more than just books at your library; CDs DVDs, books on tape, toys and more are available at every branch. There are art exhibits and opportunities to learn about local art and history. The library supports the community by offering computers with internet service for those who don’t have access to these tools at home. Library patrons can even take free computer classes so they are better able to use the technology.

Is it convenient?
Some will argue that the library isn’t as convenient as buying/downloading your own copy. I’d say sometimes that is true, but not most of the time. Let’s look back to the bread book example I gave a moment ago. What if there hadn’t been a copy available at a branch near my office? No problem! If the library branch you use does not have the material you need you can join a waiting list or have the book transferred from another library. Intra-library transfer is an awesome and underutilized service. The library will move a book from a faraway branch to the one in your ‘hood with other transfers.  You remember those 4R’s of Sustainability we talk about – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rethink. This is Reduce at its finest. Instead of fifteen people criss-crossing the city on fifteen trips to get the books and materials they want, the library consolidates shipments through their inventory management systems and patrons stop by their nearby branch to collect their items. Another advantage to using holds/transfers is that the book is waiting for you on the hold shelf, arranged alphabetically with your name on it. I’m all for the Dewy Decimal System but finding your name alphabetically on a shelf is easier any day.

I’ve found two inconveniences to using the library. First, the hours aren’t the same every day due to funding cuts and budget constraints. Second, you have to remember to take their stuff back to them on time or you will incur fines. Granted it’s only $0.20/item/day ($0.10/item/day for Children’s materials), it’s better not to be in hock with the library. Fortunately, a smartphone can solve both of these little inconveniences. The library’s mobile website gives each local branch’s hours so you will never arrive to locked doors. In addition, you will receive email reminders when your materials are coming due. You can even renew online if a trip to the library doesn’t fit your schedule that day. If you happen to drive by during closed hours you can slip those literary treasures in the book return where they’ll be safe and sound until the librarians pick them up in the morning.

What other services do they offer?
The library is truly a community institution offering a wide variety of services. There are sixteen branches in Phoenix and each one offers a place for neighbors to gather, kids to learn, students to research and families to explore culture and the arts. The library branches are full of free public art exhibits. Some are permanent pieces and others travel between branches or are featured for a short time.

Classes and programs at the library are a huge advantage to the community. They offer everything from infants story and play time to homework help for grade school age kids, to teen poetry slams and basic computer skills classes for all ages. Library programs help adults build resumes and advance job searches. They have community programs, special bilingual family story time to help break down language barriers and even English as a Second Language classes free for anyone who has the interest.

One of my favorite library features is the Culture Pass. Each library has a set of cards that can be checked out in exchange for free admission for up to 2 people at a local museum, zoo, park or art exhibit. There is no cost and there is no catch. The only thing you have to do is go to the library and choose from the available options OR decide where you want to explore for free and go to the branch that has an available Culture Pass. Culture passes are one of the few items that can’t be reserved or transferred to a local branch but most often the special trip is worthwhile when you don’t have to pay at the museum’s admission desk.

What about e-books and digital materials?
As if books, movies, meeting places, homework help, Culture Passes and story hours aren’t enough, the good folks at the library know how much we love our digital devices. That’s why there is a whole section of their website devoted to digital services. A little exploration here will lead you to e-books, audio books, apps and more that you can download for a pre-set borrowing period. You never have to leave the house and late returns are a thing of the past because the transaction is 100% digital. We live in the future and the future is pretty stinkin’ cool.

I’ve given a lot of love to the Phoenix Public Library here but the same story is true everywhere. No matter where you live or how small your town is, chances are you have a quality library that offers many of these valuable gifts. The bottom line: Go to the library. Take your kids. Take your friends. Take your time. Discover all of the treasures within and share them with the ones you love. There are bountiful resources out there so make sure to enjoy them. When you do, please be sure to share your favorite finds and the ways you love your local library.

Trick-or-Treat

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

One week from today the streets will crawl with over 41 million little ghouls and goblins, trick-or-treat pails in hand, seeking confectionary fortune and nougat-glory.

Forty one million trick-or-treaters equals a heck of a lot of these guys:

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Jack-o-lantern treat bucket
Photo credit: Dollartree.com

With a price tag of $1 this really is a single-use item. In the ten to twelve year span that your children will trick-or-treat, you will spend at least that many dollars but likely more on single use pumpkin pails that will inevitably become lost/broken/un-cool and end up in landfill before the next year. Instead of buying one of these jovial plastic fellows each year, why not create a lasting Halloween Trick-or-Treat bag? It will be a special part of your Halloween tradition that will also hold up to years of treasure hunting for golden caramel goodness in fun size packs.

The Trick-or-Treat bag is a simple project. Novice sewers could consider this as a first project and a low-risk way to build skill. Those with basic skills will find that it is easy to put together in just about a half hour. Advanced sewers can customize and get fancy with linings, notions and appliqués.

Successful Sewing Projects Start Here
Thinking back to my post You Can Sew Your Own Way I shared my top five tips for successful sewing which you will want to use with this and every sewing project.

1. Success begins at the fabric shop
2. You must pre wash
3. Prep your gear
4. Iron out the wrinkles
5. Measure twice, cut once

Shopping List

1/2 yard Halloween fabric
1 yard lightweight iron-on interfacing, enough to cover the whole piece of fabric. (I used Pellon ® single sided fusible sheerweight interfacing)
Multi-purpose thread in a coordinating color

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Sewing Instructions

Prep the Fabric
* Wash & dry your fabric.
* Trim any loose strings from the edges.
* Iron interfacing to the back of the fabric. Really this is optional but I strongly recommend it because I feel like it reinforces the fabric and makes it a little stiffer. Use interfacing to create a finished product that opens nicely and isn’t too floppy.

Body of Bag
* Fold your fabric over 16 inches, making sure the corners are clean 90 degree angles.
* Cut a 16” x 18” rectangle for the body of the bag.
* With the “right” (pretty) sides of fabric together sew a 1/2” seam around the sides and bottom of the bag, leaving the top unfinished.
* Press open the side seams so they’re flat for a few inches. This is just to make it easy to sew your top hem.
* The top hem is a two-part fold. First, fold the ragged edge down 1/2”, secure with a few pins and press into place. Remove the pins and fold the top edge down again, this time by 1”. This hides the ragged edge and makes the top hem more substantial. Press into place and secure by pins.
* Sew around the top hem of the bag being careful to hold the bag open so you don’t snag a part you didn’t intend to sew together. (I’ve done it before and it is no fun.)

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Handles
From the remaining fabric, cut two strips 3 1/2” wide x 18” long for the handles.
* Fold the handles lengthwise with “right” (pretty) sides of fabric together and lightly press so they’re easy to sew.
* At the sewing machine, re-open the pressed handles and lay them flat. Turn under the short end by 1/2”. Stitch across to finish short edge then re-fold lengthwise and stitch long side of each handle piece using a 1/2” seam allowance.
* Turn handles right side out and set aside.
* Back at the ironing board press your handle pieces so that they lay flat.
* To attach the handles turn the main part of the bag inside out and fold it in half lengthwise. From the center fold measure 2 1/2”and secure the handle using two straight pins. Turn the folded bag over and secure the other end of the handle in the same way. Follow with the other side of the bag.
* With right side facing down, sew the handle to the inside hem. Ever the optimist, I expect this baby will have to bear the weight of a mighty Halloween stash so I opted to reinforce by sewing across the top edge where the handle meets the hem and creating a rectangle by sewing up the sides of the strap as well.

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Congratulations! You are now the proud owner and creator of a trick-or-treat treasure bag that will last for years as part of your kiddo’s Halloween costumes and live forever in her memory as something special you made just for her or him. Do you have crafty ideas for Trick-or-Treat bags or other spooky Halloween crafts? If so, The Wilderness Girls want to hear about them. Please share in the comments below or on Pinterest.

Your Green Football Season

Thursday, September 5th, 2013
Photo credit:  NFL.com

Photo credit: NFL.com

Tonight the Baltimore Ravens take on the Denver Broncos to begin the 2013 NFL season. Last week the NCAA football season opened. We’re coming up on four straight months of tailgates, parties, sports rivalries and big games. For many people this is the start of “party season” because in addition to college and professional football regular season we have Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and Super Bowl Sunday to celebrate.

It is our time to party but it is the NFL’s time to get down to business. I never gave it much thought before I stumbled upon an article highlighting the sustainability efforts of the NFL. They’re focusing on NFL events, facilities and football clubs in an effort to minimize waste, reduce their environmental impact, build energy efficient office buildings and encourage teams follow sustainable practices. This got me thinking that if the NFL can green their football season maybe we can green ours, too. Following the 4R’s of Sustainability – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rethink – you can minimize the eco-impact of your football parties.

Reduce

* Fewer car trips equal fewer trips to the gas pump so carpool to games or friends’ homes to watch the game.

* When it is your turn to host you can reduce paper consumption by skipping paper invitations. Instead, spread the word via text, Facebook event or evite.com.

* Reduce your landfill contribution by choosing less packaging whenever you can. When you make your own veggie tray instead of buying the pre-packaged one you save money and stay in control of the ingredients. Less celery, more snap peas!

Reuse

* Don’t follow the siren song of the pre-printed paper goods. I know they make cute paper cups with footballs printed on them but you already have dishes and serveware at home. With a little planning you can create a much nicer tablescape, so leave the gridiron themed plates at the party store.

* A real pint glass will maximize your beer enjoyment, especially if you chill it in the freezer before serving. Pass over the plastic cups in favor of the real thing.

Recycle

* When you have several guests over for a party it’s a great idea to set up several separate clearly marked recycle & trash stations around your home and patio.

* Keep it clean! Use care not to contaminate recycling loads with food waste like greasy pizza boxes and leftovers.

Rethink

* Buy beer in kegs instead of cans. It’s fresher, tastier and it comes with far less packaging. You can find some great tips for a more sustainable brew here.

* Try a local specialty. Locally produced products are the freshest and there’s a sense of hometown pride to enjoy when the best products are made right here in your own neighborhood. Also, local products help fight carbon emissions because they don’t take long truck rides to get from the producer to your home.

* Go organic where you can. Organic foods are grown without the use of chemical pesticides. Visit the Environmental Working Group’s website for their Dirty Dozen list of fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of chemical residue. This will give you a place to start when adding organic to your diet.

Now that we have some tips to get us started, let’s talk about what else we can do to minimize the impact of every party we host from now until the big game in February. Do you have any great ideas for tailgate or outdoor parties? How about some thrifty ideas for reused or recycled party décor? Please leave a comment to let us know about your favorite sustainable party tips.