1. To Air is Human

    Posted on July 18, 2012 by Mickey

    The Greenists are on vacation.  Please enjoy this recycled post.

    fan 032

    While walking through our apartment complex this morning coming back from a meeting, I made a point of counting all the open windows I saw. It was easy: zero. And no, I wasn’t casing the joint, making notes about which units contained flat-screen TVs and would be easiest to break into (for which reason I’ll exclude all the bottom-floor dwellers from the following discussion.) My interest instead was a result of the perfect open-window weather, 70 and sunny. This is the time of year in this part of the country to air things out, after the pollen has fallen and before the melting heat of summer sets in. Nighttime temperatures have been in the 60s, with daytime highs in the low 80s, and there’s no better time to save some money on your utility bill, which is why it irks me a bit to hear the air conditioners rattling away as I type this.

    It may be true that a programmable thermostat is a great way to save energy, but we shouldn’t forsake logic for the “set it and forget it” mentality (apologies to Ronco.) If you can get your pleasantly cool air straight from the atmosphere around you rather than forcing it through the energy-hogging middleman of the AC, then you should. Open a window and put up a fan. Better still, open windows on two or more sides and let a breeze blow through. I realize that most people are not going to sweat it out like me just to prove a point (especially here in Hotlanta) but surely we can all try and tough it out with no AC in the benign month of May.

    Which brings me to another point: Why, in Atlanta, Georgia of all places, do we build dwellings with windows only on one side that open only from the bottom with no regard to the orientation of the building in relation to the sun? The answer, of course, is air conditioning. Before the advent of AC, homes in warm climes were built with high ceilings, large, abundant windows, and big, friendly porches, the better to take advantage of a passing breeze. Trees were left standing for shade, especially along the south side, and tea was iced. The tea is still iced around here (and instant-cavity sweet) but someone like me is forced to get pretty creative when trying to keep a cave-like apartment cool in the summer, sans AC.

    I realize most people are not going to tough it out when the mercury starts climbing,  growing more determined as the pool of their own salty sweat expands around them, but for those of you who want to give it a try or at least get by with the thermostat set as high as you dare, I posted some tips on this site for staying comfortable in the heat a while back. And if you have any of your own that you’d like to share, let’s see them in the comments.

  2. Throwing in the [Paper] Towel

    Posted on May 10, 2012 by Stefanie

    Image credit: milajake

    I know we usually save the videos for A/V Fridays, but I recently watched a brilliantly simple TED talk that I think is worth sharing on a Thursday. If you’ve got four minutes and 28 seconds to spare, go watch it now. The gist is that if you use paper towels to dry your hands, you’re probably doing it wrong, and if you switch to Joe Smith’s “Shake! Fold!” method (which guarantees you dry hands using only ONE sheet of any thickness and size), we could save 571,230,000 pounds of paper a year. That’s no small figure. It is, however, a small change, and the small, easy changes that make a big difference have always been some of my favorite posts on The Greenists. So bookmark that for later if you must, but seriously, watch that video. You’ll hear Joe saying “Shake! Fold!” every time you wash your hands in a public restroom from here on out, and you will use way less paper as a result; I swear.

    For the record, I do avoid using paper towels at all as often as I can, and I’m sure you probably do too. I keep a tea towel on a magnetic clip under my desk at work; I would never think to waste a paper towel to dry my hands at home; and it annoys me no end when people reach for paper towels in the gym locker room when they’ve got a washable cloth gym towel hanging out on a bench ten feet away. But it drives me crazy to leave a public restroom with wet hands (or damp jeans from trying to dry them on my legs), so I’ll admit that I cave to using paper towels outside the work/home/gym/friends’ homes venues. Now, however, at least I use only one when I do so.

    Of course, people use paper towels for more than just drying their hands. Read more…

  3. Save a Paper, Save a Tree, Save a Dollar

    Posted on May 8, 2012 by Ashley S

    Asking a writer/law student how to use less paper is like asking a great white shark how to adhere to a strict vegetarian diet, but I’ll do my best. There are a few basic uses of paper and a few different techniques to reduce those uses (don’t worry I won’t be asking you to switch to single-ply toilet paper or anything).

    Writing Paper

    I love writing paper. There’s nothing like the convenience of grabbing a notebook or a piece of loose leaf paper and scribbling down my latest brilliant (or not-so-brilliant) thought.

    Unfortunately, I’m thinking my way to a pulverized tree. According to the website Conservatree, each tree can yield just over 8,000 sheets of paper. That’s 16 reams of paper or 80-100 sheet notebooks. Maybe that sounds like a lot of paper to you, but to me, that sounds like a productive week. Luckily for me, and the trees, many of the places I write for, both academically and professionally, will allow me to fileshare and submit my work digitally.

    Even if you’re not much of a typist or if you need to use sketches and figures in your writing, a good tablet computer with a stylus will let you write freehand on the touch screen itself, saving paper and giving you the benefit of spell check (woohoo!) while you are working. For those occasions where you absolutely must use paper, paying a few extra cents and getting the stuff that’s recycled can help with your eco-guilt.

    Billing Statements

    Okay, chances are you don’t get 8,000 billing statements in a given year, but if you put together yours with your neighbors, coworkers and friends, we’re probably getting into tree-saving territory. Now that just about every company offers paperless billing, you have the option to save those trees, as long as you’re responsible enough to keep an eye on your bank account without those bills to remind you when money is being deducted.

    There are other benefits to paperless billing, too. Sometimes companies will offer you an incentive like a gift card or sweepstakes entry for going paperless. You also get to save postage and checks, and save yourself the problems you would incur if a statement were to be lost in the mail. Also, as the Little Green Blog points out, you’ll have a much slimmer file cabinet.

    Other Paper Products

    Okay, as I said, I don’t expect you to go without toilet paper; heck I’m not even going to ask you to go to cloth diapers (although you would save a lot of landfill space).

    Let’s take a look at paper towels, though. Do you really need to use a paper towel for every spill? Wouldn’t a nice reusable washcloth be just as good, or better? Again, you’ll save a few bucks, too, as all those rolls of paper towels start to add up in cost. If you must use paper towels, there are recycled options available.

    Saving trees doesn’t have to be painful, and it can really make you feel good about yourself and what you’re doing for the environment. Using options besides paper, or using recycled paper, can make a big impact on your environmental footprint.

    Best of all, cutting down on paper use can sometimes help you to save the most important paper of all–the green kind with pictures of presidents on it.

  4. Meatless Mondays – Rice & Beans with Calabacitas

    Posted on May 7, 2012 by Allie

    We are not strangers to the wonders of rice and beans here at The Greenists.  When it comes to meatless meals, it doesn’t get much more simple or inexpensive.  Combined, rice and beans provide a complete protein as well as essential nutrients and soluble fiber.  Plus, they’re easy to make and super yummy.

    To take the stress off meal time, we’ve been making a big batch of rice and beans a few times a week and planning our meals around how we can dress them up.  Calabacitas are my favorite addition and so easy to make.

    I soak dried beans overnight.  I do two packages at once and like to combine small red beans and pinto beans.  I brown one chopped onion in olive oil in the bottom of a big pot and add the beans and water to cover them, bringing the whole thing to a hard boil for a few minutes.  After boiling, I transfer them over to my crockpot and cook on high for four hours before taking it down to low for another three or four hours, until the beans are soft.

    While the beans simmer in the crockpot, I add salt and spices like turmeric, cayenne pepper, chili powder and ground coriander, and a pinch of baking soda to “de-gas” them.  I also add vinegar and 1/2 a bottle of (gluten-free) beer.

    I know this sounds involved, but two bags of beans will last us most of the week, so a little bit of effort on a Sunday afternoon has a great payoff.

    When the beans are close to done, I boil up a pot of rice, pre-heat the oven to 450 and get started on the calabacitas.

    Read more…

  5. Making My Own Hand Soap (Out of Another Soap)

    Posted on March 15, 2012 by Stefanie

    I kind of have a thing for soap. I mean, it’s nothing I think to put on my Christmas list or mention on my online dating profile, but I have a hard time walking past a display of handmade soaps without sniffing (if not buying) at least one of them, and probably a full third of my Etsy purchases have been bar soap-related. I’ve even written about the virtues of bar soap here more than once.

    As much as I love bar soap, however, in my kitchen, the tidiness and ease of a liquid hand soap just makes more sense. And there are lots of green, eco-friendly hand soaps on the market, many of which I’ve purchased over the years. I haven’t bought liquid hand soap in over a year, though. Why? Because my new favorite hand soap is one I mix up myself from something I already always have under my sink.

    You may or may not remember the post I wrote about castile soap a while ago. It’s some amazing stuff, castile soap. It’s about as environmentally friendly as it is versatile. I listed several uses for castile soap in that previous post, but one simple use in particular has become so routine for me that I feel it bears mentioning again.

    Read more…

  6. Scrap: Turning Junk Into Money

    Posted on January 26, 2012 by Mickey

    photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

    I recently found myself at the bottom of an appliance hand-me-down chain, not a bad place to be when you’ve been running a washer/dryer set that’s older than the Colorado Rockies (the baseball team, but perhaps also the geologic feature; they may have faux wood-grain panels, but no obvious signs of glaciation.) Actually, we’re keeping the old dryer because it still works fine, the “new” one reportedly doesn’t do such a hot job, and we hardly use the dryer anyway. The washer sprang a leak a while back, though, so we’ll take the opportunity to snag a free replacement.

    Regardless of our reasoning, I found myself in possession of an unwanted and functionally compromised washer/dryer set. Read more…

  7. Protect the Environment, Protect Yourself

    Posted on January 17, 2012 by Ashley S

    If you live in the city like me, there are eco-friendly options for your safety better than this dog- although probably not as cute!

    Wanting to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself from basics you need. You just have to find alternative means that accomplish what you need while still being sustainable for the environment. Some people spend a fortune on home security systems that use up a lot of energy and aren’t efficient at all. You can go to online resources like protectyourhome.com for eco-friendly information that are easily affordable options – and I have a few green options to share too!

    Natural protection

    I have family in the south that lives out in the country. Here in the city, our homes are separated from our neighbors by a few feet. In the country where my family lives, huge fields separate the neighbors. There is a lot of space and there aren’t many people who travel the country roads. They never owned a security system to protect their home, but they always kept a few dogs in the yard. These dogs were friendly with us—and the pigs and chickens my grandparents kept—but whenever a stranger pulled up they let us know. My grandfather liked dogs but he kept them more for protection than as pets. They stayed outside and kept stray dogs and strangers from entering the yard. When it comes to green security nothing is more eco-friendly than that! But I live in Chicago, and I understand that in certain areas you will need a lot more than a dog to provide security.

    Harness the sun’s energy

    Vivint is one company that has jumped on the green bandwagon and is attempting to create a new system that will save money and use less energy. Their idea is a bit more radical than others because it requires a drastic change that is definitely beneficial, although many people still don’t have the capabilities to do it yet. They are focusing on homes with solar powered panels that use the sun’s energy to power home appliances. They install panels into the home that allows users to track how much energy certain appliances are using. They are also extending that feature to smartphones so people can track their status while on the go.

    Recycle when you upgrade

    ADT security systems are a good choice for security systems because they reuse parts of outdated devices to produce the newer models. Each system has minerals inside of it that can be taken out and put to use along with metals that are difficult to break down and would only increase waste if they were thrown away. ADT has implemented smartphone usage into their system too. Users can turn lights off and on and save energy while they are away from home. The thermostat can be controlled via the phone too—giving users control of their home while on the move.

    There are many ways to protect yourself and your family while still looking out for the environment and conserving energy. Each day people are working on new ways make these systems even more efficient and eco-friendly too. Do you have any tips or ideas to add that I didn’t mention?

  8. Meatless Mondays – Super Easy Soup!

    Posted on October 10, 2011 by Allie

    As soon as we start to get a chill in the air, I become a comfort food addict, and nothing hits the spot for me quite like a big bowl of noodle soup. This is one of my favorite quick meals. You can use single serving packets of noodles if you’re making a meal for one (I like Thai Kitchen Lemongrass & Chili), or make a batch of rice noodles and use vegetable broth if you want more servings and less packaging.

    The secret to turning this simple soup into a meal is to add fresh, frozen, or canned veggies to dress up the noodles and broth. It’s a great way to use up appropriate leftovers. Sometimes when I’m making dinner, I chop up some extra veggies to save for soup for my lunch the next day.

    Add adzuki beans, lentils, or TVP for protein. It’s such a filling and satisfying meal, that you won’t even miss the meat.

    To add variety, I also mix and match ingredients like:

    • Fresh basil
    • Fresh cilantro
    • Mushrooms
    • Lentils
    • Green peppers
    • Jalapenos
    • Onion
    • Fresh lime
    • Spinach
    • Bean sprouts
    • Grated radish
    • Fresh ginger
    • Sriracha sauce
    • Crushed red pepper
    • Julienne cut string beans
    • Bok choy
    • Shredded cabbage
  9. Working Green While Making Green

    Posted on October 6, 2011 by Mickey

    Sadly, I’ve come to the realization through extensive experiential research that unemployment makes for a very green lifestyle. No commute, I can wear the same clothes for days on end and if it’s yellow… yep, I can just go ahead and let it mellow. Of course, all this is true if you are lucky enough to work from home, but that dream has yet to come calling.

    Still, I wasn’t complaining when I got a job recently after quite the lengthy period of, ahem, very green living. Unfortunately, my new job is a forty-five minute drive away in a different county, a trip that, while technically possible using public transportation, would probably require several bus changes on two different systems and miles of walking. I’d have to leave for work as soon is I get home from work.

    So now I’ve joined the other stop-and-go weekday warriors, spewing my greenhouse gases and burning fuel by the tank-full. And I’m earning a paycheck, a deal I was more than happy to make. But what can I do to reduce my workday footprint now that I’ve left my little green income-free utopia? Read more…

  10. Homemade Sensory Dough

    Posted on September 27, 2011 by Melissa

    My 3-year-old son, Colin, and I have a new afternoon hobby that I’m very excited to share! We have been hard at work in the kitchen, cooking up creative batches of Sensory Dough, our special version of homemade play dough. Making homemade play dough is super cheap, eco-chic, and incredibly easy. Once you get started, you’ll never go back to store bought name brands again! I call it Sensory Dough because the batches we have been making have exciting scents and textures. Read more…

Tip of the Day

If It Doesn’t Smell, Don’t Wash It


According to Real Simple, if every American made an effort to launder less — cutting out just one load of laundry a week per household — we’d save enough water to fill seven million swimming pools each year.

So if it looks clean, and it smells clean, call it clean and wear it again. Consider hanging worn clothes out on your clothesline to freshen them up between wearings.

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